Almost through the opening half of their first game of the 2007 season and the game knotted at 7, the New York Jets had appeared to weather an early storm from the New England Patriots.
But a lightning-quick 21-point swing, covering the late second quarter and half of the third quarter, put the game out of reach as the Jets fell to their AFC East rivals today, 38-14.
"We had a very specific game plan that we liked and there were a lot of positive things from the game," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini. "Anytime you give up the big plays, the momentum shifts and then the approach dramatically shifts. That's never really a situation you would like to be in."
To make matters worse for the Green & White, starting QB Chad Pennington gamely battled through much of the second half on a heavily wrapped right ankle.
Pennington, who had his right foot injured on a Jarvis Green sack in the third, threw two touchdown passes to Laveranues Coles. The second score — a 1-yarder that Coles went up and got despite good coverage from Asante Samuel — cut the Pats' lead to 28-14 late in the third.
That followed an impressive eight-minute stretch for the Pats as they scored on a 5-yard strike from Tom Brady to TE Benjamin Watson with just over a minute to play in the half, Ellis Hobbs' NFL-record 108-yard kickoff return coming out of intermission, and then a pretty 51-yard long hookup from Brady to Randy Moss just past the midway point of the third.
"Having those big plays the Patriots had – the kickoff returned for a touchdown, the long pass to Randy Moss makes it tough," Mangini said. "There were a lot of positive things in the game and a lot of things we can build off of. It has got to be more consistent through four quarters. You can't come in to halftime in one situation and then make it really difficult for yourself, as we did in letting up a long return."
Brady improved his record over the Jets in the Meadowlands to 7-0.
Before Moss' long touchdown, Pennington was sacked by Green for an 8-yard loss. The eight-year vet had his leg twisted awkwardly, jumped to his feet and limped over to the sideline.
In obvious pain, he violently threw his helmet to the ground and saw immediate attention from the trainers. He missed just one play initially, though, and actually directed the Jets' second scoring possession to draw the Jets closer.
"I've really never had a lower leg injury before, so I was just trying to walk it off," Pennington said. "I'm not going to lay there, I know that. I'm going to walk off the field, get it looked at, and try to get back in the game, which I was able to do and took it from there."
Backup Kellen Clemens relieved Pennington late in the final stanza.
"I discussed it with Eric [Mangini] and I felt like with six minutes left in the game and down 31-14 and having to drop back every play, knowing they're going to rush the passer and probably blitz, that it wasn't good for our team and it wasn't good for me," Pennington said. "And that's the first time I've ever done that, and so it was just a very hard, difficult discussion and decision to make."
Despite missing most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, Moss, acquired from the Oakland Raiders in a draft-day deal, looked better than ever. He was a thorn in the Jets' side all afternoon, grabbing nine balls for 183 yards — the third-highest one-game total in his career.
"He was making catches like the old Randy Moss or whatever you want to call it," said S Kerry Rhodes. "He was just going and making spectacular catches over DBs so it's tough."
Brady had a lot of time to throw the football and he was accurate, completing 20 of 26 for 275 yards and three scores. And the Patriots ran well, receiving 68-yard and 54-yard rushing efforts from Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris respectively.
The visitors had early control of this clash and looked to be about to take a 10-0 lead with a 43-yard field goal early in the second quarter. But backup quarterback Matt Cassel muffed the snap and was tackled immediately by CB Drew Coleman.
That miscue gave a boost to the Jets and they took advantage. Pennington, who finished 16-of-21 for 167 yards and two TDs, moved his club downfield, completing all six of his passes and culminating it with a 7-yard toss to Coles. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer creatively used his wideout, lining him up in the backfield as a tailback, and Coles easily sprinted behind LB Rosevelt Colvin.
Not deterred, the Pats responded with the short Brady score to Watson. The catch was reviewed upstairs, but Watson was ruled to have possession inbounds after a 5-yard rope from Brady. Moss was the big threat on the march, getting behind CB Justin Miller for a 33-yard gain and then using his 6'4" frame to outreach 5'10" CB David Barrett for a 22-yard completion.
"He added the deep ball, obviously. He got a couple of deep balls on us," said MLB Jonathan Vilma of Moss. "He brings that to the table for them. Of course everybody knows that, but you still have to stop him."
The Patriots didn't have ideal field position on their first possession of the season, but they still moved 91 yards for the score. Brady went to Wes Welker, another off-season addition, from the Dolphins, three times on the impressive drive, including an 11-yard scoring pass. Welker did most of the work on the play, breaking a tackle attempt by Barrett and scooting into the end zone.
New England added 10 points late, but the game had already been decided. The Jets will attempt to even their record next week in Baltimore against the Ravens.
"We have a lot of work ahead — everyone, everyone on the team, every position," said WR Jerricho Cotchery. "We have a lot of work to do individually, so we can get better as a team."
Thomas Jones made his much anticipated debut in green, carrying 14 times for 42 yards as the Jets struggled to move the ball on the ground.
"I felt pretty sharp. I felt good physically," Jones said. "The trainers did a really good job of getting me back on the field. I felt like I ran hard. Unfortunately, we were behind and didn't get a chance to run the ball as much as we could have, but we just have to forget about this loss and move onto the next week against Baltimore."
The veteran wideout is as tough as they come. He caught a pass over the middle in the second quarter and got crunched by LB Adalius Thomas and DB Eugene Wilson. The ball didn't hit the ground and Coles hopped up to his feet, much to the delight of the home fans. He registered seven catches and accounted for the Jets' only two touchdowns.
"It's a design play," he said of his second TD. "When we see a certain coverage, Chad puts the ball up. If they don't give us that coverage, then we're going to run the football."
Revis Gets Started
Darrelle Revis started at LCB for the Jets. The Jets' first-round pick in April, who held out 20 days at the start of training camp, finished with four tackles.
Not in the Lineup
In a surprise, rookie OL Jacob Bender was among the gameday inactives. Bender started the Jets' final two preseason contests and was competing with veterans Adrien Clarke and Wade Smith for playing time. Clarke, a third-year player from Ohio State, was stationed in between C Nick Mangold and LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson on the first play from scrimmage.
The Pats got the better of it in the trenches, sacking Pennington four times. Green, in place of Richard Seymour, led the way with four sacks.