Only this franchise could make a win so satisfying this agonizing. The Jets went to 7-3 on Thursday with a 34-31 triumph over the Patriots in Foxborough. For the first time since the 2002 season, New England is looking up at New York in the standings. This was a gut check in every sense of the word. Time after time, New England seemed to land a knockout blow. Time after time, the Jets dusted themselves off the mat. Ending the Patriots' dominance in this series was never going to be easy. The Jets proved by grinding out a victory in a hostile environment after blowing an 18 point lead and surviving a last second desperation touchdown to force overtime that they have championship mettle. Gang Green has folded so many times in the past under similar circumstances.
Brett Favre: Forget about the 6 touchdown game against the Cardinals. Given the magnitude of the game and the quality of the opponent, this was his finest game as a Jet. His 26 for 33, 258 yard, 2 touchdown stat line only tells part of the story. Brett was in complete control of the game. The Jets scored on their first three possessions and would have had three touchdowns in the three drives if not for a Dustin Keller drop on the goal line. Favre was nearly flawless in the early going. He made several beautiful throws into tight coverage to extend drives. This provided a case study as to the areas Chad Pennington's arm strength limited him. There is a major misconception that arm strength is important when throwing the deep ball. Where it really matters, however, is on the short and intermediate throws where there is a tight window in which to fit a throw.
If Favre's early play gave the Jets a big lead, his play late in the contest won it and might have set the tone for the rest of the season. The Pats scored 18 unanswered to tie the game at 24. Favre calmly led New York down the field for a touchdown drive to reclaim the lead late in the fourth. The Pats scored a deflating touchdown with :01 left to force overtime. Favre calmly led another drive to set up the winning field goal. This franchise has turned losing games in agonizing fashion into an art form through the years. In tight spots, fans have come to expect the worst. Worse, the guys on the field get used to failing at critical points and come to fear them. This game had all of the makings of Marino's fake spike, Doug Brien's missed field goals, and the 1998 AFC Championship meltdown in Denver. However, when tested in this game, the Jets were poised and executed. Their Hall of Fame quarterback is not fazed by this culture of losing. He has overcome much bigger obstacles. His play and his confidence seemed to inspire the rest of the team. The Jets know that with number 4 on the field, they are one play from turning around the game even when things look bleak.
Favre played a near perfect game. The Jets do not win without his stellar outing. Brett will not have to worry about hearing boos from the fans when this team returns home in two weeks.
Dustin Keller: A boy became a man last night. In the biggest game of his life, Keller recorded 8 catches for 87 yards. Three of the catches came on the decisive overtime field goal try. The most important was his 16 yard reception on 3rd and 15. The Pats blew their coverage on Keller, allowing the rookie to get wide open. Favre found him, and Dustin willed his way past Brandon Merriweather, who met him a yard short of the sticks, for a first down. That might go down as the biggest play of the season. Had he been stopped, the Jets would have been forced to punt. With the way the defense was playing, New England probably would have scored. Many questioned the Jets moving up to take Keller in the Draft. The rationale for the pick was that he had the same tools as Dallas Clark, a player who had given the Pats fits. He sure looked the part in this game.
Eric Barton: On a night where Kris Jenkins was merely holding the point of attack and not penetrating, Barton's 14 tackles helped to shut down New England's run game.
Kickoff Return Team: It would be easy to give Leon Washington all of the credit for his 92 yard kickoff return touchdown. He certainly does deserve his share, considering how explosive he is when given a hole to hit. However, his blockers did a great job springing him. The return was well designed and superbly executed. Washington had so much room to run that I probably could have set the Jets up at midfield had I been the return man.
Jerricho Cotchery: Jerricho registered 5 catches (including an incredible 46 yard reception) and a touchdown. Can you say Patriot Killer?
Jay Feely: Had he missed the overtime field goal, the Jets would have gotten the feeling they were destined to lose. It may have been a short kick, but there is no such thing as an easy field goal in overtime of such a big game. Mike Nugent should be very worried about job security at this point, an amazing comment considering how bad Feely was earlier in the season.
Defensive Execution: This is typically where I would complain that Bob Sutton was too conservative, constantly dropping seven or eight into coverage and giving Matt Cassel all the time in the world to pick the defense apart. However, it did not make much of a difference. Even when the Jets did blitz, the Pats picked it up and gave Cassel time to throw. The New York pass rush against the New England offensive line was strength against strength, and the Pats dominated.
Pace in Coverage: Thus far during his tenure in New York, Calvin Pace has been as well-rounded as any 3-4 outside linebacker in football. In this game, however, he had major issues playing Benjamin Watson. Watson had 8 catches for 88 yards, including a touchdown on which he made Pace look foolish. Calvin has the instincts and the athleticism to match up with Watson, but he sure did not show it in this game.
Dwight Lowery: New York's defensive gameplan was positively Belichickian. The Jets constantly doubled Randy Moss and Wes Welker, attempting to take away what the Pats did best. This admittedly had mixed results as Welker had 7 catches and over 100 receiving yards. The real failure in this plan was that it left Lowery all alone against Jabar Gaffney. The Patriots picked on Lowery, beating him three times at the end of the half on a touchdown drive. Lowery later dropped a potential game-clinching interception. It is safe to say that the talented rookie has hit the wall.
Jenkins MIA: When the Pats spread the field in the second half and went to the no huddle, the Jets pulled Kris Jenkins from the game for extended stretches. It made little sense for the team to pull its best player off the field. While the no huddle may have winded a man in excess of 350 pounds, a fatigued Jenkins is still better than a fresh Mike Devito. With Jenkins clogging the middle of the line, New York could have played a 3-2-6 dime package instead of the 4-1-6 for which it opted. With only a single linebacker in the game, any time the running back split into the flat, said linebacker would have to cover him and vacate the middle of the field. This helped contribute to Matt Cassel's 62 rushing yards. Part of Jenkins' value also comes in the pass rush as he demonstrated in a big fourth quarter sack. He made a living penetrating in Carolina's 4-3. Pulling him in passing situations indicates he is a one-dimensional run stuffer, a hypothesis which is simply untrue.
Law's Coverage on the Tying Touchdown: While Cris Collinsworth would not stop harping on Ty Law giving Randy Moss a clean release instead of jamming him, he did blanket Moss in coverage. The real failure of the play was in the cornerback with the best ball skills in his generation somehow not getting to a pass to a receiver he had completely covered.
- We saw that Ty Law still has cover skills but not much faith in his own ability. During the first half, he pushed around Randy Moss and stayed with him when he knew he had safety help. When left on an island in the second half, he was very conservative, giving receivers a big cushion. This should show the Jets how to use him. Law is at his best when he takes chances. He is afraid of being beaten without safety help. Fortunately, this team does have a corner in Darrelle Revis who can shut down half of the field on his own. This means Law should have a lot of help over the top the rest of the way.
- It was odd to not see the Jets use their best cover guy, Revis, in one on one matchups while using lesser players to double Welker and Moss instead of providing Darrelle with help over the top. The whole idea of providing double coverage is to protect the weak links in the secondary. Revis is the last guy in the secondary who needs help.
- It is amazing how the media will go to no end making excuses for the Patriots. This was evident in Collinsworth and Bob Papa claiming that the Pats would have won if not for several self-inflicted wounds. This is true, but it was also true of the Jets in virtually every game in this series for the past five years. Yet then the narrative was how great the Pats were, not how the Jets shot themselves in the foot.
It may have taken a catastrophic injury to a future Hall of Famer, another Hall of Famer falling into their laps, and several miscues by the opponent, but the Jets are finally the team to beat in the AFC East. Nothing Pats fans can say will make this win or this moment any less sweet. The Jets now how a long week to recover before a trip to Tennessee. They may need all of that time to rest up after a grueling and emotional win.