FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots have won 20 games in a row, and yesterday they tied the NFL record for most consecutive regular-season wins (17). Those are feats that take all the emotion the players can muster week after week.
Each week there is a new cause to rally around. Next week it will be a matchup against AFC East rival New York, also 5-0. Yesterday, Rodney Harrison took a few words from usually quiet Seattle receiver Darrell Jackson, who said among other things the Patriots were “beatable,” and he turned them into what Harrison called “fuel for the fire.”
“Two losses in a row [for the Seahawks],” Harrison said. “Breaks my heart.”
The fiery Patriots safety, who had another strong game in the 30-20 win over the Seahawks at Gillette Stadium, said the team plays too hard to accept what he terms “disrespectful chatter” from the opposition. Harrison believes New England’s opponents should respect “a bunch of guys who work hard every week to prepare to play football as a team.” He claimed he turned to Jackson at one point and said, “Why don’t you just shut up and play?”
“We don’t have a bunch of clowns in here,” Harrison said. “We have good, quality people. It’s a tough locker room if you’re a prima donna. There’s not one guy who singles himself out as being better or different than anyone else.”
If wide receiver Bethel Johnson was in danger of becoming one of those guys, a trip to the Bill Belichick House of Detention seems to have rehabilitated him quickly. Johnson, who according to team sources was having problems executing the plays in the playbook, and was inactive for last week’s game, made the catch of his life late in the fourth quarter. His full-extension, diving grab of a 48-yard pass from Tom Brady after outracing everyone in a Seahawks uniform kept alive New England’s clinching drive.
“I guarantee that he is definitely the only guy on this team and probably one of the few guys in the league that could have caught up to that ball, because of his speed,” said Patriots cornerback Ty Law.
The Seahawks’ Josh Brown had just made a 31-yard field goal to trim the Patriots’ advantage to 23-20 with 3:01 left. Brown, however, hit a bad kickoff to the 9, and Johnson ran it to the Patriot 37, from where New England started its clinching march.
Johnson’s great grab came on third and 7 from the Patriot 40. The completion was challenged by Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, but the call on the field was upheld. While the ball hit the ground with Johnson’s arms wrapped around it, the ruling was that the receiver had held on. The play appeared to break the spirits of the Seahawks, who two plays later allowed a 9-yard touchdown run by Corey Dillon, who controlled the clock for the Patriots all day with 105 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“I think he made a great catch,” Holmgren said of Johnson’s acrobatics. “I saw the play differently from the referee, but any way you look at it, it was a great effort by a great athlete. But, you know what, that is what this team has been able to do. It’s a remarkable thing. You tip your hat to them.”
Johnson said, “I knew I caught it. It kind of got knocked out a little bit when my head hit the ground. I just knew I had to hold on to the ball no matter what.”
Holmgren had to be fuming about his team’s lack of timing. Seattle had only six penalties, but they all seemed to come at the wrong time.
On their next-to-last drive, when they settled for the field goal, the Seahawks had first and 10 at the Patriots 13. They committed two penalties on one play, both of which the Patriots declined. Matt Hasselbeck committed intentional grounding on second and 12 from the Patriot 15, which cost Seattle 10 yards and a loss of down. Before the Seahawks knew it, it was fourth down, and instead of going for 7 points and the lead, they settled for 3 to trail by 3.
On the grounding call, Hasselbeck said, “We had a silent snap count on, and motion was not real good. I was looking that way, and a sack at that point is a bad thing, so that’s why I threw it. That was not the big play that hurt us. There were 20 ahead of that one.”
The former Boston College signal-caller went 27 of 50 for 349 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Both of his interceptions led to scores in the first quarter. After Richard Seymour tipped a pass, Willie McGinest came down with it and ran 27 yards to the Seahawks 26. Dillon ran it in from the 1 for the Patriots’ first score, with 7:44 remaining in the first. On the Seahawks’ next possession, Law made a nice interception, diving along the sideline in front of Jackson at the Seattle 43.
Brady, who went 19 for 30 for 231 yards, completed a couple of passes to get Adam Vinatieri within field goal range from 40 yards, making it 10-0.
With 12:32 remaining in the second quarter, Brady connected with a wide-open David Patten for a 6-yard TD pass, giving the Patriots a 17-0 lead.
The Patriots were very proud of limiting the Seahawks to the field goal when they were in the red zone during crunch time.
“We tried to keep containment on the quarterback and the coverage was pretty tight down there,” Belichick said. “I think those defensive backs stepped up and did a nice job on those receivers. Ty, Asante, Dexter [Reid] made a nice play at the end.”
“The red zone was a point of emphasis all week,” Harrison said. “With their offense, and the great players they have over there, they’re used to marching down the field and scoring 7 points.”
The Seahawks might have won but for the penalties and some drops by their receivers. Part of that was the intimidation of Law and Harrison, but even so Hasselbeck brought Seattle back by engineering drives capped by field goals by Brown, the second of which made it 20-6 at the half. Brown added a 28-yarder in the third quarter after Hasselbeck misfired to Koren Robinson in the end zone from the Patriot 10.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, in a scary moment, Brady had his helmet ripped off by Michael Boulware and fumbled. The Patriots held off Seattle there, but the next time New England had the ball, Brady, with a lot of time to throw, was picked off by Boulware at the Patriot 45. The Seahawks then pounded home their only touchdown on Shaun Alexander’s 9-yard run with 11:05 left in the fourth, and after Hasselbeck connected with tight end Jerramy Stevens for the 2-point conversion, it was 20-17.
The teams traded field goals, leading up to the final three minutes, when the New England defense dominated.
“I’m enjoying this, trust me,” Harrison said. “All that talk from Seattle all week . . . “