Everyone knew what was coming. Over the years, many games have been played where the New England Patriots took until the second half to show up and dominate—the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, the Miami Dolphins on Monday night come to mind from this season.
And sure enough, at the end of the third quarter, the Patriots showed signs of life. Tom Brady drove New England down the field, hitting receiver after receiver, Benjarvous Green-Ellis ran through tackles and Danny Woodhead bounced off would-be tacklers, until Brady hit Alge Crumpler for a touchdown. Then, the Patriots direct-snapped to Sammy Morris for a two-point conversion, and for moments, the score was within three.
Not to be outdone, though, sensational young quarterback Mark Sanchez took the New York Jets and scored a responding touchdown off of a beautiful fade to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, widening the gap to two scores again.
Brady and the Patriots gamely fought back on the next possession, clawing their way into New York territory. After converting several first downs through the exploits of Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, the Patriots faced 3rd-and-13. As Brady scrambled in the backfield, he never saw wide receiver Brandon Tate waving at the first down marker on the right sideline. Tate was not wide open, but he was open enough on 3rd-and-13 with around six minutes remaining. Brady did not look Tate’s way again after deciding not to throw to Welker in the flat on the right. Rather than attempt a 52-yard field goal, the Patriots chose to go for it on fourth down, but Deion Branch dropped the pass.
The Patriots defense then gave Brady and the offense another opportunity. Forcing the Jets to punt, the special teams gave New England a spark. Wide receiver/punt returner Julian “Edelweiss” Edelman (an affectionate nickname) took the punt back for 40+ yards. With 2:30 left in the game, the Patriots moved into the red zone. Hustling to kick a field goal, Shayne Graham and the field goal unit could not get set in time before the two-minute warning.
Once game play resumed, Shayne Graham drilled a 35-yard field goal to keep the dream alive for New England. The Patriots tried to onside kick it straight up the gut, but the Patriots players just were not in place. Dynamic cornerback Antonio Cromartie of the New York Jets scooped up the ball after a brief skirmish, and took it down to the 20-yard line of New England. No team had ever beaten Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, as well as Tom Brady and the New England Patriots back to back.
Running back Shonn Greene iced the game for the Jets, scoring on an off-tackle run. Throughout the game, the Jets defense was just too suffocating for New England, as corners Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie shut down the passing game of the Patriots.
Head coach Rex Ryan had the perfect idea: position his defenders like Eric Smith and David Harris in the middle of the field and take away the famous Bill Belichick crossing routes that Wes Welker and others had perfected for years. Then, overwhelm the phenomenal offensive line of New England, pressuring Brady constantly. Defensive end Shaun Ellis notched two sacks, and nose tackle Drew Coleman contributed another. Linebacker Calvin Pace, and defensive tackle Sione Pouha, posted two more, bringing the total up to five sacks of Tom Brady, and countless hurries/knockdowns. The much-vaunted New England offense was never able to stay in sync consistently.
With 24 seconds left in the game, the Patriots clung to a slim hope. Deion Branch and Tom Brady had combined for a touchdown to pull the Patriots back within one score. Perhaps a Mike Sims-Walker/Jacksonville Jaguars Hail Mary touchdown could have happened to put the game into overtime, but it was not to be. The Jets covered up the ensuing onside kick off of the foot of Shayne Graham, and Mark Sanchez kneeled down to win 28-21, knocking the 45-3 proverbial monkey off of the collective backs of the New York Jets and coach Rex Ryan.