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Analysis/reaction: A painfully familiar ending

New England's early playoff exit looked eerily similar to their loss in Super Bowl XLII.


FOXBOROUGH – The thing about horror films is, they don't end well.

The villain usually wins.

And we've seen this frightening plot unfold before, haven't we?

A juggernaut Patriots offense being stifled by an underdog team from New York in a big playoff game. A team that talked all week about how confident it was that it was going to win… and then did exactly that. It walked the walk after talking (and talking, and talking) the talk.

Tom Brady, after an MVP-worthy regular season, looked almost zombie-like at times throughout the game.

When he wasn't being sacked, that is.

The Patriots made a close game of it at the end, but several desperation attempts fell painfully short.

It happened in Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants. And it happened again Sunday night against the New York Jets.

There was even a David Tyree-like catch, to add insult to injury. Braylon Edwards'gravity-defying, rest-the-ball-on-the-left-shoulder grab in the second quarter set up the Jets' go-ahead touchdown two plays later. New York never looked back.

Even when it appeared a happy ending was possible– when the Patriots pulled to within three after scoring their first touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion – that light at the end of the tunnel was merely the front end of an oncoming locomotive. The Jets need all of five plays from scrimmage to match New England's touchdown with one of their own to go up 10 early in the fourth quarter.

What went so wrong tonight, a little over a month after, on this same field, the Patriots eviscerated the Jets 45-3?

In New England's post-game locker room, the protagonists were left repeating one another's lines.

"I thought we had a good game plan going into the game. Just… didn't execute," Pro Bowl linebacker and co-captainJerod Mayolamented.

"We just didn't make the plays," added left tackle Matt Light, in a rare Q&A session with reporters this season. "When we had a little rhythm, we stopped short. When we needed to convert, we didn't do it. We didn't help our defense. Overall, we didn't execute the way we have in the past."

"The biggest thing was us," offered wide receiver Deion Branch. "They did some of the same things that we played against the last time. We just weren't executing. Couldn't convert on third down… No excuses. They did a great job. They had a great game plan. We had a great game plan. We just didn't execute."

Okay, so that was the 'what.' But what few players could answer was the 'why.' Why was tonight different?

Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker, back turned to the media, took his time getting dressed at his locker, every so often letting out an audible sigh as reporters hovered around his locker. The manner with which he deliberately put his cap on, low over his eyes, then slowly turned to face the music, did little to mask his obvious dejection.

However, he did his best to provide some insight in the immediate aftermath.

"It was a little bit different, definitely. A little more zone," he said of the game plan Rex Ryan'sJets presented. "They did a great job game planning. We made too many mistakes to win, and that's the way it went.

"You work on one thing all week and then get something different. We adjusted, but it's about us making plays and moving the ball down the field, and we didn't do that on a consistent basis."

And then there was Brady, who admitted to being shocked that his team's unlikely 14-2, top-seed-in-the-AFC season had just abruptly ended. The glassy-eyed look he was sporting during the game – the one we saw in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants – still hadn't worn off when he addressed reporters.

"It's like you're on the treadmill running at 10 miles an hour and then someone just hits the stop button," Brady explained. "I think we certainly expected to play better today. I think we're a pretty good football team, but not when we play like today. Like I said, a lot of the credit goes to the Jets and the way their players performed. It's disappointing the way we performed. I certainly wish I did a better job."

Brady often looked befuddled by the pressure the Jets were bringing, even on plays when he seemed to have all the time in the world to throw.

"I think they spun the dial pretty well on their pressures and coverages," he added in a moment of clarity. "I think we had some opportunities to make some plays that we really didn't. It just felt like we were fighting hard out there to gain yards. We were trying to stay balanced out there. I think it probably turned into more of a passing game for us as we got behind.

"We talked all week about fast starts and getting ahead of these guys and playing ahead and we had some opportunities there in the first quarter and really let those slip away. And we made it a dog fight and ultimately couldn't really dig ourselves out of the holes we made."

And just like in Super Bowl XLII, the New York team wasn't afraid to broadcast its sublime confidence, before and after the game.

"I was dead wrong," the bombastic Ryan declared to open his post-game remarks to the media.

"I thought it would come down to me and [Bill] Belichick... But, it came down to our players and it came down to the assistant coaches and we won that battle.

"You know," Ryan continued, unabashedly as usual, "this isn't the first time we've played good defense. We know a little bit about playing defense and clearly you got to mix it up on it. You can't just give them one thing all the time. Mix your coverages, mix your blitzes, mix your pressures, all that kind of stuff.

"Against these great quarterbacks, that's what you have to do. And that's back-to-back weeks. You know, against Peyton Manningat Indy and now, Tom Brady at New England. You know, mission impossible. Now on to round three, on mission impossible."

"All the talking going into the game, it didn't matter," Branch tried to rationalize. "That wasn't the reason why they won the game. We just weren't executing."

And just like in Super Bowl XLII, when the credits rolled in this sequel, the audience was left speechless.

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