Defense Does It Again
Big Plays Send Patriots to San Diego
The New England defense has made the Patriots end zone as impregnable as an armored fortress. But there were a few plays on which mental lapses allowed the proverbial Trojan Horse inside the walls.
There was the Jerricho Cotchery touchdown in Week 2, where Cotchery took a huge hit from Chad Scott, fell on top of Eugene Wilson, popped up and ran untouched into the end zone. Against Jacksonville, running back Maurice Jones-Drew nearly replicated the feat, bouncing off his tight end in the backfield and falling, but not being touched by a Patriots defender, got up and ran 74 yards for a touchdown. Fortunately, neither of those plays doomed New England in those games.
The defense made the heads-up play this time, and it was the play of the game.
New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington took a step back and turned to throw to Cotchery. It's a play that was the Patriots bread and butter on their way to Super Bowl XXXVI and since has been copied by virtually every team in the league. But Cotchery was a couple steps further back behind the line, making the intended pass a lateral. New England linebacker Rosevelt Colvin knocked the ball out of the air.
Most players, thinking the play would be ruled an incomplete pass, stopped playing. But nose tackle Vince Wilfork was not one of those players. He scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 31 yards to set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that made the score 23-13 with seconds left in the third quarter.
New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork chugs downfield
after scooping up a lateral pass knocked down by linebacker Rosevelt
Colvin in a game-changing play in the Patriots 37-16 win over New York.
The defense came up more-than-big on several occasions. The first time was the three plays immediately following Corey Dillon's fumble on the Patriots 15-yard line late in the first quarter with New England leading 7-0. A 5-yard gain by Jets running back Leon Washington, a stymie of Washington, and an incomplete pass to Laveranues Coles over the middle. The series resulted in a Mike Nugent 28-yard field goal. It could easily have been a game-tying touchdown that would have changed the complexion of the game.
Twice more the Patriots defense held New York to Nugent field goals. The Jets ended the game 0-for-3 in red zone offense.
And then Asante Samuel played hero again.
Two plays after Tom Brady hit a completely uncovered Kevin Faulk for a 7-yard touchdown, Samuel intercepted Pennington's pass intended for Just McCareins and returned for a resounding 36-yard touchdown, effectively ending the game with 5:04 left on the clock. It was Samuel's 11th interception of the season, and the first returned for a touchdown.
The defense held the Jets to 3 of 11 on third down conversions (0-for-4 in the second half) and just three rushing first downs (0 in the first half). Mike Vrabel led the team with 6 solo tackles (8 total) and Tedy Bruschi had 9 (4 solo). Fellow linebacker Tully Banta-Cain had a pair of sacks.
New England Patriots running back Corey Dillon runs for 13 yards in the
third quarter of New England's 37-16 Wild Card win over New York. The
run set up a 40-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal and a 20-13 lead.
Aside of Dillon's miscue, New England's offense did its job, too.
Dillon capped the Patriots game-opening, 10-play, no-huddle drive with an 11-yard dash for a touchdown. He finished the game with 53 yards on 10 carries. Twin terror Laurence Maroney had 69 yards on 18 carries, and Kevin Faulk had 23 yards on 6 carries. Brady added a quarterback sneak and a 12-yard run, both for first downs on third-down plays.
Brady was his usual playoff self, completing 22 of 34 passes for 212 yards with 2 touchdowns and a passer rating of 101.6. Brady connected with Jabar Gaffney eight times for 104 yards, after Gaffney, who joined the team in October, had just 11 catches during the regular season.
Brady relentlessly picked on former teammate Hank Poteat, generally with what appeared to be the same play, and New York showed no propensity to try to stop it.
New England Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel seals New England's
Wild Card win with a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was
Samuel's 11th interception of the season, the first returned for a score.
Josh McDaniels called a fantastic game, telling Tom Brady, "Run it again," when the Jets were unable to -- or simply chose not to -- defend a particular play. That led to Faulk running straight up the middle three consecutive plays at the end of second quarter. Faulk had runs of 7, 8 and 9 yards, leading to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Daniel Graham with 11 seconds left in the half.
That play gave Brady a touchdown pass in 10 straight playoff games, tying Ken Stabler and Joe Montana for the third longest streak behind Dan Marino (12) and Brett Favre (16).
Today on WEEI, Bill Belichick said the Faulk sequence started when the Jets had a particular defensive package with two down linemen on the field. New England kept the same personnel on the field and ran the plays quickly so the Jets would be unable to substitute different personnel. The next time the situation came up, New York had made the adjustment, and so the Patriots did not run the play again.
Belichick said that sequence showed how the game was partly a game of matchups and tempo, but that matchups and tempo are no substitute themselves from players doing their jobs, blocking and making plays.
Rookie placekicker Stephen Gostkowski had a great day with three field goals (20, 40 and 28 yards), 4 extra points, and three kickoffs into the endzone, one for a touchback.
New England Patriots placekicker Stephen Gostkowski makes a 40-yard
field goal under pressure to give the Patriots a 20-13 edge in the third
quarter of New England's Wild card win over the New York Jets.
The news wasn't entirely good. New England was assessed 7 penalties (9 called), including a pair of unnecessary roughness penalties on Wilfork and Bruschi, like the result of last week's penalty-fest with Tennessee and the league telling officials to scrutinize Patriots play.
The defensive secondary repeated past problems tackling and suffered a complete breakdown on Cotchery's 77-yard touchdown early in the second quarter that gave New York a 10-7 lead. At least one player missed a tackle, a couple other misread or took bad angles in the chase. The play was the longest in Jets postseason history. Such lapses could be fatal against teams like next week's opponent, top-seeded San Diego.
Getting back to the Colvin-Wifork play, Belichick, on WEEI this afternoon, said the Patriots emphasize sticking with the play until the whistle, and sometimes even beyond, with the new "continuation" rules the NFL installed this year. Belichick was standing on the line of scrimmage on the play. He thought Pennington's pass was backwards when he threw it, but also thought Colvin was going to hold onto the ball.
When Colvin was unable too, Belichick knew the ball was live. He looked a the line judge who didn't blow his whistle or signal an incomplete pass. Wilfork looked to the sideline, where Belichick and others yelled, "Get the ball!"
No doubt Colvin will be subject to some "extra instruction" during practice this week for not going after the ball himself.
The player of the game in New England's 37-16 Wild Card win over the N.Y. Jets was ...
This poll is closed
... Vince Wilfork
... Asante Samuel
... Jabar Gaffney
... Tom Brady
... Mike Vrabel
... Corey Dillon
... Stephen Gostkowski