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On football

The situations called for dramatic finish

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / November 14, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - It was three games woven into one.

There was the Jets jumping out to a 24-6 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter. There was the Patriots charging back to make it 24-all with 10:16 left in the fourth quarter.

Then there was what unfolded from that point, which turned out to be a clinic in what Patriots coach Bill Belichick preaches and what Jets coach Eric Mangini - who learned under Belichick - now teaches.

It was situational football at its finest.

What the Patriots and Jets produced from that point - with pendulum swings that took both teams on a wild ride - is not often seen in a full 60 minutes of action, let alone the final 10:16 of regulation and another 7:50 of overtime.

Where does one begin?

Let's start at 24-24, with the Jets taking over at their 33, because that's when the third game of last night's three-in-one special truly began.

The Jets went on a 14-play, 67-yard drive, masterfully orchestrated by quarterback Brett Favre. The Patriots were in their base 3-4 defense or a nickel package (five defensive backs), and the crucial plays were third downs that extended the drive - a 3-yard catch by Chansi Stuckey on third and 2, and a holding penalty on Mike Vrabel at the goal line on third and 6. Jets tight end Dustin Keller also had a big 14-yard catch on second and 9.

"We just couldn't get off the field," said Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour. "We were right there and just didn't make the play. In a game like this, you have to make those plays. We usually come up on the opposite end of that spectrum."

Keller, a rookie first-round draft choice, was a Patriot killer all night with eight catches for 87 yards. He was effective because the Patriots were often covering him with a linebacker, a favorable matchup for the Jets. If the Patriots had covered Keller with a defensive back, they would have been more vulnerable against the run.

"It puts a lot of pressure on a defense being able to use that weapon the way Brett has," Mangini said. "It spreads things out."

Yet while the Jets had seized back the momentum with a Thomas Jones 1-yard touchdown run with 3:10 left - going ahead, 31-24 - there was plenty more situational football to be played.

The Patriots went three and out; instead of going for it on fourth and 17, they punted with 2:35 left. They had one timeout remaining, but knew they'd have a stoppage at the two-minute warning.

The Jets ran Jones for 5 yards. Time out. Then Jones ran for 3 yards. Two-minute warning.

After the stoppage, the Jets were ready to close it out.

It was power on power, the Patriots putting five defensive linemen on the field, with three linebackers. The Jets also loaded up at the line of scrimmage.

"It's third and 2, and I think everyone in the building knew that if we got a first down, it was over," Favre said.

But linebackers Jerod Mayo and Tedy Bruschi combined on a tackle, stopping Jones 1 yard shy of the first-down sticks.

The Patriots got the ball back at their 38 with 1:04 remaining, and in a masterful spike-filled drive, they moved to the Jets' 16 with eight seconds left. The Jets were protecting the sidelines and giving up plenty of space in the middle.

"At that point, they're fighting two different things - yardage and time," Mangini said. "What you don't want to do is have them complete a 10- or 15-yard pass and get out of bounds. That's the worst-case scenario. We were in a rolled-up coverage with help to the sideline; where we were light was in the middle. But with 1:04 left, those are high-percentage calls."

Yet the percentages worked against the Jets as quarterback Matt Cassel hit receiver Randy Moss with 16-yard touchdown pass along the right side of the end zone with one second left.

"We were pretty much under all their receivers, with help over the top, knowing they had to go into the end zone on that play," Mangini said. "But he's Randy Moss. He made an amazing play. We had every single receiver doubled. It was great execution [on their part]."

The Jets appeared defeated.

"At the end of regulation, they had all the momentum, every reason to win it, and we could have just as easily folded," Favre said.

But after winning the coin toss in overtime, Favre led a 14-play drive, culminating in a 34-yard Jay Feely field goal. Again, Keller was big, with a 16-yard catch on third and 15, a 12-yard catch on second and 6, and a 4-yard catch on third and 1. And Favre delivered an across-the-body throw to Laveranues Coles for 16 yards.

The Patriots tried their base defense. They tried their nickel package.

But the Jets, in a classic case of game-ending situational football, were not to be denied.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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