2011 NFL playoffs: The Patriots can't shut the Jets up and can't shut them down

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez celebrates with fans after his team's 28-21 win over the New England Patriots in an NFL divisional playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez celebrates with fans after his team's 28-21 win over the New England Patriots in an NFL divisional playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (Charles Krupa - AP)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2011; 12:53 AM


Somebody else is going to have to shut these crazy fools up, because the New England Patriots couldn't do it. The New York Jets will continue their uncontrolled lip-flapping and unbridled gloating for at least another week, or until somebody makes them stop. You want to beat them? Turn off the radio, and the TV, and burn the newspapers. Whatever you do, don't let them get into your head.

First the Jets insulted the Patriots, and then they pushed them around, and as if that wasn't enough, they taunted them, too. There was Shonn Greene, waving nighty-night and using the football as a pillow in the end zone after scoring the Jets' final touchdown in their 28-21 victory at Gillette Stadium in an AFC semifinal.

There was Braylon Edwards, doing a rounded-off back flip when the final second ticked off the clock, a gymnastic routine that seemed to sum up this impossible team in all their rash exuberance. "It was one of those emotional, spontaneous, impulsive things," he said.

All week, the Jets were yammering New York loudmouths. Antonio Cromartie called Patriots quarterback Tom Brady an orifice. Bart Scott threatened to cut short the career of any Patriots who dared make fun of Jets Coach Rex Ryan.

What was the deal? Were the Jets just that reckless, or were they playing some kind of psychological game? It was a little bit of both. At least some of the jibing and the baiting was calculated to get to Brady and Coach Bill Belichick, to shake their seemingly impermeable superiority complex.

The tone was set by Ryan, who casually and almost offhandedly belittled Brady's study habits, and insisted he wouldn't discipline Cromartie or anyone else for anything they had to say. "First off, in this country, you're allowed to have opinions, and all that kind of stuff," Ryan said. Listen closely to what he said next: "I know one thing, we respect New England, but we don't fear them."

So that was what it was partly about: turning this game from a chess match into a schoolyard brawl, and sucking the Patriots into it. And it worked. It was the hotheads against a bunch of Mister Cools.

Brady initially seemed unbothered by it all. After all, the Patriots came in with the best record in the NFL at 14-2, they were the highest-scoring team in the league, and Brady hadn't thrown an interception in 91 days. And the last time the two teams met, he had embarrassed the Jets, 45-3. "I've been called worse," he said of Cromartie's taunt.

But then Wes Welker fired back during a news conference, with a subtle bit of mocking at Ryan, making no fewer than 10 veiled references to Ryan's alleged participation in an online foot fetish video with his wife. It showed that the Patriots had been listening. The Jets had gotten their attention.

But more important, the Jets had raised the stakes for themselves. With all that jawing, especially Cromartie's, they had put themselves squarely on the line. "Our whole thing is to always be ourselves," Cromartie said.

"I'm not going to say it needed to be said, but it was said, and we backed it up," defensive end Shaun Ellis said.

"If you do it, you better back it up," quarterback Mark Sanchez said.

By game time, it seemed like everyone in the stadium was out to prove who was tough enough to back up all those words. Brady tucked his goldilocks hair into an evil black hood, and at one point during warmups he blew snot out of one nostril.

The Patriots' fans showed off an aggressive all-weather hardiness as they tailgated in 30-degree temperatures, wrapped in team-colored parkas, the lone dashes of color in an otherwise sepia-winter New England landscape. They gathered in the parking lots among mounds of plowed snow, and drank ice-cold beers while they huddled over barbecue fires. "NO KEGS," announced a sign at the entrance to the parking lots.

But on the field, the Patriots turned out to be just a little too cool and collected for their own good. They didn't have an answer for the Jets' snarling defense, which hounded Brady with five sacks, and smothered and bullied his receivers, bumping them, jamming them, and knocking them off their routes.

Something or somebody had gotten to the Patriots because they made all kinds of uncharacteristic mistakes, from lousy play calls to dropped passes to Brady's first interception since October. For once he wasn't the most effective quarterback on the field. "We made it a dogfight and ultimately couldn't really dig ourselves out of the holes we made," Brady said.

It was either arrogance or frustration over the lack of an answer that provoked Belichick to call for a disastrous fake punt inside the two-minute mark of the first half. We'll never know, because Belichick refused to discuss it later. The snap went directly to safety Patrick Chung, who dropped it, and was swamped by white-and-green jerseys. Over on the sideline, Ryan clapped his hands and giggled with delight.

You had the suspicion that Belichick's ego had gotten in the way. He was going to outwit Ryan. Show him who was the cagier gambler. Instead, Sanchez almost immediately made the Patriots pay with a 15-yard scoring pass to Edwards. And with that, everything changed. New England would be playing catch-up for the rest of the night.

The Patriots still had a few big plays in their hip pocket. Brady drove them 80 yards in just eight plays, hitting Alge Crumpler on a two-yard scoring pass with 13 seconds left in the third quarter, and Sammy Morris vaulted in for the two-point conversion on a direct snap to make it a 14-11 game. But the Jets did what anyone who intends to win a fight has to do. They hit right back. The second-year Sanchez had held his own with Brady all afternoon, and now he did more. "His swag was speaking for him," Edwards said.

It took them just over two minutes to drive downfield, thanks to Jerricho Cotchery's 58-yard explosion on an underneath pattern, and then Sanchez hit Santonio Holmes with a scoring fade in the corner of the end zone. "We knew we had to answer," Cotchery said.

The cool act was wearing thin. The Patriots acted like they had an infinite amount of time - but they didn't. Brady danced around trying to find something in the blanketing coverage. Deliberate began to look stymied, and then confused. And then beaten.

"As a competitor, when someone tells you that you can't do something, all you want to do is prove them wrong," Sanchez said.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company