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A pressure-packed ending

Brady can’t pull off a comeback

By Chris Forsberg
Globe Staff / September 21, 2009

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It didn’t matter that the Patriots’ offense hadn’t seemed right all day. When Tom Brady jogged onto the field with 1:48 remaining with one final chance to tie yesterday’s game against the Jets, all of New England was thinking the same thing: Get ready for overtime.

The obstacles didn’t matter: 90 yards, zero timeouts, no Wes Welker (inactive, knee injury). Brady had engineered 29 fourth-quarter comebacks during his career, including last week’s improbable 11-point comeback over the Bills. This was crunch time for one of the most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history and surely this would be comeback No. 30.

But five plays later, it was over. A desperation chuck to Joey Galloway on fourth and 10 from their 28 fell incomplete, sealing the Jets’ 16-9 triumph at the Meadowlands. It was the first regular-season loss Brady had endured since a defeat to the Dolphins Dec. 10, 2006, a stretch of 19 games.

And suddenly all of New England was thinking the same thing: What was wrong with Brady?

“I thought we had a chance there,’’ said Brady. “We just didn’t execute well enough on the two-minute possession and that’s something we’ve been good at. The Jets were better at it today than we were. It’s frustrating. We had really high expectations for this game and we didn’t put it together very well.’’

The Jets had grand plans as well and brazenly talked about them for much of the week. Jets linebacker Bart Scott knew what Patriots fans were thinking when their team took over late and he didn’t mind dashing their hopes.

“I know they were expecting the Tom Brady comeback,’’ said Scott. “We put the team on our back, put it in the defense’s hands, and closed the show.’’

The Jets defense pestered Brady all day, not just the final two minutes, with pressure on nearly every snap - not that the Patriots expected any less from a Rex Ryan defense. New England came to New Jersey with a plan to throw the ball against the blitz-happy Jets, utilizing an up-tempo, no-huddle, three-receiver set nearly exclusively from start to finish.

But with Welker sidelined, the offense looked out of synch. Galloway, who didn’t catch a pass during the Week 1 win over Buffalo, was suddenly the No. 2 option and Darrelle Revis was playing physical, lockdown coverage on No. 1 option Randy Moss.

That left rookie wide receiver Julian Edelman, inactive last week with an ankle injury, to shoulder the load in the slot. He finished with a game-high eight receptions for 98 yards.

Brady finished 23 of 47 for 216 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The Jets didn’t register a sack, but the pressure clearly got to Brady.

“It’s a good blitz team,’’ said Brady. “They get there and they get home and there’s tight coverage. We were trying to get a guy on a guy, and sometimes they came free, just scheme-wise, which is tough because it forces you to throw the ball a little earlier. We have to connect more often and that’s what it comes down to.’’

Said Revis, who intercepted an overthrown Brady offering in the first half when the Patriots QB took a shot down the field on a play-action fake to Moss: “We put a lot of pressure on Brady and we knew the ball was going to come out quick. That’s what we tried to pressure him to do. I was trying to press at the line. We knew Brady was going to try and throw a couple fade balls out there and I caught one in the first quarter.’’

Twice during the first half Moss had to push teammates into position (moving Edelman and tight end Benjamin Watson to the line when he needed to go in motion). Route confusion was exacerbated by dropped passes.

“I think the frustration sets in when we know we kick ourselves in the foot,’’ said Moss. “The defense did their job. They had a job to do, that’s to help the offense. The offense has a job to do, that’s to put points on the board. But with the firepower we have, it gets a little frustrating. I’m not going to sit here and lie.’’

Brady acknowledges it’s on him to turn things around, particularly when an offense with 2007-like expectations has sputtered outside of the final five minutes of the Buffalo game.

As he left the locker room yesterday, Brady’s supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, reached up and fixed his hair. Unlike Brady’s appearance, nothing could mask the offensive struggles.

“We’re not really firing on all cylinders right now and we have to identify where the issues are and try to correct them,’’ said Brady. “That’s most important. You know it’s a different group, a different year, it’s different defenses. It’s a lot of different things, so we’re trying to execute better than we did today. To not get the ball in the end zone, that’s not acceptable. You’re not going to win any games if you don’t get the ball in the end zone.’’

Chris Forsberg can be reached at cforsberg@boston.com

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