Sunday, September 15, 2002
Patriots nearly flawless in blowout
By Kieran Darcy
ESPN The Magazine
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two games into this season, the New England Patriots look like Super Bowl champions. Tom Brady looks like a Super Bowl MVP. And the New York Jets look like pretenders, not contenders.
The Patriots' 44-7 pummeling of the Jets on Sunday sent a message to the rest of the NFL that last season was no fluke, and the defending champs will be tough to dethrone.
"But we're not trying to send messages," said wideout Troy Brown. "We're just trying to win football games."
Both of these teams won in Week 1, although in very different ways. The Pats dominated Pittsburgh, while the Jets escaped Buffalo with an overtime win. But there was no chance of escape for the home team on Sunday.
It didn't feel much like a Jets home game. After all, they play in Giants Stadium. And despite their new locker room digs here this year, they remain 68-76-1 since moving into this complex, including 3-5 a year ago. By the third quarter, fans were even booing short Jets completions! And who could blame them?
The Patriots were in control from the opening kickoff. The heavy rain that lasted much of the first quarter finally relented, but New England never did. The Patriots only led 10-0 at the half, but the scoreboard didn't tell the whole story. Brown fumbled away a sure score at the goal line in the first quarter. The Pats outgained the Jets 257-48 in the first half, racking up a 15-1 advantage in first downs. And they were just warming up.
Brady spearheaded the assault. He was sharp throughout, finishing 25-for-35 passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He worked the ball around to all of his wideout weapons -- Brown had nine catches for 94 yards, while David Patten and Deion Branch both caught scores. Brady's only "mistake," a first-quarter interception, wasn't even his fault. Branch bobbled a perfect toss over the middle, and Jets linebacker James Darling snatched it up.
The Patriots dominated in every aspect of the game. Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk were solid on the ground. Curtis Martin was held to 5 yards on four carries. Brady was never sacked, and barely touched the ground. Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde felt heavy heat on several occasions. The Patriots converted twice on fourth downs, and their coaches stymied the Jets with some creative play-action calls.
The Jets looked like a sparring partner getting knocked around by a heavyweight champion. Testaverde simply could not get connected with his wide receivers. Time after time he was forced to dump the ball to his running backs, prompting the boos from the crowd. When he started taking longer drops in the pocket to try to go deep in the third quarter, he was sacked on three consecutive passing plays -- including Tebucky Jones' sack and touchdown return on the Jets' first possession of the second half, which clearly staggered the team.
"I heard the Jets coach say that our defense wouldn't give them much problems," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the game.
The highlight of the Jets' day, besides their lone touchdown? A two-play sequence late in the third quarter. The Jets got their second first down of the game, and first since early in the first quarter, on what would be their longest rush of the afternoon -- a 14-yard scamper by punter Matt Turk off a fake. On the next play, Testaverde completed his first pass to a wide receiver in the entire game, a 35-yarder to Santana Moss. But on the next play, former Jets safety Victor Green delivered the knockout punch, intercepting a Testaverde pass and returning it for a touchdown and a 27-0 lead. A mass exodus to the exits ensued.
"I thought we'd play a lot better than this," said Jets coach Herman Edwards. "What we have to do is get our confidence back."
Confidence is something the Patriots have in abundance, having won 11 consecutive games including the playoffs last year. But despite winning their first two games this season by a combined score of 74-21, the Patriots, to a man, are focused on how to get better.
"Today was a good day," said cornerback Ty Law. "But we had a couple blown coverages. We can't have that. Two games isn't anything."
And they are not worried about what the rest of the world thinks. "I think we earned respect last year," said Brady. "And if we didn't, then people are just too ignorant, too stupid to realize."
They might still be underdogs. But the Patriots are playing like champs. That nobody can deny.
Kieran Darcy covers the NFL for ESPN The Magazine.