Takeoff was a bit delayed for the Jets offensive attack on Sunday afternoon, but the Green & White almost pulled off an improbable comeback largely due to two highlight reel worthy plays. Eric Mangini's offense struck a Patriots' nerve in the second half of the Jets' division opener, though the comeback spark came too little, too late.
The outburst, however, was a good sign for the Jets against a distinguished Patriots team, but Mangini is never one to accept any defeat.
"I'm really proud of the way these guys fought back and put themselves in a position to tie the game," Mangini said. "I am obviously very disappointed in the loss, but I'm proud that these guys fought back. You can't dig yourself into a 24-point hole. It's too much against a good football team and New England is a good football team."
That "good football team" – Mangini's former club – looked solid on both sides of the ball in the first half, but it was Chad Pennington, last week's AFC Offensive Player of the Week, who finally found a Patriots weakness in the second half with some help from a friend.
"Mister Mo, that's what it's all about: momentum," said Pennington, who finished with 306 passing yards. "A lot of times with offensive football, all it takes is one play or two to give your guys a spark and that's exactly what happened. Jerricho makes a great catch, an unbelievable play, and that gave us the spark and we just caught fire after that."
Following a Laurence Maroney rushing touchdown to put the visiting Pats up 24-0, at 8:57 of the third quarter, Pennington led a quick but lethal four play scoring drive that took up just 2:42 off the clock. Pennington hit Jerricho Cotchery deep along the right sideline and from there Cotchery's incredible athleticism and determination ignited a Jets attempt at a comeback.
"In the first half, I just think we didn't get into a groove offensively. We didn't have that big play, so we didn't have anything to play off of to give us momentum," Cotchery said. "It took us up until that play; once we got going we were moving pretty well."
At first glace, it looked as though defensive backs Chad Scott and Eugene Wilson hauled down the third-year receiver, but Cotchery bounced off Eugene's thigh with his right elbow, kept his right knee elevated and sprinted into the end zone for a 71-yard score to put the Jets on the board.
"Once I caught the ball I knew I landed on the defender. I knew my knee hadn't touched the ground, so I was just going to get up and run and have the official make the call," said Cotchery. "Up until that point we were just looking for a spark from someone. We needed a play to get the offense going and I think that play definitely helped."
"That's got to be the best play I ever had in my life - football, basketball, anything," he said. "That play created a lot of energy on the sidelines and if gave us hope."
The Jets' play from there on out proved that Cotchery's effort was indeed the spark they needed. On New York's next possession, Pennington looked to his original ace, Laveranues Coles, to try to close the gap even more. Pennington marched his men downfield to the New England 46-yard line with the help of two Pats penalties. From there, Pennington and Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets first-year offensive coordinator, knew whose number to call.
"Any time Coach Schot (Schottenheimer) comes to me on the sidelines and says, 'Laveranues, we're going to try and get you involved a little more just to see if you can make something happen for us,' it gives you a little more motivation as a player for him to have that kind of confidence in me," said Coles.
Coles, after already grabbing 17 yards on two receptions in the drive, lined up to the right side of Pennington on 3rd and nine. The seven-year veteran wideout used his defined quickness to cut through the middle and snare a short pass from Pennington. He then slammed on the breaks, leaving safety Eugene Wilson overrunning the play. Coles then shoulder-faked linebacker Mike Vrabel to send him diving into open space and looked up to see a perfectly timed block from tight end Chris Baker on an incoming Chad Scott. Scampering to the 10-yard line, Coles bounced off of a miss tackle from Ellis Hobbs and he eventually outran Asante Samuel to cap off his longest scoring reception of career.
"I thought that was great individual effort," Mangini said of the two touchdown receptions. "I don't know how many people Laveranues made miss and Jerricho's effort was outstanding. I'm happy with the way the team worked in the second half after being down in that hole and they kept fighting back."