FOXBOROUGH - Silent night.
Last night the Patriots got rocked and socked for the second straight week, this time by the hated New York Jets, who, after a 30-17 win, tied the Patriots for second place in the AFC East with an 8-7 record. The Gillette Stadium crowd, which had so wanted to scream at the top of its lungs in glee, instead began leaving midway through the fourth quarter, wondering if the defending Super Bowl champions even would qualify for the playoffs.
Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette will decide everything.
New England will win the division if it beats Miami and the Jets lose to the Packers. If the Patriots beat Miami and the Jets beat the Packers, the Jets will win the division. The Patriots still can qualify for a wild-card spot if they beat Miami and the Chargers, Broncos, and Browns all lose. If they lose, they’re out.
“Wasn’t pretty, huh?” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was 19 for 37 for 133 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, and was under constant pressure from the Jets’ front four. “One play after another we couldn’t execute the right way. It’s a frustrating game for us and for our coaches. Just disappointing.”
“It’s a [expletive] loss. We just blew it,” said Brady.
Not much was corrected from their thrashing at the hands of the Tennessee Titans last Monday night, and Brady said, “When you need to finish the season with three games and you lose two of them . . . our focus has to be Miami. It has to be.”
The Patriots’ hopes last night went up in smoke with a Brady interception in the fourth quarter on a fly ball that was picked off by Donnie Abraham at the Jets’ 5 with 7:39 remaining.
But the biggest momentum-turner was veteran Troy Brown muffing a third-quarter punt (recovered by Nick Ferguson) with the score tied, 17-17. That led to a 23-yard John Hall field goal with 1:50 remaining in the third quarter. The Patriots never recovered.
“I made a bad decision,” said Brown. “I should have fair-caught the ball. I should have felt the guy [Chad Morton] come down on me. It was the biggest mistake I’ve made. We had a little momentum and that one set us back. We never got our rhythm back.”
And the other huge factor was the Jets taking advantage of second-year cornerback Leonard Myers, who was torched twice for touchdowns, playing in place of the injured Otis Smith. The second time was a 15-yard touchdown pass from Chad Pennington to Wayne Chrebet that stretched the Jets’ lead to 10 points with 8:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, capping a 74-yard drive which ate up 6:07 of the quarter.
A facemask penalty by Ty Law following a 13-yard completion by Pennington (23 for 33, 285 yards, three touchdowns, and incredibly accurate all night) to Laveranues Coles put the Jets in strong position at the Patriots’ 18.
The Patriots had bolted out of the second-half gate with purpose, eating up the first 8:41 and scoring the tying touchdown on a 6-yard play-action pass from Brady to Christian Fauria, his seventh TD catch of the season.
In a unique drive, Brady, who had gone an ineffective 7 for 18 for 47 yards and a 47.0 quarterback rating in the first half, ran for three first downs, including a 15-yard scamper to the Jets’ 14. The Patriots had converted only one of eight third-down opportunities in the first half.
The Patriots kept the 66-yard drive on the ground as Antowain Smith, held to 25 yards on eight carries in the first half, finally found some decent room with seven carries and set up the TD with runs of 6 and 2 yards.
The New England defense responded with an excellent three-and-out series, but then came Brown’s unfortunate play.
On the second possession of the first quarter, Gang Green did the predictable. It found Myers, starting in place of Smith.
Pennington, the hottest young quarterback east of Michael Vick, threw a perfectly placed ball to the end zone just as he was being plastered by Richard Seymour. But Coles broke past Myers and former Jet Victor Green and ran under the 32-yard strike for 6 points with 9:47 left in the first quarter.
The score was set up by Santana Moss’s 34-yard punt return, which he brought to the Patriots’ 43. The Jets got to the 32 on a Pennington pass to Richie Anderson for 8 yards and a 3-yard run by Martin.
The Patriots answered when Kevin Faulk took the kick and burst down the left side, then found a slight seam as he cut right as the coverage shifted to the left. All Faulk had to do was beat Hall to complete the 87-yard return for the tying TD, a mere 14 seconds after the Jets’ score.
It was Faulk’s second kick return for a touchdown, the first coming during garbage time of a loss to the Raiders Nov. 17 in Oakland.
That momentum was fleeting, however, because the Jets came down the field for more. After Pennington hit Moss on a long gainer, Moss was slapped with a taunting call. Pennington got the yardage back with a 14-yard toss to Chrebet, who tiptoed down the sideline and kept both feet inbounds. The Patriots challenged the call, but were rebuffed. Pennington went right back to Moss for an 11-yard touchdown strike with 2:55 remaining in the first quarter, making it 14-7.
The Patriots reduced the Jets’ lead on Adam Vinatieri’s 49-yard field goal with 9:49 remaining in the second quarter.
The Jets took the next possession and moved to the Patriots’ 21 before settling for Hall’s 39-yard field goal with 4:24 remaining in the first half. It was Jets 17, Patriots 10. But in the end, the Patriots were horrific. As safety Lawyer Milloy put it, “We can’t worry about any scenarios. All we can do is bury this one, go have a merry Christmas, come back, and concentrate on beating Miami.”