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Patriots defend home opener, 23-16

Two gritty teams met on the football field today with the difference being one team able to run the ball and the other having to rely on the pass.



             Two gritty teams met on the football field today with the difference being one team able to run the ball and the other having to rely on the pass.  

Of late, that description would have New England in the latter category but on this day, it was the Patriots able to run when they chose to and the Jets taking it to the air.

Between Kevin Faulk and Antowain Smith, New England had 134 yards on the ground, 148 total throwing in a couple runs by Larry Centers and Troy Brown. That's a good thing because early on, Brady was harassed when trying to pass (he was sacked five times and fumbled once).

Patriots offensive lineman Damien Woody said the offense always knew it had the ability to run, but it was also good to put together a solid rushing effort on the field.

"We knew we were capable, but it's just the fact of going out there and doing it," Woody said. "Anybody can talk a big game, but to go out there and back it up it is a whole different story and I think today we did a pretty good job of moving the line of scrimmage. The backs ran hard and everybody did a good job collectively in the running game of making it happen. Was it perfect? No, but that's the type of progress we need for the rest of the season."



             On the other side of the ball, it was the Patriots pass defense getting the better of Vinny Testeverde and his troops with Asante Samuel turning in his first career interception score and Tedy Bruschi having another solid game (9 tackles, forced fumble). When the Jets did try and run, New England gave them few holes, limiting Curtis Martin to 53 yards on 15 attempts.  

Despite early season struggles, the New England defense came into the gaming with a great deal of respect for the future Hall of Famer and his abilities.

"Curtis always runs hard and I think Curtis has multiple years left in him," Bruschi said. "Whether he is struggling or not, I have tremendous respect for that running back and I always will. Number one goal going into every week, whether it is Curtis Martin or Trung Canidate, we have to stop the run to be successful. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. Today we did."

The Jets opened the game with a 19-yard pass to Curtis Conway and then benefited by a late hit on Martin by Richard Seymour, tacking on 15 yards to a 6-yard run, bringing the ball to the Patriots 32. But the Patriots defense held from there forcing a 41-yard field goal for a 3-0 Jets early lead.

New England bounced back with three points of its own on a 5:47 drive. They pounded the ball on the ground for six straight plays, beginning at their own 30 and winding up on the Jets 35 where Brady, with excellent protection, found Daniel Graham for 31 yards. The second-year tight end did a good job of picking up yards after the catch, cutting it up the middle of the field down to the Jets 4. But from there, a Centers run gained only 1 and then on third down, Brady was sacked by Shaun Ellis for a loss of 3 and Vinatieri came on for a 24-yard field goal to tie the game.

New England fell short yet again on its second drive of the game. While coming up with three points on a 22-yard field goal, the Patriots had first and 10 on the Jets 10 but another sack of Brady, this one by Bryan Thomas, helped thwart the opportunity. Still, at third and 4 from the 4, Brady had a chance to hit Troy Brown who was open on his pattern across the end zone but the ball was overthrown, bringing on Vinatieri.

The Jets were determined to break the pattern of field goals when they lined up for their own on the next drive. But instead of a 34-yard attempt, holder Doug Stryzinski picked up the ball and threw to center Kevin Mawae who rumbled out of his lineman's position towards the left sideline. The ball bounced off the leaping lineman's hands and the Patriots maintained their 3-point lead.

Despite doing a good job against the run – even without Ted Washington who left the game after the first series with a leg injury – the Patriots defense was having trouble defensing the vertical pass while also committing some key personal foul penalties.

On the Jets fourth drive of the first half, Rodney Harrison was flagged for roughing which gave the Jets good field position at the Patriots 26. Martin was dumped for a 4-yard loss, however, and after coming up short with a pass to Wayne Chrebet, the Jets tied the game at 6 with a 39-yard field goal by Brien.

After another sack of Brady on the Patriots next possession forced New England to turn the ball over after three plays with a punt. On the Jets subsequent drive, the Patriots had both a little good and bad luck. The good came when Wayne Chrebet beat his man along the right sideline for an apparent touchdown. But just prior to making the catch on first and 10 from the Patriots 32, he tapped the sideline with his foot, making him ineligible to be the first person to touch the ball. The penalty was illegal touching and the Jets were knocked back five yards.

By this point, New York was working exclusively through the air and on third and 12, Testeverde was forced to backpedal as he looked downfield. He clearly threw the ball away to avoid a sack but the referee ruled he was outside the tackles, allowing him to do so legally. Replay showed that was not the case but that type of play is not reviewable.

The following punt pinned the Patriots on their own 4-yard line and Brady losing the grip of the ball on a pass attempt that he recovered, kept them there.

As the half closed out the Jets had a chance to break the tie with a last drive but New England was on top of every pass Testeverde tried.

The first half ended at 6-6 but injuries continued to mount for New England. In addition to Washington leaving the field, Ty Law hurt his ankle as the half ended and David Patten limped off the field earlier in the game.



             The field goal parade continued as the second half opened with New England regaining the lead on a 47-yard Vinatieri boot. On the drive, Antowain Smith ran for 22 net yards on 5 attempts.  

The Patriots averted disaster when Brady was sacked for the fifth time and fumbled on the Patriots second possession of the second quarter. The Jets Chester McGlockton came from behind and got a piece of the ball before Brady's arm started forward. James Reed recovered the ball and returned it 16 yards to the Patriots 13. But New England's defense stifled the Jets and three points was all the Jets came away with.

New England finally broke the string of field goals with the game's first touchdown with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. Christian Fauria started things out with two catches of 28 and 12 yards. Brady hit Branch for 9 yards and a huge pass interference call on Ray Mickens as he angled off Troy Brown from an end zone pass put the ball on the 1-yard line goal to go. Brady dropped back to pass on the next play, found no one, and took the ball in himself. With the extra point the score was 16-9, Patriots.

With Ted Washington and Ty Law out of the game, the New England defense was performing nonetheless. And when Samuel intercepted Testeverde to begin the fourth quarter, it was a huge exclamation point on the day's effort. Samuel took the pick 55 yards for his first pro touchdown and suddenly the game broke open for the Patriots at 23-9.

Not for long, however.

After all that hard work by the Patriots defense, it was as if it took a break on the Jets next drive. New York only took four plays to get its first touchdown, a 29-yard pass to Chrebet down the middle of the field, to close within a touchdown at 23-16.

Momentum continued to swing the Jets way after holding New England to three and out. On the Jets next possession they got as far as the New England 24 but Brien missed on a 42-yard field goal attempt and the Patriots maintained their 7-point lead.

With 7:10 left in the game, a sustained drive for New England would have gone a long way towards a win. Instead, the Patriots elected to throw three straight times gaining zero yards, despite running the ball as well as they had in a long time.

The three and out was just one of a number of areas that New England will come away from the game needing to improve, but in the end the team came away with a victory in the tough AFC Eeast. Those in the Patriots locker room know that walking away with a win is always a positive, but there is plenty to work on in the coming weeks.

"We'll see what happened, but we are going to have to take this win, put it behind us, correct our mistakes and we have another big one coming up this week," Joe Andruzzi said. "We'll get out there and do our best in practice so we can accomplish another win for next week."

Fortunately for New England, while they could run but chose not to, the Jets had no choice but to throw due to their lack of consistent running. As a result, they too went three and out as both Law, back in the game from his injury, and Bruschi, made fine plays on Testeverde passes.

That was essentially the ball game as it ended with Brady taking a couple knees.

On the day, Brady was 15 of 25 for 181 while his Jets counterpart was 25 of 43 for 264 with a touchdown and an interception.

The injury news continues to sour wins for the Patriots. While Law returned and played well, Washington did not and Belichick revealed after the game he had fractured his leg. No word on Patten's injury was available at this time

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