Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini and RB Thomas Jones celebrate after an emotional 34-31 overtime Jets win against New England. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Back in September, Randy Moss labeled the Patriots the "team to beat" in the AFC East, even as quarterback Matt Cassel was forced to shoulder the monumental task of replacing league MVP Tom Brady and assume leadership over an offense that made NFL defenses look more like junior varsity squads in 2007. The Jets took no gripes with Moss' proclamation as after all, the Patriots were fresh off their fifth consecutive division championship and their fourth trip to the Super Bowl in the last seven seasons. The Jets had fallen short in 12 of their last 14 battles with their rivals, but they knew the cure to dispel the Patriots' dominance over them.
"Until we beat these guys, or until anyone beats these guys and knocks them off from the top, then they're always going to be the team to beat," quarterback Brett Favre said Tuesday.
Tonight the Jets took a giant step toward dethroning the mighty Patriots from the mountaintop. Jay Feely's 34-yard field goal with 7:15 remaining in overtime gave the Jets a 34-31 win over New England, elevating the Jets into sole possession of first place in the division with a 7-3 record. The win over the Patriots was the team's first since 2006 when they traveled to Foxborough in Eric Mangini's rookie season and won 17-14 and only second since 2002.
"It goes without saying how difficult it is to come here and win," Favre said. "Based on history I'm sure most people were betting against us. We found a way to win the game."
While the night was poised to be memorable for the Jets from the outset after Favre (26-of-33, 258 yards, two touchdowns) led the offense on a 62-yard opening drive which culminated with a seven-yard touchdown pass to running back Leon Washington, the Patriots had plans to keep their grasp on first-place. With 5:06 remaining in the second quarter, Favre connected on an 18-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Jerrico Cotchery (five catches, 87 yards, one touchdown) whose outstreched arms into the endzone gave the Jets a commanding 24-6 lead. The touchdown left the Gillete Stadium crowd speechless on the cool and damp autumn night, but the team that they had remembered to be a juggarnaut over the past decade reminded themselves of why they're the Patriots.
The Patriots struck for 25 points over the next 35 minutes, threatening to send the Jets from grabbing a season-changing victory over their hated rivals to choking up a catastrophic defeat. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostowski knotted the game 24-24 with a 47-yard field goal with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Jets responded in vintage fashion. With the ball at the their own 33-yard line, the Jets traveled 67 yards on 14 plays, capping off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run from Thomas Jones. Jones carried the ball 30 times for 104 yards on the night.
With only 1:11 remaining in the fourth quarter and with zero timeouts, the Patriots continued to leave the Jets with doubts. Facing a 4th-and-1 from their own 16-yard line, Cassel fit a perfectly-thrown ball to Moss in the corner of the endzone for a game-tying touchdown with one second remaining. Newly-signed cornerback Ty Law had Moss blanketed, but the Patriots' wide receiver caught the ball fully-extended and was able to keep both feet in the endzone.
With the game sent into overtime, the Jets won the coin flip and did not look back. After a first-play sack set the Jets back, Favre proved why he's bound for the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio once he leaves the game he's dominated for 19 seasons. Favre completed five of six passes on the drive for 56 yards. Rookie tight end Dustin Keller (eight catches, 87 yards) redeemed himself after dropping a would-be touchdown on the game's second drive by catching three passes on the drive.
The Jets had again quieted the New England crowd, and ultimately sent them home unhappy as Feely's kick sailed through the uprights.
"It ebbed and flowed, and went back and forth," Mangini said. "I was proud the way we finished the game."
Wasted in defeat was a career performance by Cassel, who earned a victory in his first NFL start in Week Two over these same Jets. Cassel completed 30-of-51 passes for 400 yards and three touchdowns and also led the Patriots in rushing with eight carries for 62 yards.
"I give the Patriots a lot of credit, I do," Favre said. "They had situations where I thought they were thinking 'Hey it's ours'...It was just a matter of making plays."
But the main question that resonates following this victory is, what happens from here for the first-place Jets?
"Only time will tell," Favre said.
Patriots Honor Top Receiver
Tonight the Patriots reached back to their past greatness by holding "Troy Brown Night" at Gillete Stadium. Brown, who played 15 seasons with the Patriots and was a key receiver on their three Super Bowl winning teams (2001, 2003, 2004) was honored at halftime by the team. Brown was drafted in the eighth round (198th overall) of the 1993 NFL Draft and now stands as the franchise's all-time leading receiver with 557 career receptions. He also ranks second with 6,366 recieving yards. Aside from his success as a receiver, Brown stands as the Patriots' all-time leading punt returner, with highs in returns (246) and yardage (2,570).
Mosley Leaves His Mark
Nose tackle Kris Jenkins and defensive end Shaun Ellis have received most of the accolades for the defense's surprising turnaround in 2008, but tonight defensive tackle C.J. Mosley made an impact in his limited action. During the second quarter, Mosley sacked Cassel on a 4th-and-3 attempt from the Jets' 23-yard line. On the Patriots' next drive, Mosley batted down a Cassel pass on 3rd-and-1 from the Jets' 21-yard line. The fourth-year defensive tackle finished the night with five tackles and one sack.
Barton Quietly Shines
Eric Barton has proven to be a model of consistency ten games through 2008. Barton delivered 17 tackles and also forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Kerry Rhodes. After recording 73 tackles in 16 games last season, Barton has already matched that total this year. He stands as the team leader in tackles.
Law Delivers Mixed Bag of Results, Lowery Struggles
Law isn't the Pro Bowl corner he once was, but in his 2008 debut with the Jets, he helped limit Moss to just three catches for 26 yards. Unfortunately, on top of those numbers was Moss' game-tying touchdown grab in which Law blanketed Moss. He was also flagged for a illegal-contact penalty. Rookie cornerback Dwight Lowery earned the start aside from Darrelle Revis, but his night was one to forget. Late in the second quarter Lowery was burned by Patriots wide reciever Jabar Gaffney for a 19-yard touchdown. On the Patriots' game-tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, Lowery also dropped an easy interception.
For the Jets, wide receiver David Clowney, cornerback Drew Coleman, tight end Bubba Franks, linebacker David Harris, running back Marcus Mason, kicker Mike Nugent, quarterback Brett Ratliff and safety Eric Smith were inactive.
With Nugent out, Jay Feely kicked in his eighth consecutive game for the Jets. Nugent was limited in practice this week with a strained right thigh in which he injured during the season-opening win over the Dolphins. Feely followed up a 4-for-4 field goal performance in last week's 47-3 win over the Rams in which he was named the Jets' Player of the Week on special teams by nailing the winning field goal. yards)...With Harris out, ten-year veteran David Bowens started at linebacker and recorded one tackle and 0.5 sack.
For the Patriots, linebacker Eric Alexander, offensive tackle Wesley Britt, quarterback Matt Gutierrez, linebacker Adalius Thomas, running back LaMont Jordan, cornerback Lewis Sanders, defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Terrance Wheatley were inactive.
After losing two-time Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison to a season-ending thigh injury earlier this season, Thomas and Warren did not play. Thomas is presumed to be out for the season after breaking his forearm in last week's win over the Bills, but Warren, who is nursing a groin injury, was limited in practice this week. Thomas was replaced in the starting lineup by Pierre Woods and Warren was replaced by Mike Wright.
Grading the Jets
It may have taken longer than the Jets would have liked, but Favre delivered the memorable performance the franchise was hoping for when they acquired him back in August. Favre completed 26-of-33 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Despite dropping an sure-thing touchdown pass in the first quarter, Keller had his finest game as a Jet. He provided matchup problems for the Patriots' defense and was Favre's target when it mattered most. Keller caught three passes on the game-winning drive. Also, Favre may have been sacked three times, but the offensive line had another complete effort tonight. Favre was comfortable in the pocket and was rarely pressured.
If any concern comes out of this victory, it's for the defense, which was torn apart by Cassel. At times the youthful quarterback looked more like Brady, threading the Jets' defense time and again. Credit has to be given to the run defense, which limited the Patriots running backs to just 63 yards on 17 carries.
Leon Washington continued to prove why he's the most explosive player on the Jets, as he returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. Feely was perfect on his two attempts and the kick coverage was stout.
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