PHOTO: New England Patriots' Willie McGinest, right, and Richard Seymour sack New York Jets quarterback Brooks Bollinger and force a fumble during the third quarter in NFL football action Monday, Dec.26, 2005 in East Rutherford, N.J. The Patriots won, 31-21. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Dominant. That's what the New England Patriots were again tonight. For the fourth straight game, the defending champs put the rest of the NFL on notice. They are still in the hunt for a third straight championship.
The defense was suffocating. The offense controlled the ball and the clock, and Tom Brady made the big passes when he needed to.
The halftime statistics told the story of this game. New England had 101 yards rushing. They outgained the Jets in total yards 186-28. They led in time of possession 23:34 to 6:26, and in 1st downs 16-0.
The defensive line harassed Jets quarterback Brooks Bollinger (11-for-19, 100 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) all game, sacking him 3 times. They allowed just 40 yards rushing, and in 4 games have given up a total of 125 yards on the ground. Four forced punts, one interception, and no first downs in the first half was just another sign that this defense is continuing to gel. Only Vinny Testaverde's appearance in 4th quarter garbage time tarnished the defensive statistics (Testaverde was 3-for-7 for 63 yards with a touchdown pass).
On offense, the Patriots were determined to run the ball tonight, starting with their opening drive. Seven straight running plays -- including a Tom Brady (18-for-29, 185 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) quarterback sneak on 4th-and-1 -- gained 16 yards before Brady even threw a pass. When Brady did throw, he was 3-for-3, including a 1-yard touchdown pass to Mike Vrabel for a 7-0 lead. It was the first of four long scoring drives for the Patriots, as they marched 67 yards in 13 plays, taking 8:03 off the clock.
Bollinger's next pass went right into Asante Samuel's arms, giving New England the ball back (although Samuel left the game with an injury). But Brady's next pass was intercepted by former Patriot Ty Law and returned 74 yards for a touchdown. Law got a great jump on the play and stepped in front of David Givens for the pick.
The teams traded punts for the rest of the 1st quarter, and Tedy Bruschi left the game with a leg injury on the final New England punt of the quarter. Bruschi's replacement, Monty Beisel, chased Bollinger out of the pocket and forced an incomplete pass on his second play. Ellis Hobbs (who had another solid game) made a great tackle on 3rd down, forcing another Jets punt.
The Patriots methodically marched the field on their next drive, going 61 yards in 11 plays. The drive included another successful 4th down attempt (a Jets penalty accounted for this one) and another Brady sneak. It ended the same way the first scoring drive did, with a touchdown pass to Vrabel. Brady's nifty play-fake set up the score that put New England back on top 14-7. It was Vrabel's 6th regular season catch, and all 6 have been touchdowns.
On defense, Vrabel added a sack to his stat sheet, and the Jets' next drive ended with another 3-and-out and a punt. With less than 5 minutes left in the half, the Patriots had another long drive (78 yards), but worked more quickly. Brady picked up a 1st down on another quarterback sneak, as New England went for it on 4th down again due to the windy conditions. Corey Dillon (26 carries for 77 yards and two touchdowns) capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, putting the Patriots ahead 21-7 at the half.
New England opened the 2nd half with another surgical drive, going 74 yards in 15 plays over 9:24. Brady hit Christian Fauria over the middle with a 3-yard pass to complete the Patriots' 3rd successful 4th down conversion of the game. Dillon -- with Tom Ashworth leading the way at fullback -- extended the lead to 28-7 with another 1-yard touchdown run.
The Jets finally picked up a 1st down and scored their first offensive touchdown of the game with 15-play, 84-yard march. Bollinger hit Laveranues Coles (5 catches, 71 yards, 2 touchdowns) with an 11-yard 4th down scoring strike to cut the lead to 28-14.
New England responded with 14-play, 48-yard drive that ended with an Adam Vinatieri 26-yard field goal. Brady and Dillon took the rest of the night off, and can prepare for one more regular season game -- next Sunday at home against the Dolphins (8-7) -- before the playoffs begin.
With the win, the Patriots still have a shot at the #3 seed in the AFC. If they win next week and Cincinnati loses to Kansas City, New England would earn the #3 seed and would host either Pittsburgh or Kansas City in Week 1 of the playoffs. Any other scenario would leave the Patriots with the #4 seed and a date with Jacksonville.
Darren is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: DestinationSuperBowl. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "Darren Kelly"