Sunday, January 16, 2011 Updated: January 17, 3:11 AM ET
Jets' defense KOs 'unstoppable' Brady
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- James Ihedigbo saw the look in Tom Brady's eyes. He saw it early in the game, after the second or third series.
"He looked scared straight, and you can quote that," the New York Jets safety said.
At that point, Ihedigbo knew the Jets had Brady. Did they ever. Their defense, embarrassed at Gillette Stadium only six weeks ago, turned Tom Brady into Marcia Brady.
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Facing the No. 1 quarterback on earth and the NFL's highest-scoring offense, the Jets rose up and delivered a performance reminiscent of the New York Giants' Super Bowl-winning performance three years ago in the Arizona desert.
The Jets beat up Brady, beat him up good, sacking him five times, intercepting him once and frustrating him beyond belief in a 28-21 victory Sunday over the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional playoffs.
Rex Ryan and his right-hand man, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, cooked up a game plan that befuddled Brady. Some players called it the game plan of the year. It was predicated on coverage, not pressure. Instead of their usual blitzing ways, the Jets dialed it back a bit, dropping seven into coverage at times.
They covered the Patriots' receivers so well that Brady often stood in the pocket, looking, looking, patting the ball, patting ... and firing it into the turf. It was stunning to see Brady, who threw 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions during the regular season, so ... so ... human.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady "looked scared," according to Jets safety James Ihedigbo.
"He had no idea where the pressure was coming from, whether we were blitzing or whether we were dropping [into coverage]," Ihedigbo said.
Brady entered the game on the streak of a lifetime, no interceptions in 335 consecutive attempts, and he was one of two quarterbacks who hadn't thrown an interception against a 3-4 defense. But he was picked by linebacker David Harris on his fifth pass Sunday, and right there you had a feeling the Jets were going to make this a game -- that they had no intention of reliving another 45-3 debacle.
"This isn't the first time we played good defense," said Ryan, acting as if he didn't know what all the fuss was about. "We know a little bit about playing defense."
Yes, they do. Ryan is a brilliant tactician, but there have been many times this season when that vaunted defense of his turned to mush. If it wasn't an inconsistent pass rush it was breakdowns in the secondary. But not on this night. On this night, the Jets were damn near perfect against the Belichick machine.
"If you look at our roster and their roster, we've got better players all across the field," said linebacker Bart Scott, who doesn't do humility. "You guys all talk how great their defense is playing. Last time I checked they were 25th in the league and we were third.
"We didn't want to get disrespected for not being able to put pressure on the quarterback. That's how [the media's] perception is different than reality. You perceived they were playing well and we were playing bad. I guess the cream rises to the top."
In the span of eight days, the Jets knocked off the top guns of the quarterbacking fraternity, Peyton Manning and Brady. They became the first team since the Tennessee Titans in 2002 to beat Manning and Brady in back-to-back weeks.
They took down Brady by disguising their coverages on almost every play. They did it by being physical with the receivers at the line. They did it by playing more zone than usual. Receiver Wes Welker, held to seven catches for 57 yards, admitted the Patriots were thrown off by the zones. Usually, the Jets are a man-to-man team.
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"You work on one thing all week and then you get something different," Welker said.
Said Brady: "I think they spun the dial pretty well on their pressures and coverages."
Give Ryan credit because the Jets have evolved as a defense, straying from their pressure-oriented roots. In the 2009 playoffs, they sent four or fewer rushers on only 36 percent of their opponents' pass attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This postseason, it's up to 87 percent.
In other words, they relied on the front four, and they got it done -- with Shaun Ellis, Jason Taylor and Calvin Pace combining for four sacks.
Against Brady, the added coverage resulted in five sacks -- same as the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Brady passed for 299 yards on 29-for-45 efficiency; it was 266 yards on 29-for-48 against the Giants.
"Anytime Alge Crumpler is the leading receiver, you know you've done a good job," Ihedigbo said.
Crumpler (three catches for 39 yards, one TD) wasn't the leading receiver, but he got more passes thrown his way than usual -- and he's about the 17th option in Brady's offense. Well, not 17, but you get the point. Brady's main guys, Welker, Deion Branch and the rookie tight ends, couldn't get free against the likes of Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis.
"Everybody said he was unstoppable," said Cromartie, he of the profane remarks about Brady.
Up next is the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, another top gun with a couple of Super Bowl rings.
"Mission impossible," Ryan said. "We go to Round 3."