The Patriots were victorious in their meeting the Jets at the Meadowlands on Sunday and are leading the AFC East as a result. But the win didn't come easily thanks to big plays by the Jets receiving corps and mental errors by the Patriots.
Just after Laurence Maroney's first NFL touchdown, the Jets, down 24-0, began a drive. The Patriots defended the start of the drive well, making tackles for negative yards on the first three plays, but the second play was coupled with an illegal contact call on Junior Seau who was too far off the line of scrimmage when he bumped a receiver. The penalty gave the Jets a first down. Two plays later, Chad Pennington flashed his recently repaired throwing arm on a pass to Jerricho Cotchery, who made the catch and ran it in for a 71-yard touchdown – a career-long TD pass for Pennington. It looked as though Cotchery was taken down, and coach Belichick thought so too. He challenged the play, but the replays showed that Cotchery was never down.
"I thought his elbow went down, but I guess it was on the back of one of our players, so actually it wasn't down. He's a heck of an athlete," Belichick said after the game.
Seau was charged with roughing the passer on the touchdown play after hitting Pennington at the knees, which was made illegal in the NFL's new 2006 rule changes. The Patriots had little hope of returning the kick since it was taken from the Jets 45-yard line as a result of the penalty.
After a touchback, Brady and the offense began the drive from their own 20-yard line. Tag-team running backs Corey Dillon and Maroney traded carries to gain a first down, but then disaster struck again. Brady dropped back and threw a long one down the middle to Doug Gabriel, who was on a fly route. The two have only been working together for a few weeks, and Brady underestimated Gabriel's speed. The ball fell short and into the hands of corner David Barrett. Gabriel made the tackle after the interception.
Brady spoke of the play in his post-game press conference, saying, "I tried to lay up there for Doug. The guy made a nice play, jumped up and caught it in front of him."
The defense took the field and played the run well, but Laveranues Coles caught two passes for gains of 7 and ten yards. Vince Wilfork jumped offsides and met up with Pennington who was still behind center. Wilfork isn't a small man, but Pennington's subsequent fall brought back memories of the summer's World Cup soccer matches. He drew the penalty and the ball was moved 15 yards toward the goal line. Then things fell apart in a flash when Coles caught a short pass, evading numerous would-be tacklers before scoring a 46-yard touchdown.
Four plays into the Patriots ensuing drive, Brady was strip-sacked and the Jets recovered the football. The Jets managed a field goal on the following drive and blocked a field goal attempt by Steven Gostkowski, his first non-scoring attempt in the NFL. Luckily, the Jets were not without mental error either. Tedy Bruschi intercepted a batted Pennington pass in the Jets final drive to secure the game in the Patriots favor.
Both Belichick and Brady talked about the need for consistency after the game.
"We're early in the season and trying to understand the different components that we have on the team and there's a lot of new players fitting into new roles and it's just going to be a lot of tough, hard-nosed games until we can really play more consistently," said Brady. "But at times it's encouraging that we can actually go out there and execute the way that I expect us to and the way our coaches expect us to. I think that's really what we're trying to get to. In some ways there are some great things to take out of this, there's also a little bit of sloppy play that we need to eliminate."
"I thought we did some good things in the passing game, but we need to be more consistent and that's what we're going to work on," said Belichick. "There's some positive signs. We got the ball to some different receivers and we were protected fairly well. But we had a couple bad plays out there too, so we've got to do a better job on those."
Quote of Note:
"Passing game really requires great execution. It you're just off a little bit in the passing game, it really shows up. You can't complete passes. That definitely happened a few times today. We need to improve and that's what we're going to get back to work on Wednesday." – Tom Brady
The Patriots showed that their passing game was not lost when Branch left for Seattle. Last week, the Patriots only gained 136 yards through the air, averaging 5.2 yards-per reception. They improved on those numbers tonight, posting 211 passing yards and averaging seven yards-per catch. With Chad Jackson finally appearing on the game field and Doug Gabriel as well, Brady connected with six different receivers on his first six completions.
With the return of Tedy Bruschi, the Patriots run defense improved on last week's game as well. Against the Bills, New England allowed only 99 yards passing and five rushing first downs. In this week's game, the Patriots held the Jets to 51 yards on the ground with no rushing first downs.