The New York Jets don’t just talk trash like some teams. No, for them, it’s done in such a bold and brash manner, it’s more like “brash-talking.”
And, when you do as much “brash-talking” as the New York Jets have done, it sometimes takes shocking the football world to back it up.
The Jets (13-5) did just that on Sunday, with the biggest turnaround (49 points) from the regular season to the postseason, against the same opponent, in the same year, in NFL history.
Making it much bigger?
The Jets’ redemption came in the their biggest game of the season, against their fiercest rival – the New England Patriots (14-3) – who were nine-point favorites at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, after crushing the Jets on Monday Night Football, 45-3, just six weeks prior.
After a week of spewing their usual bluster in the Patriots’ direction, the sixth-seeded, “brash-talking” Jets returned to the same site where they suffered their most lopsided loss in 24 years to eliminate the Super Bowl favorite, top-seeded Patriots in stunning fashion, 28-21, in an AFC divisional playoff showdown.
It was a huge departure from New York’s last trip to Foxborough, Massachusetts, when Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan said after his team was embarrassed by New England in a Week 13 Monday Night Football battle for first place in the AFC East, “It was the game of the year… and the NFL deserved a better game than that, but we weren’t up to the task.”
This time, the Jets were, and then some, with quarterback Mark Sanchez (16-25, 194 yards) throwing three touchdown passes, while New York avoided a turnover and closely blanketed the same New England receivers who torched the Jets in the teams’ last meeting.
Everything about New York’s game on Sunday was different since that night – even the Jets’ uniforms, which included green pants, for a little psychological ploy to help the Jets (who wore white pants their last time in New England) forget all the 42-point drubbing they took the last time they were on the same field.
New England head coach Bill Belichick tried his own mind trick by trying to immediately put pressure on the Jets’ second-year quarterback, when he deferred the opening kickoff despite the Patriots being the highest scoring team in the NFL with 518 points (79 more than the next highest scoring team) this season and the seventh highest scoring team of all-time.
While the Jets punted on their first possession, the move was the first of several for the New England that would fail to make sense.
New York meanwhile, which confounded the Patriots’ offense by showing mixed coverages and a lot more zone looks than the man-to-man defense the Jets played in Week 13, set the tone early, by forcing the game’s only turnover on New England’s opening possession.
The Patriots drove 53 yards to the Jets’ 31 yard-line, but linebacker Calvin Pace (3 tackles, one sack) pressured Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady (29-45, 299 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) into just his fifth interception of the season, as linebacker David Harris picked Brady’s pass and returned it 58 yards to the New England 12 yard-line.
The Jets failed to capitalize as kicker Nick Folk missed wide left on a 30-yard field goal attempt, but Brady was rattled enough to know that unlike six weeks earlier, the Jets had arrived in New England to compete on Sunday – especially since prior to the interception, the Patriots had set an NFL record with just ten turnovers during the regular season.
New England then moved 63 yards on 11 plays, in 5:44, taking a 3-0 lead in a 34-yards field goal by kicker Shayne Graham, with 1:12 left in the opening quarter.
The Patriots outgained the Jets 104-36 in the period, but only had a slim lead to show for it.
The teams then traded punts before the Jets took their first lead in the second quarter.
After failing to score despite being in New England territory on their first three possessions, the Jets finally broke through on their fourth.
On 3rd-and-6 from the Patriots’ 45 yard-line, Sanchez completed a 37-yard pass to wide receiver Braylon Edwards (2 catches, 52 yards) to the Patriots’ 8 yard-line on the third play of a five-play, 54-yard drive.
That set up a 7-yard touchdown pass to running back LaDainian Tomlinson (10 carries, 43 yards), who on the play, scored his first postseason touchdown of his ten-year career, to put the Jets ahead, 7-3, with 10:24 left in the first half.
Again, the teams traded punts before the usually very composed Belichick gambled and gave New York an absolute gift.
Still trailing just 7-3, with the first half winding down, Belichick opted for a direct snap to Patrick Chung on 4th-and-4 from the Patriots’ 38 yard-line.
Chung fumbled and recovered, but the Jets took over at New England’s 37 yard-line and quickly took advantage of the short field.
Tomlinson ran 16 yards, and then six, to the Patriots’ 15 yard-line. Two plays later, Sanchez completed a short pass to Edwards, who scored on a 15-yard touchdown reception to give the Jets a 14-3 lead with 33 seconds left in the half, causing New England to play catch-up for the remainder of the game.
A Patriots team that finished with NFL’s best record was booed off field at halftime, having failed to score a touchdown in first half for first time since Week 4, when New England trailed 7-6 at the break before using some big special teams plays to win, 41-14, in Miami.
Each team punted twice to begin the third quarter before the Patriots finally scored their first touchdown to get back in the game.
Embarking on the longest drive of the game, New England went 80 yards on eight plays, in 3:51, with Brady throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Algie Crumpler (3 catches, 39 yards, 1 TD), who dropped a pass in the end zone prior to the Patriots’ earlier field goal.
Fullback Sammy Morris then rushed to convert a two-point conversion to pull New England to within 14-11, with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.
But, the Jets quickly came right back on their longest drive the game, going 75 yards on five plays, in just 2:13, helped by a short pass over the middle that wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (game highs of 5 catches and 96 yards) took up the right sideline for 58 yards to the Patriots’ 13 yard-line.
Three plays later, Sanchez lofted a ball to the far left side of the end zone, where wide receiver Santonio Holmes (3 catches, 20 yards, 1 TD) made a brilliant catch that was reminiscent of his tip-toeing end zone grab to win Super Bowl XLIII for the Pittsburgh Steelers – ironically the last AFC team in the Jets’ path toward reaching Super Bowl XLV.
Outstretched, Holmes got his right knee down before dragging his left toe in the end zone while falling of bounds, to give the Jets a 21-11 lead with 13 minutes left in the game.
Sanchez, who has taken New York to the AFC title game in each of his first two years in the league, showed remarkable poise and patience for a 24-year-old quarterback who had eight turnovers for a team that was outscored by a combined 76-17 in Sanchez’s previous two visits to New England.
“I needed to be smart and take what [New England] gave me,” Sanchez said. He also added, that he couldn’t worry about hearing that he couldn’t win at Gillette Stadium, saying “When someone says you can’t [accomplish something], you want to do everything you can to prove them wrong.”
New York’s defense felt the same way.
While Sanchez avoided a sack, the Jets’ tight coverage created five sacks of Brady, two by defensive end Shaun Ellis and one each by Pace, defensive tackle Sione Pouha, and cornerback Drew Coleman (who was doubtful earlier in the week).
Shutting New England down was something not many had done this season, although the Jets did beat the Patriots at home, 28-14, in Week 2.
During an eight-game winning streak which the Patriots rode into Sunday’s game, New England allowed just 1.5 sacks per game and scored 37.4 points per game, while scoring no fewer than 31 points during that span.
After Sanchez’s third touchdown pass, the Patriots moved into Jets territory, but puzzlingly took their time doing so with a methodical lack of urgency.
New England went 48 yards on 14 plays, but ran the ball eight times, chewing up 7:45, perhaps in part, in deference to the fact that Brady had trouble finding open receivers all game. The Patriots ended the drive by foregoing a long field goal and instead, failing to convert on a 4th-and-13 pass from the Jets’ 34 yard-line.
The Patriots forced a three-and-out though, and moved 26 yards on seven plays, in just 1:32, for a Graham 35-yard field goal that brought New England to within 21-14, with 1:57 left.
However, once again bad decision making hurt the Patriots at the end of that drive. With just two time outs left, New England needed to kick the field goal prior to the two-minute warning, so the Patriots could use the official time out as a third time out and kick the ball deep on the ensuing kickoff.
Instead, the Patriots completed for one yard, to the right, to wide receiver Wes Welker (7 catches, 57 yards) on third down, on a route that didn’t give Welker a chance to get out of bounds and stop the clock.
New England appeared confused and unorganized in trying to get the kicking team on the field and boot the field goal prior to the two-minute warning.
As a result, the Patriots were forced to try an onside kick, and they paid dearly for it.
Fittingly, Antonio Cromartie, who had some heated, profanity-laced words through the media for Brady and the Patriots earlier in the week, made the play that sealed New England’s fate, by picking up the onside kick and returning it 23 yards to the Patriots’ 25 yard-line.
Just two plays later, running back Shonn Greene (17 carries, game-high 76 yards, 1 TD) scored on a 16-yard run to give the Jets an insurmountable 28-14 advantage, with 1:41 remaining.
Brady quickly drove New England 59 yards n seven plays, in just 1:17, cutting New York’s lead in half, to 28-21, on a 13-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Deion Branch, with 24 seconds left, but the New Eric Smith recovered the ensuing onside kick and Sanchez took a knee to finish off one the greatest upsets in Jets’ franchise history.
Just after the clock expired, Edwards, who was arrested on a Driving While Intoxicated charge in New York City prior to the Jets’ Week 3 win in Miami, did celebratory back flips on the field.
All that was left then, was for the Jets to do some more talking. But then, after upsetting the NFL’s best to advance to with a game of the Super Bowl, they earned that right.
With a sarcastic dig at those who still compare his team to the Jets of old, Ryan said “So, we’re moving on, same old Jets, moving on to the AFC championship game two years in a row. The only difference is, we plan on winning this one.”
Not that the Jets didn’t try to win when they lost last year’s AFC title game in Indianapolis.
“I’m proud of the way the team played,” Ryan added. “Outstanding effort… we believed… we worked too hard to get back here, and we came here for a reason. We thought we were the better team. Clearly, that Monday night game, they were clearly head and shoulders better than we were. But, I knew that if we applied ourselves and we played the way we were capable of playing, we could beat ‘em, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Ryan, who limped down the sideline to congratulate Greene on his game-icing touchdown run, later added, “We’re trying to win a Super Bowl… we’ve still got a long way to go… but, maybe I’m not always wrong on everything I say.”
Linebacker Bart Scott, who came to the Jets with Ryan from Baltimore last year, angrily said, “Anybody could be beat! We know we’re a much better team than we came up [to New England] and represented ourselves [as in Week 13] and we were pissed off… people gave us no chance… we’re a good football team!”
He added, that the Jets played with anger for “All [of the] non-believers [who] disrespect us… [but] we’re the third best defense in the league! All we hear about is [the Patriots’] defense, 25th in the league, can’t stop a nose bleed, and we get disrespected!”
Looking ahead, the Jets’ link to the second-seeded Steelers (13-4) this season is as ironic as Holmes’ connection to his former team.
New York won in Pittsburgh, 22-17, in a Week 15 game that came down to a Steeler incompletion in the end zone on the game’s final play. It was the Jets’ only win during a four-game stretch that began with the Jets’ aforementioned loss in New England.
Without that win in Pittsburgh, all other results being the same, the Jets would have missed the playoffs.
Now, they get to return to the Steel City with the AFC title on the line.
Holmes warns that the Jets shouldn’t be taken lightly again, saying about his team’s upset over the Patriots, “All week long, we heard, ‘The Jets are going to lose.’ Guess what? We’re moving on to the AFC championship. See you in Pittsburgh.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30pm ET next Sunday, at Heinz Field.
Notes: The loss was the Patriots’ third straight in the postseason… New England became only the fourth team in NFL history to win at least 14 games and lose its first playoff game of the season… The Jets are trying to become the fourth team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl with three straight playoff road wins in the same season… the last to do it was another New York team – the Giants, who ironically ended the Patriots’ attempt at a achieving a perfect 19-0 season three years ago… A bit more irony: the 2005 Steelers last accomplished the feat prior to the Giants, as a six seed (like the Jets are now)… if the Jets win Super Bowl XLV, they’ll have to beat history: the Steelers have won the most Super Bowls (6) of all time, while the NFC title game features the two teams with the most NFL titles in league history (Green Bay has 12, and Chicago 9).