Jets G Alan Faneca looks in horror as Patriots DT Richard Seymour gets by him and sacks QB Brett Favre during the Jets 19-10 loss vs. New England. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
As Tom Brady collapsed to the Gillete Stadium turf last week and lay thriving in pain, the Patriots' greatest fear had become reality. With Brady sidelined for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, the Patriots' high-powered offense needed a collective boost if playoff aspirations were to remain afloat. Fortunately for Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, a plethora of options helped close the wound.
Welcome Matt Cassel and the relentless Patriots defense.
Even with Brady sidelined, the Patriots confidently strolled into the Meadowlands and defeated the Jets 19-10, for the 11th time in the last 12 meetings between the two rivals.
"It was a very disappointing loss," Jets head coach Eric Mangini said. "We had some excellent opportunities throughout the course of the game to make a lot of plays and do a lot of very positive things. We weren't able to execute on those opportunities consistently."
Lack of execution turned an exciting afternoon, one that was supposed to represent a new beginning for the Brett Favre-led Jets, into a re-occuring bad dream. An electric Meadowlands crowd turned silent, as the Jets committed six penalties for 60 yards, combining those errors with questionable play-calling.
Perhaps the Jets' opening drive explained their frustrating afternoon in a nutshull. After starting on their own 20-yard line to begin the game, the Jets moved the ball at ease on New England, making the Patriots look sluggish on the 90-degree day. After Favre scrambled for a gain of four yards on 3rd-and-8 from the Patriots' 17, newly-signed Jay Feely jogged onto the field to attempt a 31-yard field goal. His kick sailed wide right.
Following Feely's miss, the Patriots did what the Jets could not do. They put points on the board. Cassel, whose last start came in 1999 when he started for Chatsworth (California) High School, completed four-of-five passes for 61 yards on the opening drive, setting up Stephen Gostowski for a successful 21-yard field goal. Cassel connected on 16-of-23 passes for 165 yards on the afternoon.
In all, it proved to be a memorable day for the fourth-year quarterback.
"It was exciting," Cassel said. "I went out there and it felt good. I didn't have too many butterflies. When you get out there and start playing, it just comes down to playing football."
While the Patriots did not have the luxury of firing the deep ball at will with Brady sidelined, Cassel accepted the role of game manager.
"They kept it simple," Jets safety Kerry Rhodes said of the conservative New England play-calling. "They didn't want to lose the game, so they had a lot of screens and a lot of safe passes. They didn't really challenge the secondary."
Rather than take chances, Cassel played efficient, turnover-free football; a staple under Belichick's coaching.
"Matt took care of the ball," Belichick said. "He did a good job making some good decisions. He didn't put us in any bad situations and made some good, positive plays."
While the Patriot offense proved efficient and error-free, the defense held strong. Following the Jets' opening drive, which spanned 67 yards but resulted in no points, the Jets' offense struggled to find its rhythm. Favre, making his regular season home debut, completed 18-of-26 passes for 181 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
In the end, it was the Jets' inconsistent offense that bothered Favre most.
"We battled back and did some good things, but ultimately we didn't score enough points. We had the opportunities. We just have to find a way to clean up some of the mistakes we made and each person, starting with me, has to find a way to make one or two more plays that are there," Favre explained.
Early in the second quarter the Jets had their golden opportunity, but a suddenly-impressive offense turned conservative and was unable to execute.
With the Jets down 6-0 early in the second quarter, Favre led the offense to the New England 3-yard line. However, rather than passing, the Jets handed Thomas Jones the ball on three consecutive plays. Each time, they got similar results. All Jones could muster was two yards, leaving the Jets to settle for a 21-yard field goal.
Following the loss, Mangini stood behind the questionable play-calling.
"We like the plays that we have. We thought we had a real good opportunity with them, so that's what we went with, and it didn't work out," Mangini said.
Favre offered no complaints about the team's offensive philosophy.
"I'm fine with it. My job is to come here and run this offense. Believe me; regardless of the plays that were called, there were some opportunties," Favre said. "We didn't score enough points, obviously. Someone is blamed on it, and I think that goes to our whole offense."
While the Jets squandered several golden opportunities, the New England defense stood tall in the end. New England only sacked Favre twice, but often sent the quarterback scrambling with constant pressure. Late in the third quarter, safety Brandon Meriweather grabbed Favre's first interception as a Jet.
Favre's pass was intended for tight end Chris Baker, but the ball was badly underthrown and sailed right into Meriweather's grasp.
"Maybe I got a little greedy, I could have dumped it in the flat. I think if I had made the throw I wanted to, there's no guarantee it would have been caught, but it would have been a much better opportunity," Favre said.
Following the interception, the Patriots were able to capitalize. After Cassel drove the offense down to the one-yard line with a seven-yard completion to wide receiver Wes Welker, running back Sammy Morris sailed into the endzone to put the Patriots up 13-3 with 6:20 left in the third quarter.
"It was a great field position play that we were able to capitalize on offensively," Belichick said. "It's just good team football. Defense sets up the offense and the offense takes advantage of the opportunity to score. It was great."
Coles, Favre Search for Connection
Earlier this week, wide receiver Laveranues Coles voiced that he had yet to develop a rapport with Favre.
“It’s just one of those things whenever you get introduced to a new quarterback you don’t have a feel for each other, period,” Coles said. “For me, it’s one of those things where he doesn’t have a feel for me, I don’t have a feel for him.”
Three hours before today’s kickoff, Favre and Coles warmed up together on the field, with Coles catching passes from his new quarterback.
The Favre-to-Coles connection got off to another shaky start today as Coles dropped Favre’s first throw, but the two did connect on a 54-yard completion early in the second quarter.
After catching just one pass for five yards last week, Coles recorded three receptions for 72 yards today.
Plethora of Formations Confuses Jets
Call it mind games, call it trickery. Facing a 4th-and-2 at the Jets' 49-yard line late in the first half, the Patriots sent out their punt team and the Jets’ return unit lined up accordingly. But with a fake punt a possibility with the short distance to a first-down, Mangini burned the Jets’ final timeout of the half. However, as the two teams returned following the timeout, Cassel and the New England offense ran onto the field, rather than punter Ken Walter. As both teams lined up, the Patriots again switched units and Walter prepared for the punt. The move left the Jets’ defense confused, with no return man. Luckily for New York, Walter’s punt sailed into the endzone for a touchback.
No Extra Motivation for Pats
There is never a lack of emotion for a rivalry like the Jets and Patriots. However, with Brady out, the Patriots had heard the doubt surrounding their team. Regardless of personnel, Belichick knew his team would be prepared.
"I think this team was going to come down and do what they did today regardless of what anybody else thinks," he said. "I don't really think it matters what you think, that's just what they are going to do, regardless."
Gostowski Boots Away Leon's Chances
The Jets entered today's game hoping for that game-breaking special teams play. Unfortunately for Gang Green, Gostowski made sure it would not happen. Gostowski recorded five touchbacks, essentially eliminating Leon Washington's chances of a big return.
"That's the best kickoff coverage you can have when you just kick it out of the endzone," Belichick said. "He gave us some big plays, especially against the Jets, who are one of the best kickoff return teams in the league."
Washington returned just one kick for 24 yards.
Chansi Proving his Worth
Wide receiver Chansi Stuckey caught four passes for 43 yards, one of which was a two-yard touchdown. After two games, Favre has already discovered a liking for the second-year receiver.
"Stuckey's one of those guys who just seems to be around the ball. He's a small guy, but he's in and out of tight spaces pretty quick and catches the ball. He's a very smart guy," Favre said.
From 2001-2004, LaMont Jordan shared carries in the Jets' backfield with Curtis Martin. Today he returned as a member of the Patriots to the place where his NFL career began, and once again heard the J-E-T-S chants.
"I came out and heard them yelling it," Jordan said. "I said to myself 'I hope this is the only time I hear it.' It was good to come here and hear the love that I received from the fans, and walk out with a victory."
Tight end Dustin Keller and fullback Tony Richardson each recorded their first reception as a Jet. For Keller, who grabbed a 19-yarder, it was the first of his career.
Nose tackle Kris Jenkins' third quarter sack of Cassel was his first as a Jet. He now has 21.5 in his career.
Cornerback David Barrett and linebacker Calvin Pace combined on a sack in the third quarter. For Barrett, it was the first time he was credited with a sack in his nine-year career.
For the Jets, quarterback Erik Ainge, defensive end Kareem Brown, wide receiver David Clowney, wide receiver Marcus Henry, cornerback Justin Miller, kicker Mike Nugent, quarterback Brett Ratliff and offensive tackle Robert Turner were inactive.
For the Patriots, wide receiver Sam Aiken, linebacker Eric Alexander, guard Wesley Britt, center Dan Connolly, linebacker Shawn Crable, quarterback Matt Guttierez, tight end Ben Watson and cornerback Terrence Wheatley were inactive.
Patriots running back Laurence Maroney left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return until late in the fourth quarter. Maroney finished the afternoon with 16 yards on eight carries. Jordan took the bulk of the work for the New England ground game, as he gained 62 yards on 11 carries.
Grading the Jets
The Jets had their chances, but in the end, they lacked execution. Favre was efficient, but aside from Coles' 54-yard run and catch, the big plays were non-existent. The running game, led by Jones (17 carries, 70 yards) was effective, but it could not get into the endzone when it mattered. In all, 256 yards and just ten points is not going to translate into many victories this season.
The Jets pressured and knocked Cassel down to the Meadowlands turf repeatedly, but it was not enough. Just as Mangini had feared, New England mixed in its assortment of role players and as always, their plan worked. Running back Kevin Faulk provided plenty of frustration out of the backfield, as he caught four passes for 50 yards. The Jets' defense had just three sacks and no forced turnovers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D+
The Jets' special teams got off to a shaky start as Feely missed a 31-yard attempt. Jets punter Ben Graham had a rough afternoon, producing just a 27.3 net on four punts.
Many questions are directed toward the coaching staff and rightly so. It is hard to understand why the Jets handed Jones the ball on three consecutive plays near the Patriots' goal line when they have one of the game's legendary quarterbacks under center. The handoffs clearly did not fool the Patriots as the Jets' offensive line was manhandled during the series.
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