Patriots ousted from playoffs by Jets, 28-21

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Patriots ousted from playoffs by Jets, 28-21

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- After a week of talking the talk, the Jets came into Gillette Stadium Sunday and walked the walk.

Did they ever.

Taking control of the game defensively in the second quarter, New York clamped down on the NFL's highest-scoring offense. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez managed the game masterfully when he had to, and came up with big plays in the fourth quarter when he needed them. And through it all it was the Patriots -- the favored Patriots, the 14-2 Patriots, the (supposedly) Super Bowl-bound Patriots -- who looked befuddled and bewildered in the face of suffocating secondary coverage and unexpected blitz packages.

As a result, it's the Jets heading to the AFC Championship Game and the Patriots heading home after New York's 28-21 victory.

"It's a tough way to end it," said coach Bill Belichick. "We're a better team than we played today."

They certainly looked nothing like the team that won its final seven regular-season games -- including a 45-3 thrashing of New York on Dec. 6 -- and finished with the NFL's best record.

The Jets took command in the second quarter through a combination of defensive schemes that seemed to confuse Tom Brady and a ball-control offense that took advantage of its opportunities. They were aided by uncharacteristic New England mistakes . . . the biggest being a flubbed fake-punt attempt late in the first half when New York was holding a slim 7-3 lead, which led to a Jets touchdown that put them in charge at 14-3.

"We picked the wrong time to play our worst game," said wide receiver Deion Branch.

The Pats were finally able to regain some rhythm offensively in the second half and cut the lead to 14-11 with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final minute of the third quarter. The score reawakened what had become an almost totally silent Gillette Stadium -- save for the several thousand Jets fan who were enjoying themselves immensely to that point -- and looked like it would set the stage for a rousing fourth quarter.

But then it was the Patriots' defense -- which, to that point, had played credibly -- that collapsed. A blown coverage left Jerricho Cotchery wide open over the middle on a second-and-6 play from the Jets' 29 at the start of the fourth quarter, and he turned it into a 58-yard run-and-catch that moved the ball to the New England 13. Three plays later, on third-and-4 from the 7, Sanchez hit Santonio Holmes on a fade route in the left corner of the end zone, putting New York back in front by 10, 21-11.

The Patriots took possession and began moving the ball, but -- to New York's advantage -- showed almost no sense of urgency and wiped nearly eight minutes off the clock on a drive that ended with the Pats giving up the ball on downs on New York's 34-yard line. At that point -- Jets ahead by 10, with the ball, and little more than five minutes left -- the outcome was inevitable.

"Well, we thought if we can get in the end zone, it's a three-point game and there would be plenty of time left to tie or go ahead," said Brady in explaining why the Pats didn't turn up the intensity on that drive. "We didn't really execute the way we needed to in order to finish that drive, and then we just couldn't get the ball in the end zone when we needed to."

There was plenty of scoring in the final two minutes -- a 35-yard field goal by Shayne Graham with 1:57 to play; a 16-yard touchdown run by Shonn Greene after the Jets recovered the Pats' onside kick; a 13-yard Brady to Deion Branch TD pass in the closing seconds -- but the outcome had been decided by then.

In retrospect, it was decided in the first half. The Patriots moved the ball with ease on their first two possessions, but -- in what was perhaps a bit of foreshadowing -- came away with only three points. The first drive was shortcircuited when Brady threw his first interception since Oct. 17, overshooting BenJarvus Green-Ellis on a screen attempt at the Jets' 28 and getting picked by linebacker David Harris, who was run down by Alge Crumpler at the Pats' 12 after taking it back 52 yards.

The Pats' defense stood tall, stopping the Jets cold, and New York came away empty-handed when Nick Folk missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt. The Patriots resumed their attack, going from their 21 to Jets' 7 (big play: 29-yard completion from Brady to Crumpler that got the ball to the New York 12), but Crumpler dropped a catchable pass in the end zone on third down and the Pats had to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Graham and a 3-0 lead.

"3 points down after those 2 drives is not bad," Tweeted ex-Jets great Joe Namath, and he was right.

"We talked all week about fast starts and getting ahead of these guys and playing ahead," said Brady. "We had some opportunities there in the first quarter and really let those slip away."

It was as if the game turned on Crumpler's drop. The Jets' offense, held to 36 yards in the first quarter, found its footing. While it didn't immediately pay off in points, it did pay off in field position: pinning the Patriots back deep in their own territory, and giving the Jets the ball consistently near midfield.

Sanchez finally capitalized with 10:24 to go in the second quarter, driving the Jets 49 yards in five plays and hitting LaDainian Tomlinson with a seven-yard touchdown pass that put New York ahead -- to stay, as it turned out -- by a 7-3 score.

New England made its biggest error in the final two minutes. Faced with a fourth-and-4 from their own 38, the Pats tried a rare gadget play -- a fake punt -- but Patrick Chung fumbled the direct snap and was nailed for a one-yard loss.

"We just made a bad mistake on the fake punt," saidBelichick. When asked to elaborate, he responded: "I'm not going intothat."

Punter Zoltan Mesko, however, said in the locker room that Chung called the play.

The Jets took immediate advantage. Tomlinson ran for 22 yards on the next two plays and, on a third-on-4 from the 15, Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards with a TD pass that made the score 14-3.

Sanchez finished the game at a workmanlike 16-for-25 for 194 yards -- but with three touchdowns -- and had the edge on Brady, who was sacked five times and wound up 29-for-45 for 299 yards.

"I don't know if we confused Brady," said Jets safety Eric Smith. "It was about making him take the snap and then read the defense . . . instead of just lining up, getting under the center and knowing where to go with the ball."

"In order to score points, you've got to consistently be able to puttogether plays, and we could never really do that, or find a rhythm,and they made a lot of plays," Bradysaid. "They didn't make many mistakes. We made too many mistakes, there was too many plays that weren'tthe way we drew them up."

Nor was it the way they drew up the ending to a delightfully surprising -- but ultimately disappointing -- season.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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Matt Light: Better ways to protest than kneeling during national anthem

Matt Light: Better ways to protest than kneeling during national anthem

Matt Light told the Boston Herald that watching the dozen-and-a-half or so New England players who kneeled during Sunday's national anthem was "the first time I’ve ever been ashamed to be a Patriot," and he expounded on that during a Monday appearance on Toucher & Rich.

"As a country, we face a lot of issues," he said. "We have a lot of things we have to do better. There are mistakes that get made, there's bad people, there's a lot of things out there, right? And as an NFL player, as a guy who spent 11 years in that locker room, I know the power that that platform creates . . . It gives you an amazing ability, if you want to try to help a situation or raise awareness, you can do it.

"But shouldn't there be some consideration as to how you do it? Shouldn't we ask of the leaders in that locker room, and the men that represent the Patriot brand, shouldn't we hold them . . . accountable for their own actions? And shouldn't we at least beg of them to consider what it is they're doing and the impact that it'll have in the greater community?"

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Light told the Herald he was at the game with a 91-year old veteran and the wife of a slain SEAL Team 6 member who was at her first NFL game. He said on Toucher & Rich:

"Now, again, I would just encourage people to say to themselves, 'Is there a better way to handle this?' And had they done that, they wouldn't have disrespected a guy like Dom Rasso, who is a SEAL Team 6 member, who I was standing next to, and also the widow of a SEAL Team 6 member who was there for her first game, and she literally cried.

"I mean, that's a shame. Because men decided that their way was more important than the other men and women in this country. And if you have something that you want to get a point across on, speak to it. Put your time and energy into it. Put your resources towards it. Do something. To take a knee during our national anthem sends a very clear message to many, many millions of Americans and it's not the right one. And they know that. Yet they chose to do it anyway. That's what I have a problem with."

Light didn't accept the arguments of former teammate Devin McCourty, and others, that the protest was against incidents of police mistreatment of minorities, and the disrespect many players -- particularly black players -- felt from President Donald Trump's remarks and Tweets over the weekend. Nor those of Patriot receiver Brandin Cooks, who stressed: "A lot of people think we're disrespecting the flag or the military, but my father was a Marine. My uncle was a Marine. My family fought in the Vietnam War. I have the utmost respect for the men and women that are fighting for our freedom . . . The message is more respect and unity and there's only so many ways that you can do it."

"This is so black-and-white and so simple. Right?" said Light. "So very 'x equals 8,' because that's the kind of a guy I am.

"The President of the United States . . . the way he does things, I don't agree with. But we all know what he was saying. We all know that he was saying that we should respect the national anthem. He never said that 'I don't like black people.' He never said, you know, 'I'm a racist.' Right? Which is what these guys are alluding to, that he must be a racist because he's saying that we should stand for the national anthem and he's trying to keep us down. Or whatever it is, right?"

That statement drew pushback from co-host Rich Shertenlieb:

RICH: What [Trump] did do, was he said that somebody who kneeled because they believed that there were black people who have been abused by the police system (as Colin Kaepernick did), that somebody like that should be fired because he did a silent protest.

LIGHT: I'm not sure how you got that.

RICH: Easily!

LIGHT: If he said that they should be fired . . .

RICH: He did!

LIGHT: . . . for taking a knee, which he did say, I'm not sure that you . . . all the other stuff you implied in that is something that . . .

RICH: Well, why did Kaepernick take a knee? Why did Kaepernick take a knee?

LIGHT: Listen, I don't know. Because Kapernick didn't go much further than taking a knee. He talks about racism and police violence and all these things, right?

RICH: He spoke at length about why he took a knee.

LIGHT: Right, right, right. So, and he took a knee for those things, right? And that was his decision to do that. I don't know why Devin McCourty and the rest of the guys took a knee, because I haven't seen them take the time to really articulate . . . As a matter of fact, only a few of them talked about it after the game. Again, I just encourage people to understand what's really at heart here. The President wasn't trying to subdue or keep people from taking some kind of a stand on what they believe in. Nobody does that. America stands for that. That's what we are as a nation. To have to say it's about free speech is a little ludicrous because we understand that we have free speech.

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