Photo: FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 24: Curtis Martin #28 of the New York Jets is stopped by Rodney Harrison #37 of the New England Patriots on October 24, 2004 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
All season long, the Patriots defense has lived on the edge. It has given up yardage while limiting points thanks, in large part, to a stingy red zone defense. That changed in the second half of Sunday's win over the Jets.
New York had two first half possessions Sunday and sustained long drives on each. Chad Pennington finished the two marches 12-of-14 for 104 yards with a rushing touchdown while Curtis Martin ran nine times for 33 yards. The Patriots led 13-7 at the break thanks to Jerald Sowell's fumble at the Patriots' 15-yard line.
Then came the best 30 minutes of defensive football the 2004 Patriots have played. Over the final two quarters, New York had five possessions that included a pair of three-and-outs to start the half, two drives that barely crossed midfield that ended in punts and the final march that died on a fourth-and-eight incompletion from the Patriots 30.
"We just challenged them more," safety Rodney Harrison said. "We looked at each other and said that we're not going to let them dink and dunk us. We're going to step up and challenge them and see what they have. We played closer defense by the linebackers and the secondary."
That was obvious in Pennington's statistics from the first half to the second.
He wasn't sacked in the game and didn't turn the ball over, but over the final
two quarters, Pennington was held to an uncharacteristic 7-of-16 passing for
58 yards while the Patriots defense also kept the clamps on Martin.
"That was the number one priority - stop Curtis," Harrison said. "You can't let him go up and down the field for 120-130 yards with two or three touchdowns like he has."
He rushed for only 70 yards against the Patriots, who battled their division rival in an old fashioned, physical football game in which field position was critical and the hitting was intense.
"It felt like an old Foxboro moment with the rain and the drizzle and the defense having to make big plays at the end and the crowd was intense," veteran linebacker Ted Johnson said. "I remember the old times when the defense had to make a big play at the end of the game to secure a win. That's what happened.
"Between the 20 and 20 hasn't been our strength," Johnson added.
"We've buckled down in the red zone, which is ultimately all that matters,
but we can't give up those long drives like we've been doing. That was a good
second half and we needed it because their defense stepped up too."
It was much needed and if the Patriots can build on that effort, it could start to approach the dominance with which last year's Patriots defense played for most of the year - or at least the last four months of the season.
--CB Randall Gay continues to draw praise from his teammates. The undrafted rookie free agent out of LSU has been pressed into extensive action thanks to Tyrone Poole's knee injury and he has responded. Gay had Wayne Chrebet blanketed on the Jets' final fourth down play at the 2:19 mark of Sunday's win with New York threatening at the Patriots 30. Chad Pennington's pass actually hit Gay in the back. "He's a free agent," safety Rodney Harrison said. "I was a fifth rounder and I know what it's like to come in and go against the odds and work your tail off every day to prove people wrong, and he's getting the opportunity. He's taking advantage of the opportunity.
"One thing I like about Randall is the fact that he's willing to learn a lot of rookies around the league aren't willing to listen and learn. He is. He listens. He's a humble, hard working guy. I'm always talking to him, always encouraging him, always challenging him. He's always got a smile on his face and he's willing to listen. I walked in Friday morning and he's in the weight room at 6:15 in the morning."
--FB Dan Klecko's availability isn't known for this week's game at Pittsburgh, but it didn't look good when Klecko lay on the field for an extended period before being helped off with a leg injury. Klecko was hurt after catching a screen pass from quarterback Tom Brady. He was hit, appeared to twist his knee and lost the ball as he immediately clutched his knee. His return was announced as probable in the press box, but he did not return to action. The former defensive lineman actually caught two passes in the game a week after making his first NFL reception.
--CB Ty Law covered the speedy Santana Moss for most of the evening and held Moss to a quiet two receptions for 12 yards. The Jets attempted to go deep a few times, but never went to Moss or tested Law, choosing to go after Asante Samuel, who broke up a pair of passes. Moss actually carried on an end around, but was forced out of bounds for no gain by Mike Vrabel and Law. The Patriots' four-time Pro Bowl cornerback likened the Jets game to a postseason affair. "It was a playoff atmosphere out there," he said. "The importance was there. Division rivals. We still have to play better; we have not played our best football game and that is what we tried to do today."
--QB Tom Brady's limited options in the passing game become increasingly apparent with each passing week even as he still finds a way to generate production. He completed six passes to running back Kevin Faulk for 44 yards Sunday and five for 107 yards to wideout David Givens, but the pickins' were slim after that. Wideout David Patten had a touchdown catch among his three receptions while Daniel Graham and Bethel Johnson had a pair of grabs each. The fact that New England threw twice to a defensive player (Klecko) is proof that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is searching for options to maintain the diversity of his passing attack.
--P Josh Miller didn't help his gross or net punting average Sunday, but he
played a huge role in the game's outcome by landing all three of his second
half punts inside the Jets' 20-yard line. In what amounted to a field position
battle in the second half, Miller pinned New York on its 14-yard line twice
and its 16-yard line once. Clinging to a six-point lead, the Patriots were able
to play solid defense and maintain their field position edge.
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