FOXBOROUGH - Yes, that was the game, and perhaps the season, going up over the hill with Abraham, Martin, and John.
The New England Patriots, who had won two straight games, stumbled badly in a 34-17 loss to the Jets yesterday before a stunned Foxboro Stadium crowd. John Abraham’s relentless rush of quarterback Drew Bledsoe counted for two of the Jets’ seven sacks and forced a key fumble early in the game. Curtis Martin ran for a whopping 143 yards and scored three touchdowns, and John Hall kicked a pair of field goals to lead a well-rounded New York attack.
The 2-5 Patriots were “outplayed and outcoached in every aspect of the game,” said coach Bill Belichick. “They did a better job than we did. We didn’t have it today. They did.”
New England’s defense, which had been so tough against the run (it hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Dec. 12, 1999), couldn’t stop Martin. The Patriots played without one of their top run-stoppers, Chad Eaton, who was out with a knee injury.
“They controlled the ball well,” said cornerback Ty Law. “If you can’t stop the run, it forces us into situations we don’t want to be in.”
In addition to being out of synch defensively, New England’s offense had its successful short-passing game taken away by the Jets, who forced them to throw long. The Patriots hit a couple of long balls, but they were unable to complement that with a ground game.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis used many spread formations and no-back sets, but all that created was a free-for-all for Abraham, Mo Lewis, and Co. to nail Bledsoe, who was sacked those seven times, the most of his career.
“We turned the ball over early in the game and we got into a one-dimensional game, having to throw the ball all the time. That’s hard for us right now,” Bledsoe said.
Martin had 81 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He scored the Jets’ first touchdown on a 2-yard run with 8:29 remaining in the first quarter to cap a 38-yard drive that had been set up by Kevin Faulk’s fumble at the Patriots’ 38 after a jarring hit by linebacker Bryan Cox.
That fumble seemed to haunt the Patriots the rest of the day, much like Faulk’s fumble in the Miami game did several weeks ago.
The Patriots’ second huge mistake of the first half occurred when Bledsoe went back to throw on second and 10 from the 30 and had two Jets coming at him. He tried to get rid of the ball, had it tipped by Lewis, and right behind the linebacker to pick it off was Victor Green, who returned it 21 yards for the score.
“I just dropped back,” said Green. “I was playing the man. I think the ball was deflected and it came my way, so I just took off with it.”
In a 14-0 hole, the Patriots got only 3 points back when red zone problems reappeared. After having a first and goal at the Jets’ 8, the Patriots had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 3:31 left in the quarter.
The closest the Patriots got was 14-10. Bledsoe connected with Tony Simmons down the right sideline for a 46-yard gain, and the march was capped off by Faulk’s 9-yard run up the middle with 10:44 remaining in the second quarter.
But the Patriots allowed 17 unanswered points as the defense, which had been so stout, showed its vulnerability with Eaton and Brandon Mitchell (calf) out.
“It’s the same offense regardless of who they have in there,” said linebacker Ted Johnson. “They run the same plays. They just kicked our [expletive] butts, and I can’t sugar-coat it. That’s what happened.”
The Jets got a huge break when defensive back Antonio Langham was called for a facemask on tight end Fred Baxter on third and 13 at the Patriots’ 46. It gave the Jets a first down. Then, on fourth and 2 at the Patriot 22, the Jets used some trickery. First setting up to hold for a field goal by John Hall, Tom Tupa then went under center to take the snap, and pitched to Lewis, who ran 3 yards for the first down. The Jets extended their lead to 21-10 on Martin’s 4-yard run.
Bledsoe was stripped of the ball late in the first half by Abraham, who easily got around Bruce Armstrong. The Jets recovered the fumble at the 43.
“I don’t know if [Armstrong] wasn’t ready or not because the last time I played against him I had a pretty good game, so I just tried to attack him the same way and it worked,” said Abraham. The Jets settled for a 38-yard field goal by Hall and a 24-10 halftime lead.
The Patriots had few answers after halftime, either, as they dropped to 1-3 against divisional opponents.
The most humiliating sequence for Bledsoe occurred in the third quarter, when the Jets brought the house. On New England’s first offensive series of the quarter, Bledsoe was sacked both by Abraham and by Lewis.
The Jets added another touchdown for good measure, going on a 40-yard drive that featured some nice Martin runs and a 16-yard Laveranues Coles reception. Martin went in from 2 yards out to cap it with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
It was garbage time, but the next New England score meant something to Bledsoe personally. His fourth-quarter TD on a 13-yard sneak, the longest touchdown by a Patriots runner this year, was the first he’d run for in an eight-year professional career. It made it 31-17 with 9:38 left.
The Jets added a 27-yard Hall field goal following an interception by Lewis, making it 34-17.
“We just have to remember how this feels,” said defensive end Willie McGinest. “How lousy we all feel right now. Because we don’t want to feel like this anymore. It’s not going to kill our will, or prevent us from working hard trying to get better. But you know it hurts.”
More than he may know.