NFL Nation: 2010 AFC Divisional playoffs
And their dynasty is over?
That's what Mark Kreidler contends in a column for ESPN.com.
... the long view is the one that is concerned with teams' places in history, standing among the elites, and all that rot. On that basis, there's really no choice but to conclude that the Patriots' dynasty, as it was thought of, is done.
Still competitive? Oh, without a doubt. Nobody goes 14-2 in the NFL by accident. But "dynasty" equals titles. Dynastic teams win it all. And that is as hard as hell to do.
Ask Pittsburgh. Ask Dallas. Ask San Francisco. It goes by in a blur, the "era" does.
Page 2 columnist Gregg Easterbrook doesn't make that leap, but he does have a theory on why the Patriots have lost three straight postseason games dating back to their undefeated-erasing Super Bowl loss:
The football gods are not yet finished punishing Bill Belichick for Spygate.
Easterbrook wonders if the gods will continue to rebuke Belichick until the coach admits he cheated.
Page 2 cartoonist Drew Litton gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the top-seeded New England Patriots will cope with Sunday's loss to the New York Jets in the coming weeks.
Be sure to check out the full Drew Litton archive, which includes some videos.
Subtract three specialists and more than a quarter of Rex Ryan's roster was specifically dedicated to disrupting the New England Patriots' passing game. MVP favorite Tom Brady struggled to find a rhythm in a stunning 28-21 home loss.
Early in the game, you could sense how much the Patriots were playing left-handed, a term coaches use to describe being forced to do what they're not comfortable with.
The Patriots passed with their run personnel (blocking tight end Alge Crumpler had five targets, bruising back BenJarvus Green-Ellis had three) and ran with their passing personnel (Danny Woodhead had more carries than Green-Ellis and equal targets in the first half).
Crumpler had six catches all season. Green-Ellis had 12.
Green Ellis averaged 14.3 carries per game in the regular season compared to 6.9 attempts for Woodhead.
At halftime, Brady had a 50.9 passer rating. Wes Welker had one reception. Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez each had zero.
The Jets sacked Brady five times, with coverage a major reason why. ESPN Stats & Information charted every play from Sunday's upset. All five of Brady's sacks and his rare interception (linebacker David Harris caught it) came against four or fewer pass-rushers.
Brady improved his stat line on his final drive, completing five of seven attempts for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Jets' prevent defense. Before that, he was averaging 3.2 yards less per attempt than he did in the regular-season and had a 78.8 passer rating.
The box score showed the Jets' throng of defensive backs combined for 33 defensive tackles (five more on special teams), two tackles for losses and a sack.
"It was an unbelievable game plan," Jets defensive lineman Trevor Pryce said in Michael Silver's column on Yahoo! Sports. "It was out of sight. We did some stuff I've never seen a football team do. We flooded coverages, had man schemes that looked like zone and zone that looked like man.
"Our first reaction was, 'How are we gonna do this? How is this gonna work?' I mean, 14 years in the NFL, and I'd never seen anything like it. Rex came up with some Madden [expletive], like it was a video game. He said 'Hey, let's try this.' And it worked! They couldn’t figure it out."
The Jets receivers who call themselves the "Flight Boys" -- Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery -- performed their little flyover routine. So did Mark Sanchez. Edwards tacked on some more backflips. There was plenty of jaw jacking.
The Patriots thought there was too much gloating. Deion Branch called them "classless."
"The embarrassing part came from a few classless guys [on the Jets] after the game," the Patriots receiver said. "There were a lot of classless things that went on after the game ended."
Branch declined to shake hands with several of them.
"I'm a champion," Branch said. "I'm always going to congratulate guys. They beat us today. The ones with class, I shook their hands. And the ones that didn’t, I didn’t [shake their hands]. You can tell they’re not used to being in this position."
Jets inside linebacker Bart Scott was unapologetic about adding another layer to one of the NFL's great rivalries.
"We marked a little territory," Scott said. "Rivalries start when both team take something from the other team. This is probably the first time the Jets have taken something important away from the Patriots.
"Game on. They can hate us forever. The feeling is mutual."
"On to the Next One" by Jay-Z and Swizz Beatz was an appropriate anthem. The Jets had done away with the New England Patriots in such a shockingly easy manner Sunday night. Next up, the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field for the honor of representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
The Jets trailed by a field goal for less than six minutes in the first half and led by two scores for most of the game. They eliminated the top-seeded and preordained Patriots from the playoffs 28-21 and avenged that mortifying 42-point loss six weeks earlier on "Monday Night Football."
As reporters filed into the locker room, Jets safety James Ihedigbo's voice could be heard above the cocksure lyrics and thumping bass.
"They all doubted us!" Ihedigbo yelled over and again. "They all doubted us!"
Yes, we most certainly did. I'm most definitely included.
There will be a crow shortage in butcher shops across the country. I'm eating mine with a little Caribbean jerk sauce as I write this. It's a bit gamey.
With conviction, I wrote and said on television and radio throughout the past week the Jets would not win. Like so many of you, I was certain the Patriots would smack them around. Sure, I gave conciliatory analysis on how the Jets could win: dominate on the ground, dominate on third downs and Jeff Gillooly kneecapping Tom Brady during the national anthem.
But as I mentioned in my weekly AFC East chat, people in their right mind couldn't predict the Jets to win Sunday after watching them get razed in Week 13.
Not even Jets icon Joe Namath could bring himself to pick the Jets.
"There was nobody in this room that picked us," Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "Except us."
But Taylor also acknowledged how difficult it would have been for outsiders not to side with the Patriots.
"They beat the crap out of us," he said.
That Week 13 loss was so awful that Jets coach Rex Ryan held a funeral for the game ball out on the practice field.
Saturday night on ESPN 1050 in New York, Bonnie Bernstein and I made fun of her co-host, former Jets quarterback Ray Lucas, for being a homer and forecasting a Jets victory.
Really, Ray? A sane human being? I could sense Rutgers purging his transcripts while he spoke such kookiness.
No team in NFL history had lost by at least 35 points in the regular season and then won a rematch in the playoffs. In each of the previous five instances, the losing team lost by at least two scores in the rematch.
Even so, the Jets wouldn't be denied. They backed up their boastful claims and profane insults and walloped the Patriots in their own building.
"We beat them the first game, check. They came back and beat us, check," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "We came in when it counted the most, checkmate."
As Scott spoke, Ihedigbo kept at it: "They all doubted us, Bart!"
"We just let you guys build them up, let them read those things," Scott continued, "and Wes Welker can go kick rocks."
The Jets won, as many prognosticators said they perhaps could, by running well (120 yards) and converting third downs (46 percent compared with the Patriots' 36 percent).
"You all probably thought I was arrogant and just talking out the side of my face," Scott said of the bold proclamations the Jets made during the week. "Look at our roster, look at their roster. We got better players all across the field.
"Perception isn't reality all the time. I guess the cream rised to the top."
Ryan highlighted Brady's recent mediocrity while preparing for the game. He showed the Jets that Brady was fallible by broaching the stats from the Patriots' previous three postseason games. Brady averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, had more interceptions than touchdowns and a 66.8 passer rating.
Before Brady completed five of seven attempts for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Jets' prevent defense on the final drive of the game, he was averaging 3.2 yards less per attempt than he did in the regular-season and had a 78.8 passer rating, 32 points below his regular-season number.
The Jets sacked him five times. Shaun Ellis got him twice.
"This was the quarterback that couldn't be touched," Scott said. "You guys talk about how great he's playing, but you know what Rex pulled out for us were his last three playoff games and what his record was and what his ranking was then.
"You guys didn't look deep enough into the notes. That's what we leaned on. We knew we had more playoff experience than that team. We knew that when the pressure was on those young guys wouldn't be able to play at a high level. We've been there, done that."
The Patriots also made some in-game blunders. On their 38-yard line, Patriots safety Patrick Chung botched a direct snap on a fake punt with 1:06 left in the first half. Four plays later, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards for a 15-yard touchdown and 14-3 halftime lead.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick refused to discuss the fake punt.
"You got the guru on the other side," Scott said sarcastically. "You talk about how great he is. Maybe you guys'll start giving our coach some credit for knowing what he's doing.
"I love my coach. Let me tell you something: I would die for that man."
Sanchez was efficient in a stadium where he'd never won before. In fact, Sanchez had one touchdown and seven interceptions in his prior Foxborough visits. Sunday, he completed 16 of his 25 attempts for 194 yards and three touchdowns.
The Jets' defense was strong despite their offense having the ball nearly 10 minutes less than the Patriots. The Patriots ran 78 plays to the Jets' 54, a ratio that would seem to favor Brady. But the Patriots converted only five third downs, two in the first half.
Subtract 11-yard runs from receivers Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman and the Patriots averaged 3.5 yards a carry.
The Jets were the better team in every phase of the sport. They walked the walk. Sanchez, not Brady, took a snap out of the victory formation and took a knee to run out the clock.
The Patriots will clean out their locker stalls this week.
"The people that say bad things about us, who doubt us, who think we're clowns just running around and talking," Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace, "they don't know the character of the guys in this room.
"It was us against the world, coming in here. But we did it. We're on to Pittsburgh."
What it means: For the second straight year under Rex Ryan, the Jets won two road games and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots lost their third straight postseason game.
Hero: Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez outplayed MVP favorite Tom Brady and won for the first time in Gillette Stadium. Sanchez completed 16 of his 25 throws for 194 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He was cool in a pressure-packed environment.
Unsung hero: Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis had a big game as a pass-rusher and against the run. He sacked Brady twice on the Patriots' second possession.
Goat: Brady, who once posed with goats for a GQ photo spread, didn't perform when it mattered. He threw an interception, had trouble locating open receivers and wasn't on target very often. He completed 29 of 45 throws for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Pivotal play: Two plays after Brady found Alge Crumpler for a touchdown and Sammy Morris ran in the two-point conversion to cut the Jets' lead to three points, Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery made a 58-yard catch and run to the Patriots' 13-yard line, setting up an eventual 7-yard touchdown strike to Santonio Holmes.
Jets received variety of contributions: No Jets player gained over 100 yards. Nobody had more than five catches. Their four touchdowns came from different players: LaDainian Tomlinson, Braylon Edwards, Holmes, and Shonn Greene.
Feeling the pressure: The Jets sacked Brady five times and hit him a lot while he was throwing. Calvin Pace recorded a strip sack in the third quarter.
What's next: The Jets will play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, where they won 22-17 in Week 15. The Patriots will clean out their lockers and go on a longer vacation than they wanted.
- The Jets have taken it to the Patriots so far. Tom Brady has been under pressure, and even when he has time he's misfiring. The Patriots might be starting to come unglued. Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct right before halftime for shoving a Jets player.
- Patriots head coach Bill Belichick benched receiver Wes Welker for the first offensive series. We can only assume it was because because Welker made 11 foot-related comments in a nine-minute news conference Thursday. Welker beat cornerback Darrelle Revis for a 10-yard gain early on the fourth play of the second drive.
- Brady's attempts streak without an interception technically still is intact and will resume when the Patriots open the 2011 regular season. But on his fifth pass, Jets linebacker David Harris returned an interception 58 yards to the Patriots' 12-yard line.
- That interception should have given the Jets an even larger lead. But their offense lost 8 yards on the next two plays and were forced to try a field goal. Nick Folk's 30-yard attempt was wide left, preventing the Jets from taking a 3-0 lead.
- The Jets put together a drive that must have felt mentally satisfying and took a 7-3 lead with 10:24 left in the second quarter. Braylon Edwards made another great sideline catch for a 37-yard gain to the Patriots' 8-yard line. Two plays later, LaDainian Tomlinson made a difficult catch and ran into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.
- Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been creative. Option quarterback Brad Smith was deactivated because of a leg injury, but that didn't stop the Jets from trying to dazzle the Patriots. They ran a reverse with Joe McKnight. Backup guard Robert Turner reported as an eligible receiver and on one play went in motion and actually ran a route. Tomlinson has been in the Wildcat.
- The Jets have sacked Brady three times. Defensive end Shaun Ellis collected a pair on the Patriots' second drive, including one on third down deep in Jets territory to force a Shayne Graham field goal. Defensive back Drew Coleman was untouched on another third-down sack in the second quarter.
Smith was the Jets' top kickoff returner, bringing back two for touchdowns in the regular season. He also is a potent weapon in the run game as an option quarterback in their Wildcat-style offense.
Newsworthy for the Patriots is that tight end Aaron Hernandez is active after missing the last two regular-season games with a hip injury.
Here are the rest of Sunday's scratches:
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kellen Clemens
- Fullback John Conner
- Tight end Matthew Mulligan
- Tight end Jeff Cumberland
- Defensive tackle Marcus Dixon
- Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert
- Outside linebacker Vernon Gholston
New England Patriots
The sun is out, but shadows are covering the field. Some players are going through warm-ups in the sweatsuits. The gates are open, but only a handful of fans are in their seats. It's the calm before the storm.
The New York Jets and New England Patriots finally will get around to debating on the scoreboard at 4:30 p.m.
"I believe in trash talk, but I believe in talking once you get on the field," ESPN analyst Cris Carter said on "Sunday NFL Countdown."
There are all sorts of ways to enhance your viewing pleasure for Sunday's playoff showdown.
In addition to updates, videos and other assorted bric-a-brac here on the AFC East blog, ESPNNewYork.com and ESPNBoston.com each has several writers on scene for updates and analysis.
Depending on your rooting interests, you can log into the Jets Center at ESPNNewYork.com or the Patriots Center at ESPNBoston.com for added flavor.
You also can join in our "Countdown Live" chat, which will run throughout the game with commentary from Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson, KC Joyner (aka the Football Scientist), ESPN Stats & Information researchers, ESPN regional reporters Rich Cimini, Jane McManus, Mike Reiss, Mike Rodak and me.
I'll return shortly with inactives for the game, but here's The Weather Channel's report: Conditions as I type this are 31 degrees with winds gusting between 15 and 26 mph. The temperature is expected to drop to about 22 degrees by the end of the game with a 10 percent chance of snow.
But on Pittsburgh's sideline you have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And on Baltimore's sideline you have Joe Flacco.
Game, set and match in favor of the Steelers.
Roethlisberger was masterful against Baltimore once again during Pittsburgh's 31-24 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday. He threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Roethlisberger's biggest play was a key, 58-yard bomb to rookie receiver Antonio Brown on third-and-19 that led to Pittsburgh's go-ahead score with less than two minutes remaining.
The game marked Roethlisberger's seventh consecutive win over Baltimore -- Pittsburgh's biggest rival -- and improved his career record to 9-2 against the Ravens. It's painfully obvious that the Ravens will not climb "Mt. Roethlisberger" until Flacco closes ground on Pittsburgh's two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
As Roethlisberger kept making big play after big play, Flacco floundered with another poor playoff outing, throwing for only 125 yards and one touchdown and committing two huge turnovers (one interception and one fumble). In a very close game that came down to the final possession, Roethlisberger's passer rating was 101.8 compared with Flacco's 61.1.
The look on Roethlisberger's face Saturday night was matter-of-fact. There was no big smile or special show of emotion in the locker room or during his news conference after one of the best wins of his career. Roethlisberger expects to step up in key postseason moments, so much so that he barely wanted to indulge in his clutch play.
"I have confidence in our guys," Roethlisberger shrugged. "It's not just me by any means, all I have to do is throw it."
Baltimore needed big plays from Flacco against Pittsburgh but didn't get them.
The Ravens' defense was tremendous in the first half. They forced two Pittsburgh turnovers early that led to 14 points, including a forced fumble of Roethlisberger that was picked up by Ravens defensive lineman Cory Redding and returned for a 13-yard touchdown.
The Ravens led 21-7 in the first half before Pittsburgh's defense got to Flacco in the second half and things fell apart. Flacco was only 4-of-12 passing for 43 yards and had both of his turnovers in the second half. Flacco also didn’t get much help as Baltimore receivers dropped some passes. Four of Pittsburgh's five sacks also came after intermission, as Pittsburgh outscored Baltimore 24-3 in the second half.
"I think you kind of saw Joe get a little rattled. He was getting hit a couple of times," Clark said as he continued to compare the two quarterbacks. "We put some pressure on him and Ben never [gets rattled]. I think he likes it."
Flacco dropped to 2-6 against the Steelers and 0-6 in games that Roethlisberger has played. Flacco's two wins against Pittsburgh came in 2009 when Roethlisberger sat out with a concussion and this season when Roethlisberger was serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
"We're both good football teams and the bottom line is they're better at winning right now than we are," Flacco said. "We have to improve. We're just not there yet."
And neither is Flacco. But afterward, Roethlisberger offered Flacco some words of encouragement.
"I'd just tell him to keep his head up," Roethlisberger said. "He's a really, really good player. He's going to be one of the best in this league."
But for now Roethlisberger continues to rack up wins against Flacco in this great rivalry.
This is the fourth time Pittsburgh has made it to the AFC title game in Roethlisberger's seven seasons. The Steelers will try to advance to the Super Bowl for the third time since the 2005 season when they play next weekend against the New England Patriots or New York Jets.
Meanwhile, another great season ends for the Ravens as Flacco continues his maturation process. Flacco has led Baltimore to the playoffs in three straight seasons, which is quite an accomplishment. But for the Ravens to win a Super Bowl, their third-year quarterback needs to put together more Roethlisberger-like performances in the postseason.
Here are some notes at halftime:
- On Friday we wrote in the AFC North blog that rust could be an issue for Pittsburgh, and that's clearly the case in the first half. The Steelers haven't played in two weeks, and combined with Baltimore looking very sharp and bringing its 'A' game, that's made for a lopsided first half. The Ravens are taking advantage of Steelers' penalties (six) and turnovers (two) and turning them into points. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and tailback Rashard Mendenhall both had big fumbles for Pittsburgh, and Baltimore turned them into 14 points. Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham also missed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime.
- Baltimore has done a solid job on offense of avoiding Pittsburgh's pressure by running several screens and draw plays for decent gains. The Steelers often blitz on second and third downs, and the Ravens have caught the Steelers a few times in the first half. Baltimore's first touchdown was scored on a 14-yard draw play by tailback Ray Rice.
- The officials have made their presence felt early. There have been two pass interference calls -- one for each team -- totaling 74 yards. Both calls eventually led to touchdowns. Officials did get the big fumble call correct against Roethlisberger when he was hit by Terrell Suggs, who has two sacks in the first half. Everyone on the field thought it was a forward pass, until Ravens defensive lineman Cory Redding picked up the football and walked into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. Overall, there were nine penalties in the first half.
- On the injury front, Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden suffered a hip injury and didn't return. The team announced that his return to the game is questionable.
Deep in its own territory, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hit from behind by Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs while trying to throw the football. It was a fumble, but all 22 players stood still for several seconds because they thought it was an incomplete pass.
After no whistle was blown by the officials, Ravens defensive lineman Cory Redding made a smart play by picking up the football and waltzing into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh challenged the play, but the fumble call was upheld.
The Ravens lead 14-7 after the first quarter.
In response to the kind of colorful dialogue you might hear in a Quentin Tarantino film, the NFL has warned teams to watch themselves on the field and that any intimated threats can be used against players if they commit unsportsmanlike acts in the game.
In two tweets, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed league vice president of operations "Ray Anderson contacted multiple clubs this week so they could remind players comments of a physically threatening nature are always taken into account in evaluating discipline for illegal physical contact on field."
That goes for you, Bart Scott.
The vociferous New York Jets linebacker suggested they would be hunting for New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who made several soulful remarks about Sunday's game, likely an homage to the foot-fetish videos Jets coach Rex Ryan and his wife posted on the internet.
"I'll tell you what," Scott told Newsday reporter Roderick Boone. "Be very careful what you say about our coach. [Welker's] days in a uniform will be numbered. Put it like that."
Teams have complained Patriots quarterback Tom Brady receives preferential treatment as it is.
This week's rhetoric, most of which has emanated from the Jets, will have referee Bill Leavy's crew on high alert for head shots, unnecessary roughness and other such unsportsmanlike penalties that could prove costly, especially for Scott, who has been flagged for those types of infractions a few times already this season.
A breakdown of the Jets' misbehavior penalties in the regular season:
- Unnecessary roughness four times.
- Personal foul three times (Scott with two of them).
- Roughing the passer twice (Scott with one of them).
- Roughing the kicker once.
- Unsportsmanlike conduct once.
- Taunting once.
And the Patriots' rundown:
- Unnecessary roughness four times.
- Personal foul twice.
- Roughing the passer twice.
- Unsportsmanlike conduct once.
- No roughing the kicker.
- No taunting.
Although Levy will be working with an all-star assembly Sunday, his guys in the regular season called unnecessary roughness five times, roughing the passer five times, personal foul twice, unsportsmanlike conduct twice and taunting once. They ejected one player (Tennessee Titans safety Donnie Nickey in Week 8).
Both personal fouls on Levy's watch happened in the Patriots' overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6. Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather (for his hit on defenseless Ravens tight end Todd Heap) and Ravens fullback LeRon McClain were the perpetrators.