Patriots 13, Jets 7
The New England Patriots remained the NFL's gold standard for stability Sunday at Gillette Stadium, showing the New York Jets exactly why they have won 21 straight games and are one of only two unbeaten teams in the league.
With their NFL record 18th straight regular season victory, a 13-7 decision over their AFC East rival on a cool, misty late afternoon, the 6-0 Patriots broke the mark held by the 1933-34 Chicago Bears. New England is off to the best start to a season in team history, and hasn't lost a game -- regular or postseason -- since the Washington Redskins beat them, 20-17, on Sept. 28, 2003 at FedEx Field.
This was the first meeting of 5-0 or better teams since the 1973 season and only the fourth time that has happened, both factoids added to a list of little consequence to the Patriots, along with all those wins in a row. This bunch is trying to make a little more significant history in becoming the only team in the era of free agency (since 1993) to win three Super Bowls in four seasons and they all insist those are the only numbers that count.
"We're proud of the fact that we're 6-0," said quarterback Tom Brady, whose hurry-up, 62-yard drive in the final 1 minute 49 seconds of the first half ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass to David Patten for the game-winning points. "But you also realize it's just so tough to win one game."
The Patriots won, as usual, by making two huge plays -- both by veteran defenders -- when the game and the record streak were on the line in the final minutes. Trailing 13-7, the Jets moved from their 9-yard line to a first down at the Patriots 32 with 3:37 left. Two plays later, they were facing third and five at the New England 27.
The call was a handoff on a delayed draw to Curtis Martin, the league's leading rusher coming into the game. Linebacker Willie McGinest sniffed out the play, came in untouched and knocked Martin, who finished with 70 yards on 20 carries, for a three-yard loss.
"They always tell us to play run first in that situation," said McGinest, whose late-game sack of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in the season opener preserved that victory. "The draw is one of their favorite plays, always, and you have to account for [Martin]. He's gashed us before with it. [Defensive end Richard] Seymour pushed the pocket, and [Martin] just happened to run in my gap."
That tackle set up fourth and eight at the 30 with 2:19 left, and Jets Coach Herman Edwards never hesitated. "I told them in practice there would come a crucial time on fourth down," he said. "I told them that if I call and go for it, are we going to make it? They said, 'Hey, coach, if you call it, we'll make it.' "
But it never happened.
As soon as the Patriots saw veteran wide receiver Wayne Chrebet line up in the slot, they had little doubt quarterback Chad Pennington would be looking his way. Chrebet had beaten the Patriots before with late-game heroics, and Coach Bill Belichick said his team was determined not to let it happen again.
Chrebet went in motion toward his quarterback, then wheeled and went back toward the outside. At the snap of the ball, he dashed downfield, but Patriots cornerback Randall Gay and safety Rodney Harrison were with him virtually every step of the way. Pennington threw into the double coverage anyway, and Harrison swatted the ball away. The Patriots took over on downs at the New England 30 with 2:14 remaining, and the Jets never touched the ball again.
"When [Chrebet] went in motion, we went into double coverage," Belichick said. "For once, we had him covered. When you play the Jets, you have to be aware of him in the slot. He's still one of the greatest third-down receivers in the league, and when you play the Jets, you have to be concerned about that. You better get him covered. If you don't . . . he'll probably be spiking the ball in the end zone."
Said Harrison: "We knew he was getting the ball. He's a wonderful, fantastic player. Why wouldn't you cover him like that? Yeah, I touched the ball. That's what we're there for, right?"
From there, Brady simply gave the ball to running back Corey Dillon, and three straight runs picked up one more vital first down, allowing New England to kill the clock as Brady took a knee three straight times before the final gun sounded.
"Concentration, maturity, confidence, and we don't panic," Harrison said when asked why the Patriots always seem to win these tight games. "When it's a critical moment, we just don't panic. Someone always steps up and makes a play."
The key plays on offense came in that game-winning second-quarter drive, when Brady completed all six of his passes for 62 yards. Brady threw for 230 yards overall against a physical New York pass defense that sacked him three times. Dillon gained 115 yards on 22 carries, his third 100-yard game since he was traded here in the offseason from Cincinnati. And backup wide receiver David Givens, playing because of injuries to inactive starters Troy Brown and Deion Branch, had a career day, with 107 yards on five receptions. The Jets hadn't allowed a 100-yard runner or receiver all season.
"We just don't take anything for granted. It's been a pretty successful approach for us," Brady said. "The coach will tell us 'just win one game a week.' His whole approach is 'what will you do for me this week?' Not last week or last year, but this week."