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Patriots win opener in wild one

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            East Rutherford, N.J. -- The Patriots kicked off the 1999 NFL season with a wild 30-28 win over the Jets in a game filled with big plays, big mistakes and key injuries.  

The final big mistake sealed the Jets' fate as quarterback Rick Mirer, who had entered the game in the fourth quarter for Tom Tupa, threw his second interception of the game, this one to Chris Slade. It came with the Jets up, 28-27 with just over three minutes left to play. The Patriots took the turnover and moved 44 yards to the Jets 5-yard line. From there the game came down to the foot of Adam Vinatieri who banged home a 23-yard field goal for the Patriots win.

To get to that point, both teams had to persevere events not for the faint of heart.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, it was the veteran Bledsoe making a very rookie mistake as he threw in the face of pressure and into the arms of Bryan Cox of the Jets. Cox galloped 27 yards for the score. That mistake and big play put the Jets up, 28-27.

Then there was the fake field goal staged by the Jets. With the Patriots up, 27-22, early in the fourth quarter, Jets head coach Bill Parcells elected to roll the dice on what would have been a 31-yard John Hall field goal attempt. Instead, Tupa took the snap as holder and kept it on a run to the right. He was brought down inches from the first down marker where the on-field official ruled him short. Parcells again took a chance and challenged the call with the league's new instant replay system. The Jets lost the challenge, the ball and an important timeout in a game obviously going down to the wire.

Earlier, no play was bigger than the Steve Israel sack of Tupa to begin the second half. On first and 10 from his own 26, Tupa had dropped back looking right. Israel came from his corner spot and blindsided Tupa sending the ball on a backwards journey. Brandon Mitchell was first to get a paw on the ball as it continued into the end zone. There, Willie McGinest pounced on it for the defensive touchdown and with the Vinatieri extra point, a 17-16 Patriots lead.

New England added to their lead after stopping the Jets three and out on their next possession. A fine Troy Brown punt return sprung by a Lamont Warren block set the Patriots up on the Jets 31. Two plays later, Terry Allen blew through a hole over left tackle for a 22-yard touchdown.

Three points were added on New England's next drive. Bledsoe connected with Terry Glenn for 45 yards and the Patriots were inside the Jets 10. They couldn't convert for the touchdown and wound up with a 22-yard Vinatieri field goal. Patriots 27, Jets 16.

The Jets were no where near dead. Tupa saw Keyshawn Johnson on the left sideline, Chris Carter missed a tackle and the Jets superstar was off for a 65-yard gain down to the New England 5. Tupa then found tight end Fred Baxter in the end zone for six. The Jets tried and failed a 2-point conversion and the score at that point was 27-22.

The Patriots looked impressive on their first drive but came up short of the end zone and settled for a Vinatieri 33-yard field goal. Bledsoe completed his first six passes before throwing his seventh away in the face of Jets linebacker Mo Lewis' rush. The big play on the drive was a Bledsoe to Shawn Jefferson hook-up on third and five. The completion was good for 34 yards.

The Jets answered right back with a 12-play 76-yard drive that ended in a Vinny Testaverde touchdown pass to Richie Anderson for 27 yards.

After it looked like the Jets were on the move again in the second quarter, Lawyer Milloy came up big. On a third and 10 play, Milloy picked off Testaverde over the middle to set up his offense on their own 36. Three plays later, Bledsoe found Tony Simmons streaking down the right sideline for a 57-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead.

The play came immediately after right tackle Zefross Moss was forced to leave the game with a sprained left ankle.

But no injury was bigger than Testaverdes'. Mid-way through the second quarter, Testaverde went down with a season-ending ruptured Achilles' tendon. The quarterback had moved to his left in reaction to a Curtis Martin fumble and somehow had his foot in an awkward enough position to do the damage. No one had touched him. Later, the Jets would also lose running back/returner Leon Johnson for the season with a knee and ankle injury.

It was a perfect time for the Jets to begin feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, in came ex-Patriot Tupa who calmly took his first snap and proceeded to toss a 25-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the middle of the end zone to put the Jets up 14-10.

The first half ended in football follies style. A Tupa punt had pinned the Patriots on their own 2-yard line with little time left on the clock. After being unable to move the ball and a Terry Allen penalty for a false start, the Patriots attempted a punt from their own 6. Mike Bartrum's snap sailed over the head of punter Lee Johnson with :08 left on the clock and the Jets tacked on an additional two points to their lead. The Patriots headed into the locker room down, 16-10. That play was a small foreshadowing of the events to come in the second half.

On the day, Bledsoe was 21 of 31 passing for 340 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Terry Glenn was the high receiver for New England with 7 catches for 113 yards. The Jets' Curtis Martin led all rushers with 85 yards on 19 carries and Keyshawn Johnson had a monster game with 8 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Willie McGinest had 6 tackles, 2 sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Steve Israel also had six tackles with a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. Tedy Bruschi led all Patriots with 12 tackles

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