Jets vs. Patriots: New York turns tables on New England to reach AFC championship game

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2011; 1:00 AM

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. - By the time Rex Ryan thundered down the sideline late in the fourth quarter Sunday evening, chasing down running back Shonn Greene for a coach-and-player celebration in the end zone, there were precious few parka-wearing souls remaining in the seats at Gillette Stadium. The crowd of 68,756 had come for a christening, a continuation of the humiliation their New England Patriots had doled out to the New York Jets just more than a month ago. What they got was a continuation, all right - a continuation of a Jets' season that increasingly matches all their talking of the talk with the walking of the walk.

The score here Dec. 6, back in the regular season: Patriots 45, Jets 3. The score here Sunday, in an AFC divisional playoff game: Jets 28, Patriots 21, a role reversal that keeps Ryan - the profane and personable coach - and his tell-us-we-can't-and-we-will lot alive for another week. Who knows what they might say in advance of their AFC championship game appearance in Pittsburgh next Sunday? They now have established that, regardless of their unorthodox approach - or perhaps because of it - they just might win.

"We talk because we believe in ourselves," Ryan said. "I think that was where the talk came from. . . . You know, we're not afraid of anybody."

Now, maybe, teams will fear the Jets, the sixth and final seed in the AFC who have, in consecutive weeks, won in Indianapolis and New England. That thrashing against the Patriots on "Monday Night Football" seemed seasons ago by those late moments Sunday, after quarterback Mark Sanchez had thrown for three touchdowns, after the New York defense had baffled Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into uncharacteristic ineffectiveness.

The Jets sacked Brady a season-high five times. They constantly switched coverages, befuddling a player who might well be the NFL's MVP but who now has been beaten, on his home field, in each of his last two playoff games. Indeed, Brady and the Patriots haven't won a postseason game since after the 2007 season.

"He just couldn't get a bead on us," defensive end Shaun Ellis said. "He was expecting one thing. We showed him another thing."

Masterfully mixed coverages aside, the seeds of the Jets' victory came not only after their last appearance here - "a wake-up call," wide receiver Braylon Edwards called it, and Ryan took a game ball from that event and symbolically buried it at the team's practice facility - but in a speech Saturday night at the team hotel. There, former Jets defensive lineman Dennis Byrd - who suffered a career-ending neck injury in 1992, one that nearly cost him the ability to walk - addressed the members of the franchise he still loves.

"There's a side where a man's will counts for a tremendous amount," Byrd said before the game Sunday. "And that's what we talked about and I shared with the team: You have a body, a mind and a will. What we talked about was the will."

Edwards, for one, called the speech "the most inspirational thing I've ever heard in my life," and said he had trouble sleeping afterward. Late in the second quarter, he said the effect was even more profound. The Jets led 7-3, and New England Coach Bill Belichick helped provide New York a chance to extend the advantage with his decision to fake a punt with 1 minute 14 seconds left in the half and the Patriots at their own 38-yard line. Safety Patrick Chung fumbled the snap, and the fake failed.

"It was a bad mistake," Belichick said, though he declined to elaborate on whether he meant the fumble or the decision.

The Jets quickly moved the ball to the New England 15. From there, on third down, Sanchez found Edwards inside the 5. And Edwards, with two New England defenders on him, somehow struggled forward for the touchdown.

"I just felt Dennis Byrd as I was going into the end zone," Edwards said. "I'm not trying to get cheesy or anything like that. It's honest."

Whatever the reasons, the Jets led 14-3 at the break. And even when Brady - who finished 29 for 45 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and his first interception since Oct. 17, 11 games ago - ended the third quarter with a masterful drive and a touchdown pass to tight end Alge Crumpler, the Jets' swagger remained.

Sanchez responded by hitting Jerricho Cotchery over the middle for a 58-yard gain that pushed the Jets to the New England 13. Two plays later, on a third down that could have swung the game in either direction, he beautifully feathered a pass toward the back left corner of the end zone, "maybe his best throw of the season," Edwards said. There, wide receiver Santonio Holmes mimicked the drag-the-toe catch he made for Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII, hauling in the ball for a 21-11 lead.

"I think the pass that he threw was more tremendous than me making the catch," Holmes said.

That, then, is the kind of debate the Jets can have now, with their season still barreling forward - whose contributions were more important, why their brand of trash talk seems to work, whether there's anyone out there who truly believes in them. They understand the results: A second straight trip to the conference title game, with more possibilities ahead.

"Same old Jets, going to the AFC championship two years in a row," said Ryan, in his second year. "The only difference is: We plan on winning this one."

Who, outside of Pittsburgh, is going to tell them they can't?

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