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Pats hold off Jets 21-16
December 20th, 2003
In the spirit of the holiday season, Chad Pennington was New Englandís secret Santa by giftwrapping five interceptions. Two which directly led to Patriots touchdowns and one that ended a late Jets rally that could have won the game. In the spirit of the holiday season, Chad Pennington was New Englandís secret Santa by giftwrapping five interceptions. Two which directly led to Patriots touchdowns and one that ended a late Jets rally that could have won them the game.

In Penningtonís worse game since the playoff game against Oakland last season, he was off all night. The loss dropped the Jets to 6-9 and guaranteed them a losing record for the first time since 1996, when they went 1-15. The team this season has dropped six games by seven points or less.

Pennington helped the Patriots win, throwing a career-high five interceptions -- including one in the end zone to Ty Law. Pennington had seven interceptions going into the game.

Fittingly, the Patriots ended the Jets' final rally with an interception. Eugene Wilson picked off Pennington to preserve the victory. Pennington finished 24-of-43 for 229 yards and two running scores. Afterward, several teammates gave him words of encouragement.

"When you know you lost the game for your team and your teammates pat you on the back and give you words of encouragement, it means a lot," Pennington said. "This was a night where the finger is pointed at me, but they're not pointing fingers."

The Patriots needed their defense to play well to even have a chance. New England had 13 first downs to 22 for the Jets, went three of 11 on third down and finished with fewer total yards (321-271).

Tedy Bruschi got the first pickoff on the second play of the game. It took eight seconds for the Patriots to convert the turnover into a score, when Brady threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Givens for a quick 7-0 lead.

The Jets answered when Pennington ran for a 1-yard TD to tie it up. With the Patriots struggling offensively, the defense stepped up again. McGinest returned an interception 15 yards for another score, the fifth time this season the Patriots returned a pickoff for a touchdown, tying a team record set in 2001.

New England has a total of six defensive touchdowns this season, which leads the NFL.

"Coach always tells us that turnovers need to mean points," McGinest said. "So that was a big one. So was Tedy's because we got points out of that one right away and we were up 7-0."

New England was not done making big plays. After Brady threw his second TD pass of the game to Givens to make it 21-10 in the third quarter, the Jets drove down the field. Pennington threw a pass for Santana Moss in the end zone from the Patriots' 21, but Law was there to intercept it.

The Jets would not go quietly. Pennington scored on a 10-yard run early in the fourth to make it 21-16. The 2-point conversion try failed when he threw incomplete to Kevin Lockett. The Patriots punted away, and the Jets had the ball with a chance to go ahead.

Rodney Harrison made sure that did not happen, intercepting a deep pass intended for Moss.

"Our DBs, the guys we've got, they've got to be right up on top of the league with interceptions," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They're playing really good back there in terms of getting their hands on the ball and reacting to it and intercepting it. The two by the linebackers were very big plays."

Brady finished 12-of-25 for 138 yards and two scores, while Antowain Smith had 18 carries for 121 yards. New England ends the season at Buffalo, with yet another close victory behind them.

"This win shows great maturity on our part," Bruschi said. "We've got the veterans in here that can get the message through to the younger players."

Parts of this story were contributed by AP Wire Services.