Monday, January 8, 2007

Patriots 37, Jets 16 (1/7/2007)

Did one loss change Jets head coach from "Man-genius" to "Man-doufus"? I guess I'll just call him Mangini until the New York Press chimes in with their label, following a 37-16 beating by the Patriots in Sunday's playoff game. The win sends the Pats to San Diego next week for a contest with the Chargers, number 1 seed in the AFC. More on that game in my next update, but for now, the Jets game ranks as the highlight of the year. It was a close contest that they blew open late so all involved could relax and enjoy the win.

The New England offense made terrific adjustments to the Jets pressure that gave them so much trouble in November. The plan called for a no-huddle attack to limit defensive substitutions and outside passes where there was no confusion about which players would rush the passer and which ones would drop into coverage. The results were impressive: 65% completions, a 101.6 passer rating, and 2 touchdowns (to go with no INTs) for Tom Brady; big days for wideouts Jabbar Gaffney (8 catches for 104 yards, and an unfortunate dropped pass in the end zone) and Reche Caldwell (5 for 50); and a stellar 11 for 16 on third-down conversions. Troy Brown contributed two huge first-down conversions, Ben Watson drew a long pass interference call to set up a field goal, and Daniel Graham made a very difficult touchdown catch to give the Pats the lead at the half.

In the running game, the team ground down the Jets front seven for 158 total yards and a 4.2 yard average. Corey Dillon gets a gold star, despite an early fumble; he averaged 5.3 yards a carry and got the team on the board with an 11-yard touchdown on the first possession. And after his fumble, he seemed to ramp up the intensity a bit, running harder and jetting toward the corner faster than he had before the miscue. Laurence Maroney showed no problems in his first playoff action, grinding out 69 yards, and Kevin Faulk made more crucial plays than his 6 carries might indicated, including back-to-back-to-back runs up the gut for 24 yards on a drive that ended with a touchdown.

All of this must mean the O-Line played well, and of course, they did. One sack of Brady, 4.2 yards a rush, 33:20 of possession time, and only one penalty all day (a false start on Logan Mankins) tell most of the story. They were disciplined, pushed the outside rush beyond the quarterback to create a solid pocket, moved the Jets smallish defense back most of the day, and didn't hurt the team with untimely penalties. Give a lot of credit to coaches Dante Scarnecchia (Offensive Line) and Josh McDaniels (Offensive Coordinator) -- good coaching often gets lost behind good performances.

The defensive gameplan for the Patriots wasn't especially complex; they just executed it well. It seemed to go something like this: pressure the quarterback with four men, make the tackle after any short completions, dare (Jets QB) Chad Pennington to beat you deep, slow the running game enough to make the Jets abandon it, and make the Jets settle for field goals in the red zone. And it was mission accomplished on all fronts. The only touchdown allowed was Jerricho Cotchery's 77-yarder that was a short pass and some bad tackles/angles -- but aside from that, the Jets had to work their way down field slowly, and they ended up with three field goals on drives that needed to be touchdowns for them to have any chance to win.

The D-line was very good, getting enough pressure on Pennington to force quick releases and slowing the run on enough plays to make the Jets throw more often than they wanted. The Jets play-calling was very imbalanced, with 44 passing plays to only 16 running plays, and that made them easier to defend. It helped to have Vince Wilfork back in there. The only running success the Jets had in the middle was when they doubled Vince; he stuffed just about everything when he went one-on-one. And he had the "Alert Play of the Game" when he scooped up what some thought was an incomplete pass and returned it 31 yards to the Jets 15 (it was actually a backwards pass, so it was a live ball) and the Pats ended up with a field goal on that drive. The team rotated linemen a lot, so it was tough to tell who was and was not having a good day. But it was my sense that Richard Seymour had a better game than Ty Warren and that Jarvis Green and Mike Wright were adequate in relief.

The linebackers... well, I'm having a tough time figuring out how they did. I didn't think they played all that well, allowing too many short passes over the middle and only Tully Banta-Cain applying consistent pressure (and getting two sacks of Pennington). But Rosevelt Colvin did have a big knockdown (on the Wilfork recovery play), and Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel led the team in tackles (with 9 and 8, respectively). I might try watching parts of the game again, but I didn't see a lot of stellar play from this group.

And the secondary had a nice game -- but mostly as a group. They had 21 tackles, 5 passes defensed, and a game-sealing interception by Asante Samuel. Most importantly, however, was that with a few exceptions, they gave up very few yards after the catch. If the gameplan was to make the Jets string together small plays to make long drives, the secondary was crucial to that plan. Samuel had 3 passes defensed, in addition to his interception, and James Sanders did a nice job covering the Jets tight ends (Chris Baker had 5 catches for 68 yards, and no other tight end caught a pass). Artrell Hawkins kept most every route in front of him (the exception being the 77-yard touchdown by Cotchery), and even Chad Scott contributed. I don't remember a lot of spectacular plays, but overall very solid and nearly penalty free (one holding call for five yards).

And special teams were very good indeed. Stephen Gostkowski went 3 for 3 on field goals and gave up only one good kickoff return. And Todd Sauerbrun punted only twice, one out of bounds and the other allowing only a 7 yard return. Nothing earth-shattering, but a good day against a team with very good kick return teams.

So where does that leave us. Well, the Pats basically held serve, winning at home against a team they should have beaten. Next up are the mighty Chargers, first seed in the dominant AFC, with a very good defense, the league MVP at running back, a first-year starter at quarterback, and a choker of a head coach. Will those last two factors override the first two and allow the Patriots to get out of town with a victory? Even I don't know if that's possible yet -- you'll have to wait until I do my research and write-up the next update. For now, enjoy the win against NY, and don't forget to enjoy the the playoffs. There were many years the team didn't even make the playoffs, let alone host a playoff game.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Jabbar Gaffney had 11 receptions for 142 yards during the regular season. His numbers from yesterday were 8 for 104. (Sort of reminds me of Jermaine Wiggins, who had 14 for 133 during the 2001 season and 10 for 68 in the playoffs against Oakland that year.)

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Of course I think the Pats have a chance next week. Schottenheimer is 5-12 in the playoffs, Belichick is 13-2."

Keep the faith,

- Scott



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