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Dealing with Patriots’ receivers? Jets defense had it covered

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By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / January 17, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots expected the Jets to stick with man-to-man coverage in yesterday’s AFC Divisional playoff game, the same defense that was exploited by New England in a blowout win Dec. 6.

Instead the Patriots got a variety of looks that kept their offense off-balance and out of sync in yesterday’s 28-21 loss. While music blared in the Jets’ celebratory locker room, the Patriots were stunned.

Wide receiver Wes Welker was left to answer questions about his benching for the first series of the game. On the other side of the locker room, receiver Deion Branch explained miscues. At the podium, quarterback Tom Brady listed the mistakes.

During the regular season Brady was a master of taking advantage of his options, finding ways to get the ball to the open man. Yesterday, Brady’s guys didn’t get open nearly enough. The best answer to the puzzling performance from Brady’s perspective was “we made too many mistakes.’’

It was certainly a group effort.

“You work on one thing all week and you get something different,’’ Welker said. “We adjusted, but at the end of the day it’s about us making plays and moving the ball down the field and we didn’t do that on a consistent basis.’’

Welker caught seven passes for 57 yards but was a subject of controversy before the game began. CBS reported on its broadcast that Welker would be benched for a series for dropping numerous foot references in a 10-minute press conference during the week. His subtle foot and toe references were directed at reports of foot-fetish videos allegedly featuring Jets coach Rex Ryan and his wife that were discovered last month.

Welker sat out the first offensive series but did come out to field a punt. Welker would not say when he was told he would be benched, calling the move “coach’s decision.’’

“I didn’t feel anything about it,’’ Welker said. “I was just ready for my opportunity to go out there and play and try and help the team win.’’

When asked if he regretted the press conference, Welker said, “I’m not really going to comment on all that stuff. At the end of the day, I respect the Jets, I respect Rex Ryan and all of them and they did a great job [yesterday] and they played better than us and they won. At the end of the day it was us not going out there and executing the way we should have.’’

The offensive struggles were evident from the start. On their first possession the Patriots marched 56 yards to the Jets’ 28 when Brady was picked off, his first interception in 11 games. The second possession the Patriots again drove deep into Jets territory, but Alge Crumpler dropped a pass in the end zone and New England settled for a field goal.

The Patriots never got untracked the rest of the half, punting twice, turning the ball over on downs after a fake punt attempt failed, and losing 13 yards on its final possession before time ran out.

Brady finished 29 of 45 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, but the Patriots were just 5 of 14 on third down.

Indicative of how well the Jets’ secondary blanketed the receivers, Crumpler, who had six catches for 52 yards in the regular season, was targeted five times, catching three for 39 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, who had been hampered by a hip injury, excelled against the Jets in the previous two meetings but was held to one catch for 4 yards yesterday.

Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis blanketed Branch much of the game, with Branch getting shut out until the final drive of the third quarter. Branch finished with five catches for 59 yards and dropped a couple of passes in the final two quarters.

“I think they did a great job of game planning,’’ Branch said. “We went into the game planning for man and they mixed it up a lot. They mixed it up a little bit more than we thought they would. We just didn’t execute. There were a lot of things going on. A lot of bad football. We picked the wrong time to play our worst game of football.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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