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Quarterbacks keep quiet against Patriots

Team's defense causes problems

The Patriots defense's favorite word?

 

"Quarterback."

Young ones. Old ones. Tough ones.

Obscure ones, famous ones, up-and-comers, and has-beens.

Chad Pennington left the Meadowlands Saturday night following one of his worst showings as a pro. He threw five interceptions and was sacked four times in a 21-16 New England win over the Jets. Pennington's quarterback rating was 31.2, and he looked like a beaten man.

The Patriots show no mercy on quarterbacks. Pennington is one of the best they've faced. They have beaten Pro Bowlers Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, and Peyton Manning. They also have beaten the second-echelon types like Kelly Holcomb, Tony Banks, Jay Fiedler, Quincy Carter, Kerry Collins, Byron Leftwich, and Danny Kanell. (They have lost to Drew Bledsoe and Patrick Ramsey.)

They confuse quarterbacks, blitz and take away an opponent's top receivers. Signal-callers constantly are rushed and knocked down after the throw. The QB must deal with anything from a Tedy Bruschi blitz to Willie McGinest dropping back in coverage to Rodney Harrison slamming him during or after a throw. That can cause panic that builds with each hurry and each hit.

Pennington might have spent hours watching film of the Patriots, but when he looked at the defense, he could never be sure what the players were doing.

"They blitzed [Pennington] at times, and that's what they were going to do," Jets coach Herman Edwards said. "They had the passing lanes cut off early on in our slant game and their linebackers tipped some balls. They have long arms and they made plays on some tips and they had some interceptions and I thought that was kind of a key point . . . when we turned the ball over." The quarterback is generally one of the most intelligent athletes on the field. But often, when facing the Patriots, they struggle. How often have they wasted timeouts because they're trying to read the defense and can't process things in time at the line of scrimmage?

The only successful quarterbacks against the Patriots were Manning and Bledsoe. Manning completed 29 of 48 passes for 278 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception in a 38-34 loss in which he had a rating of 95.7, the highest against the Patriots this season. There was Bledsoe's opening day performance in a 31-0 win when he went 17 of 28 for 230 yards, one touchdown, and one interception for a rating of 83.9. Vinny Testaverde (74.2 in Week 3) was the only other quarterback with a rating of 70 or higher. And there have been some real clinkers, like Pennington's 31.2 and McNabb's 33.4 in Week 2 in a 31-10 Eagles loss when he completed 18 of 46 for 186 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. The worst against the Patriots this season was Fiedler's 25.1 in Game 13. Fiedler, the only QB to have faced the Patriots twice, had a 62.8 rating in New England's 19-13 overtime win in Miami earlier in the season.

The Patriots have intercepted 27 passes and have allowed only 11 touchdowns through the air. In 15 games, they've allowed quarterbacks to complete just 53 percent of their passes for 3,058 yards, which has produced the low ratings. The Patriots have forced not only the five interceptions by Pennington, but four by Collins in a 17-6 Patriots win and three by Carter in a 12-0 Patriots victory, both at Gillette Stadium.Eight times a team has not thrown for a touchdown, and in only one game, a loss to Washington, have the Patriots failed to come up with at least one interception. Quarterbacks are left in awe.

Fiedler said after his horrible outing against the Patriots, "It wasn't anything special they did, but they just play a great team defense. They all know their roles and what they're supposed to do. You have 11 guys doing what they're supposed to do. That's winning football."

The Patriots Saturday face Bledsoe in a rematch, and in the postseason there's the potential to face Manning, McNair, Trent Green, and McNabb.

But it would have to take one of those special games, as Manning had in the second half against the Patriots, to make a dent against this quarterback-hating defense.

Pennington certainly got a dose of it Saturday night.

"We were happy to come in here and win the game," said New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. "The fact that we had the picks and the sacks, that helped us win the game, but there are things in the game that we felt we could have done better. From a coaching standpoint, those things come to the forefront a little bit more than some of the other good things we did."

Crennel might have been being humble, but there's no doubt his defense shuts down quarterbacks better than any in the NFL. On any given day, they can create a Field of Screams for opposing quarterbacks.

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  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 13 2 0 .867 317 238
Dolphins 9 6 0 .600 288 240
Bills 6 9 0 .400 243 248
Jets 6 9 0 .400 262 276
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