The score of this game would give the indication the Patriots had an easy time with their AFC East rival Jets but that certainly wasn't the case throughout most of this contest. The Jets defense, led by an under-talented but game secondary, held New England to field goals when the game was still close while Chad Pennington managed 300 yards through the air.
The difference was the Patriots could afford to kick three field goals because offensively they were clearly the superior and more balanced team, keeping pressure on the Jets defense all afternoon. When New England was on defense the difference was even more evident. New England allowed New York into the end zone only once on the day and that type of production wasn't nearly enough for the Jets.
In the end, the Patriots eventually pulled away in the fourth quarter forcing Pennington to be one-dimensional and allowing Asante Samuel to put the hammer down with a late interception return to give his team their final points and a three-touchdown margin.
Tom Brady was his usual efficient self passing for 212 yards (22 of 34) and 2 touchdowns. The Patriots ground game mixed in Laurence Maroney, Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk to the tune of 158 yards.
New England will now travel to San Diego next week to take on the top-seeded Chargers.
The opening drive of the game embodied the chess match many felt this game would come down to.
New England won the coin toss and elected to receive. Brady went into no huddle mode while the Jets defense milled about in an effort to give the Patriots signal caller an uncertain pre-snap read. The strategy worked for the Jets the last time these teams met but this time, Brady found Jabar Gaffney early and often. Gaffney caught passes of 12, 7 and 15 yards down to the New York 25. A 16-yard catch by Troy Brown on third and 12 made it first and goal from the 10 where Dillon bounced a run to the right and ran in untouched on the next play.
The Jets got three points back in the first quarter after Dillon fumbled on first down at his own 14. The Jets recovered but only netted 5 yards on the three plays that followed and Mike Nugent was good on his 28-yard attempt.
New York took the lead as the second quarter began. On a third and 7 from his own 23, Pennington hit Jerricho Cotchery around 10 yards downfield. Artrell Hawkins took a bad angle on his attempted tackle and Cotchery went untouched 77 yards to the end zone.
A stunned Gillette Stadium crowd watched as the Jets sideline celebrated. It was precisely the type of play an underdog needs to pull of an upset and New England needed to answer quickly in order to take back control of the game.
The Patriots may not have taken control on their next possession but they did manage to tie the game on a 20-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Midway through the drive, Jonathan Vilma nearly stripped the ball from Brady as he set to throw but his swipe at the the ball didn't include trying to tackle Brady. Brady managed to hold on and then took off, gaining 12 yards on third and 6. Later, a 22-yard pass interference call on ex-Patriot Hank Poteat, who cut off Ben Watson's path, placed the ball near the goal line. The infraction gave New England a first and 10 at the 3 but three plays netted only a yard and New England settled for the field goal.
Patriots fans began to breath a little easier when the Patriots defense stopped the Jets just over midfield near the end of the first half. The Patriots took over after the punt at their own 20 and didn't even need to convert a third down until into Jets territory. Brady hit Ben Watson on second down for 10 yards and Caldwell for 19, also on second down. Next up, Kevin Faulk began to find space up the middle of the Jets defense for runs of 7, 8 and 9 yards. Gaffney made David Barrett miss on his tackle and turned what should have been a short pass into a 13-yard gain to the Jets 11. Maroney picked up the first down on two carries, giving his team three tries to get in the end zone as the first half clock wound down. But after a Heath Evans try for no gain followed by Maroney getting stuffed, New England was faced with a third and goal from the 1 with 14 seconds left and no timeouts.
Now Brady had no choice but to pass and he did just that, connecting with Daniel Graham along the back of the end zone for the score, just beyond the reach of Jets linebacker Brad Kassell. New England headed to the locker room with a 17-10 lead and feeling good in that aside from the Cotchery catch and run, its defense was keeping the patient Pennington from his staple extended drives.
That wasn't the case as the second half opened. The Jets took the kickoff and on his first series Pennington passed his way downfield en route to a 13-play drive that lasted over six minutes. Fortunately for New England, once in the red zone the Patriots defense continued its stingy ways and limited the offensive production to only a 21-yard field goal to make the score 17-13.
Brady came right back and it looked like the Patriots were poised for the end zone after he hit a wide open Gaffney streaking across the middle for 31 yards to the Jets 18. But two plays later Bryan Thomas crashed in from his right side to sack Brady for a loss of 12 yards and New England was forced to bring on Gostkowski two plays later for a 40-yard attempt which he made.
New York took over on its own 13 and started moving the ball again. Suddenly it wasn't just Pennington's passing that was working; Leon Washington was finding a lot of room with runs of 11 and 19 to the Patriots 46. That's when Pennington dropped back and threw a lateral to Cotchery. Rosevelt Colvin got in the way and nearly had the interception. While he was hitting himself for missing, play sort of stopped but the ball remained live. Vince Wilfork alertly picked it up and started running, getting down to the Jets 14 for a 32-yard return. New York challenged the play hoping it was a forward pass but the call stood.
Now the Patriots had a prime opportunity to really put some distance between them and the pesky Jets but New York's defense wasn't about to let its rivals off that easy, limiting New England to three plays and a 28-yard field goal to make it a 10-point spread heading into the fourth quarter.
Pennington continued to move his team as soon as he got the ball back. He was taking advantage of the Patriots linebackers in coverage over the middle and finding Chris Baker for gains of 26, 11 and 13. But once again, in the red zone New England's defense took over and all the Jets could do was pull within a touchdown on a 37-yard field goal.
Finally, New England pulled away in this one with a 13-play scoring drive that went 63 yards. Brown converted a huge third and 8 early with a 10-yard catch over the middle that he had to go down to the ground for. Gaffney caught his eighth pass of the contest, an 8-yard that gave him 104 yards on the day. The scoring play was a 7-yard catch by Faulk on third and goal in which he sneaked out of the backfield uncovered.
Up 30-16, the Patriots had the Jets and Pennington where they wanted them, firmly in desperation mode. Of course that meant turnover time and Asante Samuel was more than happy to oblige. He took Pennington's second pass of the series back 36 yards for a touchdown to put the game away and an exclamation point on the Patriots week one playoff win.