Title march stops short
Big-talking Jets knock favored Patriots out of playoffs
FOXBOROUGH — The champagne toasts and Duck Boat parades are fun and memorable, but we are Bostonians and sometimes we fixate on the losses more than we celebrate the wins.
This one ranks way up there in the pantheon of pain — somewhere on the medal platform alongside Glendale, Ariz., in 2008 and Yankee Stadium in 2003.
The Patriots were shocked by the hated New York Jets, 28-21, in the divisional round of the playoffs at Gillette Stadium yesterday. Less than six weeks after humiliating the Jets, 45-3, on “Monday Night Football,’’ the Patriots saw the curtain fall on their 14-2 season. The much-hyped coaching duel morphed into Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Grady Belichick.
There will be no Super Bowl for Messrs. Belichick and Brady this year. The braggarts and buffoons from the Meadowlands took it all away with four quarters of smashmouth football, sending the frontrunner Patriots home for the summer. If it makes anyone feel better, Red Sox pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Fort Myers, Fla., Feb. 13.
“It’s a one-game season,’’ said Belichick. “If you don’t play well, you’re done. We all know that.’’
This was not your garden variety postseason elimination. Losing to the Jets is worse than losing to the Lakers. It might even be worse than losing to the Yankees and that is because of the lack of class demonstrated by the Jets in the days and months leading up to yesterday’s epic showdown. The Jets are all about smack talk. They hurled insults at New England for a week. Then they came to Foxborough and backed it up. This game was not as close as the score would lead you to believe. It was 28-14 before the Patriots scored a hollow touchdown in an empty stadium with 24 seconds left.
We love to poke fun at John Candyesque Rex Ryan, but the Footie outcoached the Hoodie when it mattered. The Patriots made a bad gamble on a fake punt that backfired badly before intermission and New England’s clock management in the fourth quarter had fans wondering who let Clive Rush back on the Patriots sideline.
The day got off to a bad start when it was learned that Belichick was benching the wildly-popular Wes Welker because of comments Welker made during the week. Most of us were amused when the Patriots slot receiver used 11 “foot’’ and “toe’’ references during his Thursday press session. Welker was obviously poking fun at Ryan’s well-documented infatuation with his wife’s feet. Belichick did not think it was funny and sat Welker for the Patriots’ first series.
The Patriots scored only 3 points in the first half, which says a lot about New York’s defense. New England had the most potent offense in the NFL, but the Jets pressured Brady and covered the Patriots corps of short receivers. The game was never the same after the Patriots failed on their fake punt. Patrick Chung fumbled the direct snap and New England turned the ball over on its 37.
“We just made a bad mistake on the play,’’ acknowledged Belichick.
After the gaffe, New York’s much-maligned sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards on a 15-yard TD strike to make it 14-3 at halftime.
Sanchez was skittish in his first two career games at Gillette (seven interceptions), but yesterday he was 16 for 25 for 194 yards and three touchdowns. He effectively clinched the game with a Super Bowl memory lane touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes, which made it 21-11 with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
What happened next was curious. The Patriots needed two scores, but played as if they still had three quarters of football left. There was no urgency, no clock management. The Jets gave New England runs up the middle and the Patriots complied. The Patriots ate eight minutes of clock, and still did not score. It was ridiculous. Sometimes the Patriots are too smart for their own good. This looked like pure arrogance. And it worked out about as well as Grady Little leaving Pedro Martinez on the mound in the Bronx.
“They were playing a lot of DB pass coverages and all of that and we thought we had some good opportunities to run it,’’ said Belichick. “Some worked out and some we could have handled better.’’
Too bad. This was an admirable group. Not much was expected when the season started, but the Patriots made themselves Super Bowl favorites with a tremendous second half. It was a team with 22 undrafted players and 11 rookies. It looked like Belichick’s Sistine Chapel.
It turned out to be fool’s gold. A house of cards.
There is no fan group more sensitive than Patriots patrons and those folks now have to live with the fact that New England has lost its last three playoff games. Since becoming a head coach in the NFL, Ryan has made it to two consecutive AFC Championship games, winning four playoff games while Belichick has won zero.
Brady has won 28 straight regular-season games at Gillette, but is 0-2 in his last two playoff games at the Razor. Brady is going to win the MVP award this year, but yesterday he was a pedestrian 29 of 45 with two touchdowns and an interception.
The Patriots wind up looking like regular-season warriors who fold in the playoffs. They went 8-0 at home this year, 0-1 at home in the playoffs. Brady threw 335 consecutive passes without a pick, then threw an interception on his fifth pass of the first playoff game. The Patriots won their last eight games of the regular season by an average margin of 21.8 points. It didn’t do them any good when it mattered.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.