EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - One week after digging out of a double-digit deficit to record a season-opening win, the Patriots tried a different route yesterday. They built a sizable lead then hung on for dear life.
The team had a 17-point advantage at halftime, increased it to 24 points six minutes into the third quarter, then withstood a furious rally from the Jets to record a 24-17 victory before 77,595 fans at Giants Stadium.
Several Patriots acknowledged that recording a victory was of primary importance, but they still expressed disappointment with the way things unfolded.
“It shouldn’t have been that close,” said safety Rodney Harrison. “That was just terrible by us. Breakdowns. A lack of concentration. We can’t go into next week doing those type of things, because Denver will definitely beat you.”
Linebacker Mike Vrabel added that the team had a lesson to learn: “When you get up, you have to keep people down and bury them.”
A clock-chewing, fourth-quarter drive that covered 8:15 was crucial to the Patriots’ cause. But still, the result wasn’t secure until inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi - playing for the first time since breaking his right wrist July 31 - intercepted a pass at the Patriots’ 21-yard line with 15 seconds left, as the Jets were attempting a last-gasp drive with no timeouts.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who faced his former defensive coordinator Eric Mangini for the first time and exchanged a quick handshake with him afterward , called it a “typical kind of AFC East game.”
With victories in their first two games of the season, the Patriots get a quick jump on their division foes. After the Bills beat the Dolphins on the road yesterday, the AFC East now looks like this: Patriots 2-0, Bills 1-1, Jets 1-1, Dolphins 0-2. Both of the Patriots’ wins are in the division and yesterday’s result is their seventh straight victory over the Jets.
The Patriots also reached another franchise milestone, improving to 357-356-9 all time and marking the first time the club eclipsed the .500 mark since the end of the 1968 season when the Boston Patriots’ record stood at 60-59-9.
The Patriots were in command at the half.
Corey Dillon’s 1-yard touchdown run with 5:36 remaining in the first quarter opened a 7-0 edge, and culminated a drive in which receiver Chad Jackson (29 yards) and tight end Benjamin Watson (14 yards) had key receptions. On the team’s next possession, back-to-back 29-yard receptions by tight ends David Thomas and Daniel Graham ultimately led to Stephen Gostkowski’s 20-yard field goal, giving the Patriots a 10-0 edge 1:45 into the second quarter.
A key field position shift spotted the Patriots their final points of the half. After Jets punter Ben Graham’s 10-yard mis-hit with 1:08 left in the half, the Patriots took over at midfield and needed five plays before quarterback Tom Brady (15 of 29 for 220 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) found Jackson for a 13-yard touchdown under the shadow of the goal posts with 14 seconds left.
When the Patriots stopped the Jets on fourth and 1 on the opening drive of the third quarter - their second stop in that situation in as many weeks - there was no reason to think the game would be close coming down the wire. Then Laurence Maroney scored on a 1-yard run with 8:57 left in the third quarter and it was 24-0.
However, big plays - and some poor tackling by the Patriots, especially in the secondary - got the Jets back in the game.
When receiver Jerricho Cotchery hauled in a 71-yard touchdown down the right sideline, somehow avoiding the ground as defensive backs Eugene Wilson and Chad Scott attempted to make the tackle, the Jets had closed to 24-7. Jets quarterback Chad Pennington (22 of 37 for 306 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) then connected with Laveranues Coles for a 46-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter, slicing the margin to 24-14.
When Brady was sacked and lost the ball two plays later, the Jets marched for a 42-yard Mike Nugent field goal to make it 24-17.
That’s when the Patriots’ offense countered with its long drive. Belichick often preaches situational football, and the march was reflective of that. On third and 5, the Patriots gained 6 yards (Reche Caldwell reception). On another third and 5, the Patriots gained 6 yards (Kevin Faulk reception). And on a third and 7, the Patriots gained 8 yards (Troy Brown reception).
Although the drive ended with a blocked field goal, it was just enough. There was only 1:05 left on the clock, the Jets had no timeouts, and needed to cover 91 yards to tie.
“It’s always good to come down to Giants Stadium and win,” Belichick said. “It’s kind of like we talked about last week, when you think about how a game is going to go, you probably didn’t think it would go the way it went - the way it started and the way it ended up. But it’s a good win. We’ll take it.”