All said and done, a disaster
FOXBOROUGH — What do you say when you are whipped, fair and square? What do you say when there are no freaky happenings, when there are no loose ends, when there are no overtly bad calls, when the other team makes the big plays when it has to and stops you when you need to make some of your own?
What do you say when the other team does exactly what it wants to do and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it? What do you say when the other coach runs his mouth and his team backs him up? What do you say when a verbose rival gets to keep playing and you must pack up and go home, beaten, 28-21, on the field where you hadn’t lost a game all season?
You say what the Patriots said.
“It was lack of execution,’’ sighed a morose quarterback Tom Brady. “In order to score points, you must consistently put together plays. We could never do that, and find a rhythm.’’
“We just didn’t make the plays,’’ agreed tackle Matt Light. “When we had a little rhythm, we stopped short. We didn’t help our defense. We didn’t do it the way we did in the past.’’
“We had plenty of opportunities,’’ confirmed receiver Deion Branch. “We didn’t take advantage of them. The Jets had a great game plan, and they executed theirs, and we didn’t.’’
And in case there was any doubt . . .
“We just didn’t play well,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “We didn’t do anything well enough.’’
For the second year in a row, the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs by losing the opening game at home. But there is a vast difference between the beating they took from the Ravens last year and the defeat they suffered at the hands of the Jets yesterday at Gillette Stadium. Last year’s team had internal issues and simply wasn’t all that good.
This team had come in as the AFC top seed with a 14-2 record and had been playing very well during an eight-game winning streak. And no Belichick team had lost a playoff game after earning the much-coveted first-round bye.
Then there was the matter of the infamous 45-3 Patriots rout of the Jets Dec. 6, a game many fans couldn’t get out of their heads, even if the players could.
Branch explained the difference between what went on here back then and what went on in this game.
“We executed that day, and we didn’t today,’’ he said with a shrug. “We had a great game plan, and we didn’t execute it.’’
Of course, the main reason the Patriots fell down in the execution was the play of the Jets. Brady looked comfortable only on rare occasions, the best example an eight-play, 80-yard drive that, combined with a direct snap 2-point conversion by Sammy Morris, got them within 3 points at 14-11 late in the third period. But that was the exception on a late afternoon/early evening when he was sacked five times, harassed into many ugly incompletions, and even threw his first interception in two months. The coverage of the Jets defensive backs was positively brilliant.
Brady slung it for 299 yards and two touchdowns, but the key throws in the game were made by the Jets’ Mark Sanchez, who avoided throwing an interception — the Patriots had no takeaways — and who orchestrated the most important drive of the game early in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots had just scored that aforementioned touchdown and 2-point conversion, and were now back in the game after stumbling around for the better part of three quarters. The fans, some of whom had disgraced themselves by booing the home team, were now back in the game, and there was every reason to believe the Patriots would now find a way to win the game and enhance the reputation of both the quarterback and the coach.
But Sanchez hit Jerricho Cotchery with a short pass, and the Jets wideout did the rest, moving 58 yards upfield until knocked out of bounds at the Patriots 13. But there was still no guarantee the Jets would score, and a field goal wouldn’t have killed New England. On third and 4 at the 7, Sanchez threw what could only be described as a laser fade into the left corner of the end zone. Santonio Holmes, no stranger to highlight film fade catches (recall Super Bowl XLIII?), made a spectacular grab on an overmatched Kyle Arrington for a killer TD that made it 21-11.
It was a magnificent response to a situation that now will be celebrated in song and story as an everlasting part of Jets’ lore. That five-play, 75-yard drive was the absolute last thing anyone among the gathering of 68,756 expected.
Jets coach Rex Ryan had famously said this game would come down to himself vs. Belichick, and while that concept is a bit far-fetched, the fact is he and his staff saw their vision of the game come to life, while Belichick and his staff had to be thinking, “What the hell is going on here?’’
Ryan knew he had gained the upper hand when he saw the Patriots attempt a direct snap fake punt play with 1:14 left in the half and the Jets leading, 7-3. Patrick Chung fumbled the snap and the play was a total mess. Four plays later Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards for a 15-yard touchdown pass. Things like that never before had happened to this edition of the New England Patriots.
“We just made a bad mistake on the play,’’ he mumbled. “It was a bad mistake.’’
Any Patriots backer believing in things such as bad karma had to be concerned when it was learned that Belichick had punished Wes Welker for his little foot/feet/toe references last week. Welker was sent out to return the game’s first punt, but he was standing on the sideline when the Patriots offense took the field. No doubt Rex was whispering a “thank you’’ over on the other side of the field.
Anyway, it’s all over now for another year, and, frankly, the Patriots don’t much care that it was the Jets who have sent them home. “It doesn’t make any difference who we lost to,’’ said Branch. “The season is over.’’
“You always hurt when the season is done,’’ said Brady. “It’s like you’re on the treadmill at 10 miles an hour, and somebody hits the stop button.’’
That somebody was the Jets. Sorry.