Wednesday, January 12th:
It was the middle of syllabus week at Penn State. You know, that first five days of classes where you barely have any work and the teachers do their best to get you out of class in fifteen minutes. The week was just dragging by as slowly as possible, which was probably the worst case scenario because all I could think about was Sunday.
As I was sitting in my Intro to Western Music course, waiting for my teacher to get to the last slide of her Powerpoint, I glanced up at the screen and saw the four words that set all the gears in motion. "No class on Monday" is typically a great thing to hear, but when there's playoff football the previous day, it's even better.
Other than briefly discussing the possibility with a couple friends, mostly joking around, I had not truly entertained the idea of making the trip to Foxborough. But three days later...
Saturday, January 15th:
I'm currently sitting on a bus where the cold is seemingly seeping through the wall directly onto me. I slept for a total of zero hours last night and I can barely keep my eyes open. But somehow, it still seems as though I made the right decision and it's all worth it. In just a couple hours, I'll be home. And tomorrow morning, I depart for Gillette Stadium to see my first road game and my first playoff game all in the same day.
I heard plenty of jokes about how it's a shame that I'm traveling so far to watch my team lose. I've heard the Monday Night Massacre mentioned more times this week than I did the week after that game. But I'm a big believer in Any Given Sunday. I'm also a big believer in choosing not to ignore the Jets outplaying the Patriots in Week 2 as Sanchez had his best game ever.
There is no doubt that the Jets have momentum in their favor right now. They finished the season with wins against the Steelers and Bills, losing a closely contested matchup against the Bears in between those two. Following that, the Jets got some revenge in Indy, topping the Colts and confusing the un-confusable—Peyton Manning.
They will need to do the same if they want to win tomorrow in New England. Less blitzes will lead to more coverage. Rex Ryan never cuts back on blitzes, so regardless of last week's game plan, I don't expect the Patriots to be preparing for a lack of pressure rather than the typical heavy blitzing of Gang Green's daunting defense. This will throw off Brady enough to make a difference if it is done elegantly enough that it isn't obvious that they won't be sending extra guys at him.
Sunday, January 16th:
Up bright and early for the drive to Foxborough! The three-plus hour drive went by quickly. 1050 ESPN Radio only put me on hold for an hour or so before I got to share my thoughts on the game. But I did get the chance to explain on air that the key to this game might be time of possession: keep Brady off the field and he can't beat you.
It's a very simple concept, but it works. Run the ball, convert third downs and drive down the field nice and slowly. Drives of around seven minutes that end with a score are successful in that they keep Brady on the sideline for elongated periods of time. Let's see if the game plan today ends up being something along those lines.
I'll be sporting my Darrelle Revis jersey, unlike some other fans who seem to be a little scared to sport green in Pats territory, and for good reason.
As I walked through the parking lot prior to the game with my dad, we were pelted with snowballs and called infidels. The namecalling, cursing and smack talk is all fair game as far as I'm concerned, but icy snowballs are taking it a little too far.
"Some people have no class," a New England fan said as another snowball barely missed my dad's face. Was he referring to us because we were in green, or the fans throwing stuff at us? We'll never know. After some lunch, witnessing a near-fight in a hotel lobby and checking out the mall called Patriot Place that surrounds the stadium, game time was looming.
From the moment I got to my seat, just fifteen rows behind the New York bench, to the moment the game ended, I did not take a seat once. Not me, not my dad, and seemingly, not one fan in the entire stadium, lower bowl or upper. The atmosphere was great in Foxborough, and the fans were seemingly ready for another 45-3 annihilation of the Jets.
But not today, not on this Sunday.
The game started off slow, a quick drive that stalled by New York. Brady made things interesting on his first drive though, bringing the team deep into Jets territory. But David Harris read a ball perfectly and picked off Brady for the first time since the first half of the season when they played Baltimore. He returned it past the Jets 20-yard line, but they only moved backwards before Nick Folk "missed" a field goal.
If the Jets challenged, the referees may have realized that the kick was actually good. The Pats ended up being the first to get on the board, making it 3-0 in the first quarter.
The first two drives of the second quarter were duds that ended in punts. New York got the ball just past midfield and quickly ended up in a third-and-medium situation. Mark Sanchez rolled left, escaped pressure and started pointing.
He looked at Braylon Edwards and just told him to go long, looking like the playmaker that this team drafted him to be. He hit Edwards on a 37-yard pass giving the Jets a first-and-goal on the 8-yard line. Two plays later, LaDainian Tomlinson ran his signature screen route and put the Jets up 7-3.
That stadium started to quiet down very quickly.
The remainder of the second quarter was uneventful. The Patriots ended a drive with just over a minute to go on their own 38, set up to punt, and Patrick Chung saw something across the field. He called a direct snap to himself on the field which he planned to run to the right. Eric Smith blew through the line and though he was being blocked, he was right next to Chung in the blink of an eye.
He fumbled the ball and recovered it himself, but couldn't pick up the first. Suddenly, the Jets seemed to be in position to take a two-score lead.
On first down, Tomlinson broke through the line for a 16-yard gain that put the squad on the 21-yard line. A couple plays later, Sanchez found Edwards at about the 10 with two defenders close by, and he pushed, and he pushed, and he pushed, and miraculously fell into the end zone to put the Jets ahead 14-3 going into half time.
Would a botched fake punt, a rare mistake by a typically disciplined New England team, be the play that loses them this game?
I tried not to get my hopes up too much, but I felt pretty optimistic going into the second half, and Jets fans all around me were just as confident. A lot of football to play, but this certainly wouldn't be 45-3 all over again.
The hometown fans were simply stunned. Tom Brady took a knee and to halftime we go.
The Pats were forced to punt on the fifth play of the opening drive. The Jets did the same on the sixth play of theirs. A huge sack from Calvin Pace that seemingly hurt Brady's throwing arm (featured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated) stopped the next drive.
The Jets drove to the New England 38 following that behind a 20-yard run from Shonn Greene, but they opted to punt from there. Then, Tom Brady reminded everyone in the stadium why he will be this season's MVP, surgically picking apart the New York defense and eventually finding tight end Alge Crumpler in the endzone.
A direct snap to Sammy Morris on the next play gave them two points, and suddenly it was a ball game again. With the scoreboard reading 14-11, a seemingly insane fan two rows up started running around screaming, "HERE WE COME!! HERE WE COME!!"
Unfortunately, the only thing coming was an answer from the Jets.
Sanchez found Dustin Keller for a short gain on the first play of the drive. Following that, Jericho Cotchery lined up to the left and ran a slant route over the middle that shouldn't have been much more than a first down. Instead, a combination of blocking from Dustin Keller, poor coverage and some slick moves by Cotchery brought him all the way to the New England 13, a gain of 58 yards on the play.
Shonn Greene lost a yard on first down, Cotchery grabbed another ball for seven yards on the next play, and then the Jets were left with a 3rd-and-4 on the 7-yard line. The Jets kept it simple and had Santonio Holmes run a fade route to the left corner of the end zone, a perfect ball from Mark Sanchez being that answer I referred to earlier.
If you haven't seen that catch, watch it now.
The next nine or so minutes of the game defined the end result. Tom Brady nonchalantly brought the team back to the line over and over again, wasting clock as he drove down the field. By the time he made it to midfield, it was already six minutes into the drive. A minute and a half later, he had only brought the team another 10 yards.
Finally, two minutes later, having only advanced another six yards, the Pats failed on a fourth down attempt that gave the Jets the ball back with 5:19 left on the clock. That drive started with 13:00 left on the clock. Whoever was in charge of time management on that drive, whether it be Brady or Belichick, did a poor job in my opinion.
Sanchez didn't seem too happy about it, but the Jets ran the ball three times to take time off. The Jets special teams faltered on the ensuing punt, allowing Julian Edelman to return the punt 41 yards to the Jets' 43-yard line.
The defense came up big though, holding them to a field goal. 21-14. Still a ball game. The kid next to me had finally sobered up enough to stand up straight and was now somewhat aware that his team wasn't winning. This upset him and his friends, so they started screaming vulgar things towards players on the Jets side-line.
The Jets recovered the onside kick, Shonn Green ran one into the endzone and the game was virtually over after that, barring anything crazy happening. The final score was 28-21, and the fans began pouring out of the stadium.
Fireman Ed, the Jets' unofficial mascot, was sitting just one section over from me, so we all gathered around him for a few "J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!" chants before making our final exit. Surprisingly, I didn't get attacked on the way out of the stadium. And you may not believe this, but I wasn't shocked at all.
Maybe the Patriots were. Maybe their fans were. Maybe most Jets fan were. But when Rex spoke the week before the game, when Bart told the world the Jets would win, I believed them. Call it naivety if you want, but the Jets are moving forward, and the Patriots have ended another season with a disappointing postseason appearance.
Zach Harris is also writes his own blog about Gang Green! You can check out Zach's New York Jets blog, the Jets Jive, by clicking this link. You will not leave this page by clicking the link.