Jets stun Patriots; advance to AFC Championship game
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Same old Jets: Headed to the AFC Championship game again.
What? You’re surprised?
The Jets aren’t.
They’ve been talking about this for months. Remember the Super Bowl or bust talk?
The Jets are now a tantalizing 60 minutes away from their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1969 season thanks to their stirring 28-21 upset victory over the Patriots in the AFC divisional playoff round Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The victory, the Jets second win over the Patriots in three games this season, climaxed an emotionally-charged week that included a series of savage and below-the-belt verbal barbs from both teams.
It, too, came hours after a powerful motivational speech by former Jets defensive end Dennis Byrd, who was a surprise speaker at the Saturday night team meeting.
So now the Jets return to Pittsburgh on Sunday to play the Steelers, who they defeated 22-17 at Heinz Field a month ago, in the AFC Championship game.
Jets coach Rex Ryan began the week of hype saying this game was going to come down to him against Bill Belichick. Ryan openly admitted he’d been schooled by Belichick in the Patriots’ 45-3 win over the Jets on Dec. 6.
Sunday, he conducted an utter defensive clinic against the defensive mastermind Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense with a diabolical mix of pressure and coverage that confused and frustrated Brady, who threw 36 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.
Based on the circumstances and the performance, this was the Jets’ finest defensive three hours under Ryan. This was a Patriots team that entered the game having scored 30 or more points in their last eight games and averaging 32.4 points per game. The Patriots were 8-0 at home this season. Brady has won an NFL-record 28 consecutive games at home.
The Jets set the tone in the first half, taking a 14-3 lead into the locker room thanks to two Mark Sanchez touchdown passes — a 7-yarder to LaDainian Tomlinson and a 15-yarder to Braylon Edwards.
This incredibly came after the Jets blew a great chance when linebacker David Harris picked off an errant Brady screen pass and returned it 58 yards to the New England 12-yard line — only to see kicker Nick Folk miss a 30-yard field goal attempt wide left.
The Patriots entered the game having turned the ball over 10 times, an NFL record. Two of Brady’s four interceptions came against the Jets in Week 2. The one on Sunday ended a 339-pass streak without throwing an interception. The Patriots followed the missed field goal with an 11-play drive that ended in a 34-yard Shayne Graham field goal and a 3-0 lead with 1:12 remaining in the first quarter.
The Jets took a 7-3 lead on the 7-yard Sanchez scoring pass to Tomlinson with 10:24 remaining in the first half. Tomlinson, who was open in the left flat, made a nice over-the-shoulder catch and had the angle to the end zone. The touchdown left Gillette Stadium, which had been buzzing since before the game, silent.
Suddenly, visions of a repeat of that 45-3 blowout last month were a distant memory. The Jets had already sacked Brady three times and picked him off once. It would get no better for the Patriots as the second quarter proceeded. The Patriots gave the Jets a colossal freebie when they tried a fake punt direct snap to safety Patrick Chung, who fumbled it and was tackled for a 1-yard loss by Eric Smith. That gave the Jets the ball at the New England 36-yard line with 1:06 remaining in the half.
This time the Jets made the Patriots pay, taking a stunning 14-3 lead on the 15-yard Sanchez pass to Edwards with 33 seconds remaining in the half. On the play, Sanchez connected with Edwards on a quick slant and from there Edwards carried Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty and safety Brandon Meriweather into the end zone with him.
The Patriots finally got into the end zone with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter when Brady connected with tight end Alge Crumpler on a 2-yard touchdown.
The Patriots were successful on a two-point conversion when Sammy Morris took a direct snap and took it into the end zone to cut the Jets lead to a tenuous 14-11.
The Jets answered quickly, taking a 21-11 lead with 13 minutes remaining in the game on a spectacular 7-yard scoring catch by Santonio Holmes, who did a remarkable job hauling in the Sanchez fade pass while keeping his feet inbounds. The play was made possible by a huge 58-yard catch-and-run by Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
The Patriots cut the lead to 21-14 on a 35-yard Graham field goal with 1 second remaining, but Antonio Cromartie recovered the onside kick and returned it to the Patriots’ 20-yard line. Shonn Greene scored from 16 yards out to push the Jets’ lead back to two touchdowns. Deion Branch scored on a 13-yard pass with 30 seconds left, but the Jets recovered another onside kick to end the game.