The Cast Changes, but You Know the Ending
Sign In to E-Mail or Save This
By GREG BISHOP
Published: September 14, 2008
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Jets have spent most of this decade chasing the Patriots, watching quarterback Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick turn the American Football Conference East into a foregone conclusion at the beginning of each season.
Skip to next paragraph
Cassel Leads Patriots Past Favre
Analysis and discussion of the N.F.L. on the New York Times pro football blog.
Go to The Fifth Down Blog »
This year, the Jets hoped, would turn out different. Starting with this game.
They had added a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre, as the Patriots swapped a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady for a quarterback making his first N.F.L. start in Matt Cassel. Their roster was stocked with more than $100 million worth of improvements for the first home game this season.
Despite the new season, the new optimism and the new quarterbacks, the teams finished with the most familiar of results. This ended 19-10 in favor of the Patriots, who silenced the 78,554 at Giants Stadium with a victory typical in its boring, plodding dominance. The win, the Patriots’ 21st straight in the regular season, extended their N.F.L. record.
“Yeah, it’s a lost opportunity,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said.
“There were things we didn’t take advantage of, and we have to do that if we’re going to beat a team like the Patriots.”
The Patriots won without Brady, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last week. They won without the full use of Laurence Maroney, who played sparingly after sustaining a knee injury of his own. And they won, for the most part, without Randy Moss, the star receiver whom Revis held to a mortal two receptions.
The Patriots won with four field goals from Stephen Gostkowski, with receiver Wes Welker abusing the Jets off short passes, with the same plug-and-go, everybody-bets-against-us mentality that characterizes all teams coached by Bill Belichick, football’s master motivator.
It was little more than a year ago that Belichick and the Patriots left this stadium with the videotaping controversy that followed them well into the off-season. That served as motivation for the rest of the season, same as Brady’s injury would in this one.
If one play typified the game, it came when Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas chased down Favre, grabbed his new jersey and spun him toward the end zone like a bully torturing the new kid. Favre lost 20 yards on the sack.
Welcome to the rivalry, if a series in which the Patriots have won 13 of the last 15 meetings still qualifies as such.
“We let that game slip away, and that was something that we shouldn’t have done,” said defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, one of the expensive off-season additions, who notched his first sack with the Jets. “We needed to win that game, the division and all that. We let one get away that we had a great chance to win.”
After this game, after the Patriots delivered the intended message — not so fast — the Jets focused on the opportunities they missed:
¶Like their drive in the second quarter, when the Jets advanced to the Patriots’ 3, when Coach Eric Mangini gave the ball to running back Thomas Jones three times, when each time the Patriots’ defense held like a road block.
¶Like the 31-yard field-goal attempt Jay Feely booted wide right in the first quarter. Feely was replacing Mike Nugent, who injured his thigh in the season-opening win over the Miami Dolphins. Feely made a field goal in the second quarter, but the tone for the game was already set.
Defensive players lamented their final stand that never was. They watched Favre, in typical Favre fashion, march the Jets downfield in the fourth quarter, connect again with receiver Chansi Stuckey for a touchdown pass, and cut the Patriots’ lead to 16-10.
The Jets added their new defensive pieces in the off-season — Jenkins on the line, linebacker Calvin Pace coming off the edge, coupled with linebacker Vernon Gholston, the sixth pick in the draft — for situations just like that one. They needed to get the ball back, to give Favre a final chance.
Yet there went the Patriots, forever the Jets’ tormentors, trailing behind the former Jet LaMont Jordan as he rolled for 62 yards on 11 carries. The Patriots bled the clock until it read zeroes. Favre never made it back on the field.
“That’s all on the defense,” Pace said. “We have to make a stop there, and we didn’t.”
It was that kind of afternoon. The Jets were penalized six times for 60 yards. Offensive pass interference against receiver Jerricho Cotchery negated a 41-yard gain. Roughing the passer against Pace, a call he labeled “questionable,” prolonged the Patriots’ last drive.
The Jets gave away field position in bunches. Punter Ben Graham and the punt coverage unit averaged 27.3 net yards.
On and on it went, a familiar, well-spun record playing well into the night.
“What it came down to is mistakes,” Jenkins said. “We made more of them. The positive outlook is that it’s only the second game of the season.”
The negative outlook is that this had to rank among the best chances the Jets have recently had to beat the Patriots. After all, the Jets entered this game with a quarterback making his 277th consecutive start, facing a quarterback, Cassel, making his first start since 1999, when he was still in high school.
The veteran often described as grizzled and the backup who replaced the legend ended with near-identical quarterback ratings.
Cassel finished the game at 89.9, completing 16 of 23 passes for 165 yards.
“They had a package for him,” Revis said. “And the package was to be smart and make good throws.”
At the end, Mangini and Belichick met at midfield, where they exchanged a short, drama-free handshake. Soon after, two veteran Patriots were walking down the tunnel. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi and safety Rodney Harrison have been down this road before, watched as other injured stars had been replaced.
“How about 2-0?” Bruschi said.
Favre completed more throws (18) in more attempts (26) for more yards (181), with a touchdown and his first interception as a Jet, good for a quarterback rating of 85.6.
That interception, a forced one plucked from the air by safety Brandon Meriweather, set up one of the Patriots’ four field goals.
With five minutes remaining, the Jets took over, after Gostkowski’s last field goal, trailing, 19-10. New players, new expectations, same outcome. Even with Favre at quarterback, Jets fans headed toward the exits.