By Steve Lichtenstein
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That must have been some halftime speech.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan was likely fuming at his team for their poor execution against the Tom Brady-led Patriots in the first half Sunday at Met Life Stadium. The hated Patriots had marched down the field with ease on Ryan’s pride-and-joy on their first possession, were gifted another seven points when Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith threw an ill-advised pick-six, and then took advantage of poor punt coverage to set up a third touchdown that put the Jets in a 21-10 hole.
Oh, and New England was to receive the ball to open the third quarter.
I was preparing for the worst. After all, I’ve seen that the Bill Belichick Patriots love to rub it in on the Jets, with that embarrassing 49-19 home loss a little less than a year ago (featuring the infamous Turnover-That-Shall-Not-Be Named) etched in my memory.
But hold the depression pills.
Ryan, with assistance from defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, tweaked the Jets’ defensive scheme and, all of a sudden, it was Brady who looked like the schizophrenic. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg also deserves kudos for not abandoning the running game (like he did in the 13-10 loss in New England in Week 2), battering the Patriots with 52 rushes for 177 yards. This allowed the Jets to double the Patriots’ time-of-possession figure, 46 -23.
Now, everyone will be talking about the curious call by the refs in overtime that allowed Jets kicker Nick Folk a second shot from a much more make-able distance as the reason the Jets prevailed, 30-27. I mean, it was the first time someone had been flagged for violating the obscure new rule that disallows a defender from pushing a teammate into the pile during a field goal attempt.
I had never heard of it, and neither did Patriots offender Chris Jones.
But for all the crybaby New Englanders on social media — tough. No one completely understood the tuck rule either when it happened in an AFC Championship game. Jones admitted afterwards that he intended to use the illegal move to help his teammates block Folk’s kick and took responsibility.
Besides, I submit that the game never gets to that point if the Jets don’t play the third quarter like their season depended on it (which it did).
It all started with the Jets, who did not get within spitting distance of Brady during the first half (save for one sack in the last minute of the second quarter), burying Brady three times in the third quarter.
And they didn’t have to send the house at Brady to get there.
Ryan is renowned for his exotic blitz packages, but that doesn’t really work against Brady. If Brady sees the blitz, he’s just too quick with his decision-making and release—it puts enormous pressure on the secondary, the defensive area where the Jets are most thin.
As evidenced by the Giants’ two Super Bowl triumphs over New England, the best way to disrupt New England’s offense is to generate a pass rush with down linemen.
So instead of excessive gambling, Ryan found a way to get his pass rushers isolated one-on-one to create mismatches. The Jets abused New England left tackle Nate Solder for two sacks with edge rushes by Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson while Jets nose guard Damon Harrison bulled through center Ryan Wendell for the other—all in four-man (and one five-man) rushes.
The Patriots, who had 145 yards on offense on four first-half drives, had a net loss of 6 yards on their first four third quarter drives. The added pressure was responsible for Brady’s second sub- 50 percent completion rate versus Ryan’s defense in one season, the first time that’s ever happened.
More remarkable (and refreshing) was witnessing how all the things that bit the Jets early turned around on New England in just one quarter.
Coples’ sack on the first play of the quarter was immediately followed by Jets safety Antonio Allen stepping in front of tight end Rob Gronkowski to intercept Brady and then returning it for the touchdown that changed the momentum.
In the first half, it was Jets running back Chris Ivory who was stuffed on a crucial third-and-one; this time it was Stevan Ridley’s turn to get stood up in a similar spot to end New England’s next drive. Jets linebacker DeMario Davis delivered the big hit on the running back who hot-dogged at the end of his 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
And, for good measure, the Jets, who by then had taken the lead on Smith’s terrific 8-yard touchdown scramble, used a big punt return by the recently-signed Josh Cribbs to set up a field goal that made it 27-21.
Of course, with Brady at the helm, the Patriots were not out of it. So it was not surprising when New England drove twice for field goals in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Fortunately, the Jets defense stiffened before Brady did any irrevocable damage.
Also, by then the Jets had worn out the Patriots’ depleted defense with a full afternoon of power running. Once it went to overtime and the Jets defense forced a punt, the Patriots were toast.
Sure, some might think the ref warrants the game ball for doing his job, but Ryan and his staff deserve it more for turning the tables on the Patriots.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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