But when you play the defending Super Bowl champions, one mistake usually is one too many.
In a much-ballyhooed battle of unbeaten teams – the first of its kind this late in the NFL season since the 6-0 Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams met on October 28, 1973 -- New England took sole possession of first place in the AFC East with a hard-fought 13-7 victory over Gang Green Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
New England, now 6-0, won its NFL-record 21st consecutive game on a pair of Adam Vinatieri fields goals and a 7-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to wide receiver David Patten, all in the first half. Both teams failed to score in the final two quarters, which proved to be a battle of field position and defensive dominance.
The loss drops the Jets to 5-1 – but, oh, what might have been…
The Jets' first costly error occurred in the opening quarter on a drive following Vinatieri's 41-yard FG that put the Patriots up, 3-0. Keyed by a 19-yard pass from quarterback Chad Pennington (19-30-162 yards) to WR Justin McCairens (six catches for 83yards), the Jets marched to the New England 19, where they faced a third-and-one. Pennington connected with fullback Jerald Sowell, who got the necessary yardage for the first down – but fumbled when hit by linebacker Ted Johnson. New England DB Randall Gay recovered the ball at the Patriots' 7-yard line.
The defense thwarted New England following the turnover when defensive tackles Jason Ferguson and Dewayne Robertson stopped Corey Dillon on third-down and short at the New England 43. Josh Miller came on to punt – as did one too many Jets special teams players. Gang Green was flagged for too many men on the field and the Patriots were given new life, leading to Vinatieri's 27-yard FG and a 6-0 lead in the second quarter.
In a last-ditch effort late in the fourth quarter, Pennington drove Gang Green from its 14-yard line to the New England 27. From there, Pennington threw an incomplete pass on second down, and running back Curtis Martin was dropped for a three-yard loss on a third-down draw. With a little more than two minutes left in the game, head coach Herm Edwards decided to go for it on fourth-and-eight from the Patriots' 30-yard line. The Jets failed to convert, however, when Pennington's throw to Wayne Chrebet near the goal line was broken up by safety Rodney Harrison. Chrebet was double covered on the play by Harrison and Gay.
"Chrebet went up the seam, and I saw the ball," Harrison said. "I saw Pennington looking at him and I just broke on the ball and tried to touch it."
"The Jets are tough," New England head coach Bill Belichick added. "They gave us everything we wanted. It came down to a big fourth down play there with a couple of minutes to go. Luckily, we had Wayne [Chrebet] covered for once."
Pennington gave the Jets a brief 7-6 lead in the second quarter, capping a 13-play, 78-yard drive, with a 1-yard bootleg around left end. Guard Pete Kendell helped pave the path to the end zone with a crushing block on linebacker Roosevelt Colvin.
Gang Green's go-ahead drive, which lasted 7:38, was the longest on the Patriots' defense this season – and was highlighted by Pennington passes of 18 yards to Chrebet and 13 and 7 yards to tight end Chris Baker, the latter of which brought the ball to the New England 1-yard line.
But Brady showed his renowned resiliency and command of the two-minute drill on the ensuing drive, marching the Patriots 62 yards in just seven plays – as the Jets played a prevent-type defense, rushing only three linemen and dropping eight players into coverage. With lots of time to set up, Brady hooked up with Bethel Johnson for 14 yards, found running back Kevin Faulk open in the middle of the field for 24 and Patten again for 11. A crucial roughing-the-passer call on Robertson gave the Pats a first down inside the Jets' 10-yard line.
Brady culminated the series via a 7-yard strike to Patten in the back of the end zone with only 11 seconds left in the first half. Vinatieri's extra point provided the final 13-7 verdict as the teams headed into the locker rooms at halftime.
The Jets offensive line did a fine job protecting Pennington, who wasn't sacked once. Brady was sacked three times, with Robertson and DE Shaun Ellis getting one each.
"In the end, really, the difference in the game was the two-minute drive at the half," Belichick noted. "The offensive group was able to answer the Jets' touchdown at the half. That ultimately ended up being the difference."
Martin, meanwhile, ran for only 70 yards on 20 carries, but in the process passed Jim Brown for seventh place on the NFL career rushing list with 12,382.
Belichick was impressed by the Jets' effort against his record-breaking team, now alone at the top of the AFC East standings and on course to continue their phenomenal winning streak.
"The Jets have the second best team in the AFC," he said. "That is a pretty good football team over there."
Jets fall to 5-1
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