Prime-time football has not been friendly to the Patriots, and today was surely not an exception. Brett Favre and the Jets gave the Patriots their second close loss on national television, their third overall, with a 34-31 overtime thriller.
Many will blame fumbles and penalties as the determining factors of the game. I don’t blame either. The Patriots recovered from a key defensive holding call with an amazing two-minute drill, capped off by Matt Cassel hooking up with Randy Moss for a TD in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
So penalties did not decide this game.
Special teams were the deciding factor of this game. Sure, there’s the obvious Leon Washington dash to the end zone. But look deeper, and the Jets won the field-position battle on kickoffs.
The Patriots started around the 30 every drive, while the Jets often found themselves beginning drives at the 40 yard line. This created a shortened field for the Jets, which proved crucial in giving Favre the comfort necessary to stay away from the big pick.
Speaking of Favre, he completed about 80 percent of his passes. The aging quarterback silenced the skeptics today, as he ran an efficient ball control offense, possessing the ball for 32:28.
Dustin Keller began the game poorly, dropping a touchdown. Since then he played some excellent football, with eight receptions for 87 yards, including a crucial first down when the Jets found themselves with 3rd-and-15 during overtime.
But don’t christen the Jets the AFC East Champions just yet. New England showed even more promise than during their Indianapolis loss a few weeks ago and is primed to make a legitimate run not just at the playoffs, but (provided they make it) in the playoffs as well.
Matt Cassel had his best performance yet, channeling Tom Brady in the spread offense.
With a season high 51 attempts—beating his previous mark by 13—Cassel completed over 30 passes, and threw three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 62 yards on eight scrambles.
With his success in the spread today, Pats fans will see a more wide-open offensive playbook for their young starting quarterback. Also, expect to see more Sammy Morris in coming weeks. He made a guest appearance until the Jets took a 24-6 lead, when the Patriots abandoned the rush.
Another bright, or even brilliant light in this Patriots loss was the rookie linebacking corps of Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton. Jerod Mayo led the game with 16 tackles and four assists.
It’s not just numbers, though. Mayo saved the game for the Patriots on a crucial fourth down, 3rd-and-2, and made some key goal-line tackles. He was all over the field on coverage, showing his amazing speed and excellent tackling technique, often wrapping up ball carriers right after the catch.
Guyton made his presence known in what seemed to be a revitalized New England pass rush. After a lackluster first half, the Pats brought on a four man rush that consistently pressured Favre for more of the first half, and Guyton was a major part of that.
Guyton also deflected a pass in man coverage on Leon Washington in overtime, setting up the 3rd-and-15. With Adalius Thomas out for the season, watch for Guyton to play more snaps in the future, as Pierre Woods showed why he is a special teamer, with several key mistakes tonight.
The Patriots face Dolphins in Miami two Sundays from now, and don’t expect them to lose two in a row. They haven’t given up two straight since almost exactly two years ago, on Nov. 12, 2006—Ironically, to the Jets.
As Brett Favre said in the post game conference, “It's just one game, but a big one…the Patriots have a lot of football left.” Expect the Patriots to keep the Jets’ attempt at the AFC East title a rough one, as their youth continues to thrive.