These New York Jets made a statement Sunday afternoon against the New England Patriots. The defending AFC East Champions captured the contest 24-17, but Eric Mangini's Jets displayed a resoluteness which could go a long way this season and for seasons to come.
The Jets scored 17 unanswered points in the second half, bringing the 77,595 home fans in attendance to their feet. Chad Pennington, stymied for much of the first half, got going late with receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles. Both receivers scored a touchdown and reached the 100-yard plateau in the team's second game. The defense followed suit and forced two critical turnovers, but the rally eventually fell a little short.
"I'm obviously very disappointed in the loss, but what I'm proud of is the way these guys fought back," said Mangini. "We fought back from 24-0 and gave ourselves a chance to tie it there at the end. I am proud of that."
Trailing by 24 points quarter three, the Jets began a long climb back. Jerricho Cotchery, who caught six balls for 121 yards, shocked the Pats on a 71-yard touchdown marked by determination. Quarterback Chad Pennington withstood heavy pressure on a 3rd and 13 before throwing deep up the right sideline to Cotchery. The third-year wideout from N.C. State made the grab, absorbed a big hit, fell on top of a Patriot defensive back and then sprinted 50 yards untouched into the end zone.
The Patriots attempted to answer on the ensuing position with the long ball, but cornerback David Barrett stepped in front of Doug Gabriel for an interception. That takeaway set up another highlight reel touchdown. Again under heavy heat, Pennington spotted Coles on a crossing route and quickly released the ball. Coles hauled it in and then put on an impressive show, zigging and zagging while covering 46 yards for a score. It was Coles' longest touchdown reception of his career and it was a thing of beauty as he eluded half of the Patriots defense before hitting pay dirt.
Bob Sutton's defense once again stepped up moments later and gathered a second takeaway. Sutton sent defensive back Kerry Rhodes on a safety blitz and New England quarterback Tom Brady didn't see Rhodes coming off the corner. Rhodes stripped the ball away and defensive end Bryan Thomas recovered for the Green & White. Kicker Mike Nugent would come on and drill a 42-yard field goal, closing the gap to 24-17 with 9:20 remaining.
"When I thought I had a shot, I was going for the ball. There wasn't any option," Rhodes said of his strip-sack. "I was able to get it out. Momentum was going our way and we got a field goal out of it. We got points, so it was big."
The Pats weren't shaken, answering with an eight minute drive. They brought on rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski for a 29-yard field goal to seal it, but defensive end Bryan Thomas blocked the short kick. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma recovered for New York and he was tackled inside the Jets' 10-yard line with 1:05 to play. The Jets had no timeouts remaining and Tedy Bruschi put an end to the comeback, intercepting a Pennington pass with just five seconds remaining.
"You can't dig yourself into a 24-0 hole. It's too hard; it's too hard against a good football team and New England is a good football team," Mangini said. "I am really proud of the way these guys fought and put themselves in a position to tie the game. We made it a lot more interesting there at the end."
On a sun-soaked late afternoon at the Meadowlands, the Patriots stormed to 17-point halftime lead. Veteran running back Corey Dillon's one-yard touchdown culminated an 11-play, 82-yard drive in the first quarter. Then Gostkowski ended another long march with a 20-yard field goal.
Brady, coming off a poor performance against Buffalo, returned to familiar form and was in command of his offense. He got the Pats on the early move with a 29-yard completion to rookie receiver Chad Jackson. Three plays later, the Pats quarterback converted a critical third down, finding tight end Ben Watson for 14 yards on a 3rd and 12. The Patriots covered the final 22 yards on four consecutive runs including a 14-yard gain from rookie Laurence Maroney.
The Pats wasted little time getting into scoring position again, traveling 58 yards on consecutive 29-yard pass plays to a pair of tight ends. First Brady went to rookie David Thomas on a crossing pattern, and then the Pro Bowl signal caller lofted a perfect pass to Daniel Graham. The Green & White stepped up the defensive play inside the 10 and forced the Pats into the short field goal. Barrett made a pretty break-up on third down, preventing a Doug Gabriel score.
Jackson's 17-yard touchdown reception capped off a strong New England half. The Pats final possession of the second quarter began at midfield following a 10-yard punt from Ben Graham.
The Jets, who were without the services of lineman Pete Kendall, started Norm Katnik at left guard. They totaled 129 yards of offense over the opening 30 minutes but weren't able to sustain many drives while managing just six first downs. On the other side of the ledger, the Pats registered 256 total yards in two quarters. Dillon and Maroney would combine to total 145 ground yards on 36 attempts.
"We knew all week that they were going to come in and run the ball," said Jets veteran defensive lineman Bobby Hamilton. "We just have to get ready and get focused up front. What we have to do is start up fast. If we started out fast, then it probably would have been a different game, but don't take away anything from New England."
A third quarter one-yard run by Maroney was the Minnesota product's first touchdown as a professional. The Patriots received good fortune before taking a 24-0 edge as the Jets were charged with a defensive holding penalty on a 3rd and 20 play.
The Patriots would hold on though despite another 300-yard game from Pennington. The seven-year veteran completed 22 of 37 passes for 306 yards and the two scores.
"I appreciate every guy in this locker room for not giving up and not folding when we could have easily folded and just packed it in," Pennington said. "Nobody gave up and everybody just kept working hard. That is going to be a sign of this team no matter what happens. We are just going to keep the same attitude week in and week out."
After a tough showing in the first half, the Jets defense held Brady and company to just 102 second half yards. The Green & White are now 1-1 and will visit the 1-1 Bills next weekend in Buffalo.
"We have a lot of things to work on. Win or lose, it's going to be the same approach," Mangini said. "We are going to try to fix the mistakes which we will do today and we are going to move forward."
Kerry Rhodes was all over the field throughout, collecting 11 tackles and two passes defended in addition to the strip-sack… For the second consecutive week, Laveranues Coles registered 100 yards receiving, grabbing six balls for an even 100 yards… Pennington called his number on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter. "The way the front was set up – there was a big gap there," Mangini said. "Chad always has the option to adjust to the play."… Derrick Blaylock received the start in the backfield for the Jets. He carried the ball six times for seven yards. Kevan Barlow, acquired in the preseason from San Francisco, finished the club's leading rusher with 42 yards on 14 carries… Both teams excelled on third down. The Jets converted 11 of 18 while the Pats converted eight of 14. Mangini, who spent the previous six seasons in New England and won three championships with the Pats, downplayed the importance of facing one of his former mentors in Bill Belichick. "This game to me was all about the Jets and the Patriots."… Actors Adam Sandler and Kevin James were spotted on the sidelines during warm-ups. Both funny men are Jets fans, so assumedly they were pleased to see Joe "Willie" Namath. Namath, who led the Jets to their only NFL Championship following the 1968 season, annually makes it up to the Meadowlands for a game or two.