The game plan is no longer as simple as handing off to Tom Brady, sending Randy Moss deep down the field on a post route and watching the dynamic duo work its magic. With their franchise quarterback out for the season, the New England Patriots must find other ways to win games.
Sunday was a step in the right direction.
Anchored by a dominant performance from their defense and an equally-impressive showing on special teams, the Patriots won their first game without Brady by beating the New York Jets, 19-10, to improve to 2-0.
Two key stops, including one in the red zone, and a superb effort by kicker Stephen Gostkowski took most of the pressure off Matt Cassel, who was remarkably efficient in his first career NFL start and first start of any kind since high school.
"That's a real good win," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "A lot of people didn't expect us to do much today. I'm very happy with the way they played."
Clinging to a slim, 6-0, lead in the second quarter, the Patriots stopped Thomas Jones on three consecutive carries in the red zone, forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal. They opened the second half with an even better defensive stand, taking advantage of three penalties by New York and intercepting quarterback Brett Favre to set up the game-breaking touchdown drive.
"He's the all-time leader in picks for a reason," safety Rodney Harrison said. "He's also a Hall of Famer. That's not to discredit him, but stats don't lie."
Gostkowski did his part in both phases of the kicking game, connecting on all four of his field-goal attempts while also booming five touchbacks on kickoffs, preventing the Jets from establishing any success in the battle for field position. All six of his kickoffs reached the end zone, but Leon Washington brought one out to the 20 before getting dropped by Ray Ventrone.
"He kicked the ball very well. Obviously the wind was a little bit of a factor, but even when he was kicking into the wind he kicked it high and long," Belichick said. "That's the best football coverage you can have when you can knock it through the end zone, especially against the Jets, who have one of the best kickoff return teams in the league."
With less fireworks expected on offense this year, the Patriots need to rely on others to win games. Against the Jets, their defense and special teams led the way, making life easy for Cassel and the offense.
"After all these years of playing against the Patriots, I wondered why they are so good," former Jet and Raider LaMont Jordan said. "Being a Patriot, I realize what it is: the total team effort. Just get your job done."
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