FOXBOROUGH - The effects of mounting injuries may take their toll down the road, but for the second straight week, the New England Patriots looked at the casts, wraps, and braces square in the eye and laughed. Rosevelt Colvin (hip) out for the season? Ted Johnson (foot) out until Week 12? Mike Compton out with a foot injury? Injuries yesterday to Ted Washington (fractured left leg), David Patten (right leg), Mike Vrabel (arm injury, extent unknown), and Ty Law (right ankle sprain)?
It didn’t matter.
The JVs stepped in and played just fine as the Patriots improved to 2-1 with a 23-16 win in their Gillette Stadium home opener, a game in which the Patriots turned Jets mistakes into points while the Jets failed to convert on New England’s mistakes.
It was nickel back Asante Samuel’s 55-yard interception return for a touchdown to open the fourth quarter that ultimately did in the Jets (0-3). Vinny Testaverde, 39, made a terrible mistake and underthrew to Wayne Chrebet, who slipped on his break, allowing Samuel to make the biggest play of his short NFL career, juggling the ball for a moment before running to paydirt.
“Coach made a good call and put me in the right position to make the play,” said the rookie corner from Central Florida. “It was a good feeling. It made me feel like I was on Cloud Nine. I was man-to-man on Chrebet and he was shifting and shaking and I waited for him to make his break. I’d never returned one for a touchdown before. Every time I’d get to to the 40 and the 30 and the 20, I’d say to myself, `You’re getting closer, keep going.’”
Oh, he kept going all right, leaving Testaverde, Chrebet, and coach Herm Edwards with a sinking feeling. And yet, the Jets came back and pulled within a touchdown when a breakdown occurred in the New England secondary and Testaverde marched the Jets right down the Patriots’ throats, culminating in a 29-yard strike to Chrebet with 12:53 remaining.
But that emptied the Jets’ tank.
“I think the reason for the loss was not being able to convert on third down, the inability to catch the ball, and the inability to make some interceptions,” said Edwards. “It was a 9-9 game and then we make an interference call, putting the ball at the 1, and then they score.”
It was 9-9 (three field goals each by Adam Vinatieri and Doug Brien) when the Patriots marched it 73 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a wide open 28-yard gain on a Tom Brady-to-Christian Fauria connection. On a second-and-10 from the 20, Brady threw toward Troy Brown in the end zone, and he drew an interference call on Ray Mickens, who was subbing for the injured Donnie Abraham. Mickens seemed to have great position, but he failed to turn to the ball. The ball was spotted at the 1, from where Brady, unable to find anyone open, skirted a pass rush and ran it in.
“I looked at my first read and he got caught up,” Brady said. “The second guy was on the corner; he got caught up. And I looked back to Christian and he had a double team, so I kind of pumped and then fell into the end zone, it looked like. It wasn’t a graceful run.”
Style points aside, it was a big drive and a big play. It was the first touchdown of a game that had featured a baseball score. It wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that it would end as a low-scoring affair. The Patriots made a concerted effort to run the ball, control the clock, and keep their defense fresh on a warm afternoon when the game-time temperature was 71.
Rushing for 147 yards, led by Kevin Faulk (79) and Antowain Smith (55), the Patriots held nearly a five-minute advantage in time of possession. The Patriots ran 36 times and threw it only 25 times, Brady going 15 for 25 for 181 yards with no touchdowns and five sacks.
The Patriots used a makeshift offensive line, moving Damien Woody to Compton’s right guard spot, and switching Joe Andruzzi from right guard to left guard. Matt Light once again did a nice job neutralizing John Abraham, who injured his hamstring later in the game and failed to get a sack.
The Patriots defense, decimated by injuries to Washington (who left the game after the fifth play and was replaced by Rick Lyle), Law, and Vrabel, made good on its promise to pay extra attention to Curtis Martin, who gained 53 yards on 15 carries. The Jets were only able to convert 1 of 13 third downs and were 0 for 2 on fourth down attempts.
The Jets had two opportunities to intercept passes and change the momentum. On the Patriots’ only touchdown drive, safety Sam Garnes had the ball thrown to him at the goal line, and while he broke up the pass intended for Daniel Graham, he could have thwarted the drive.
“That’s why DBs play DB and that’s why they’re ex-receivers,” said Edwards, who also referred to a pass that slipped between linebacker Sam Cowart’s hands in the late stages. Cowart could have given the Jets the ball in Patriots territory. “You can’t get those back. That’s what I told the guys after the game: You’ve got to make plays when you have a chance to make plays.”
Edwards was questioned about his decision to fake the field goal and go for the first down early in the second quarter, trailing, 6-3. On the play, punter/holder Dan Stryzinski had center Kevin Mawae open on the right side, but the punter slightly overthrew Mawae. The Jets coach became defensive when questioned about the call.
“If I had to do it over again I would have done the fake field goal,” Edwards said. “Absolutely, I would have. I am trying to get something going. I’m trying to get some energy into this team. I know how they feel right now. I am trying to score touchdowns. I am going to take some chances. If I want to go for it, it’s my judgment. They say the head coach lost the game because he went for a fake field goal in the second quarter of a football game, when the game is 6-3. Are you kidding me? That’s a joke.”
Another missed opportunity came in the second quarter when Chrebet was wide open down the left sideline after breaking away from Tyrone Poole. Chrebet hauled in Testaverde’s pass and waltzed into the end zone untouched. The Jets receiver, however, had stepped out of bounds before the catch, and New York was called for an illegal touch.
So in Week 1 they lose Lawyer Milloy and get whacked by the Bills, 31-0, a game in which they also lost Johnson. Last week they lost Colvin and beat up on the Eagles, 31-10. Yesterday they lost Washington and beat a division rival.
Injuries? So what, say the Patriots.