The left leg injury linebacker Tedy Bruschi suffered late in the first quarter took much of the steam out of the Patriots' 31-21 Monday night victory over the Jets. For a team that appears to have rediscovered its 2003-04 magic at just the right time, losing their emotional leader for the second time this season would be a cruel blow for the Patriots.
There was no official update on Bruschi's condition the day after the game, although an optimist could take comfort in the sight of Bruschi walking out of Giants Stadium early Tuesday morning, albeit with a slight limp. Coach Bill Belichick's only comment on Bruschi's condition -- that his leg "tightened up on him" -- could also be interpreted as a positive sign since it hinted at a muscle problem and not something more serious.
During the game, ABC-TV reported that X-rays taken on Bruschi were negative. He had to be helped off the field by members of the athletic training staff and was taken to the locker room on a cart. He did not return.
Bruschi, of course, grabbed headlines around the country this season by making a stirring comeback following a mild stroke in February. Since returning to the lineup in Week 8, he has steadily improved, climbing all the way up to fifth on the team in tackles (with 70) heading into the Jets game. The previous week against Tampa Bay, Bruschi had his first two sacks of the season, his first forced fumble and his fourth pass defensed.
Linebacker Monty Beisel, who began the season as a starter, filled in for Bruschi against the Jets and made four tackles -- one fewer than the coaching staff had credited him with over the previous seven weeks.
Bruschi was hurt as he disengaged from traffic and tried running downfield to cover a punt. Belichick brushed aside a question about the wisdom of using offensive and defensive starters on special teams, saying, "All we do is play to win. That's all. Just trying to win."
Cornerback Asante Samuel also left the game in the first quarter and did not return. He appeared to take a knee to the back of the helmet while returning an interception on the Jets' second possession.
--After watching offensive tackle Tom Ashworth catch a touchdown pass as a goal-line fullback the previous week, linebacker Mike Vrabel (he of the goal-line tight end fame) joked that he was becoming a decoy.
Vrabel caught two more touchdown passes (of 1 and 2 yards) against the Jets, giving him eight scores on as a many career receptions -- six in the regular season, plus one in each of the last two Super Bowls. Vrabel is 3-for-3 this season, having scored on a 1-yard catch against the Saints in Week 11. On both of Vrabel's touchdowns against the Jets, he lined up on the left side of the formation and was open in the back of the end zone after quarterback Tom Brady play faked.
Asked why Vrabel gets free so often, Brady said, "The thing is, if they cover him, we'll throw to somebody else. It's tough to stop. We ran the ball a few times in there, too. It's hard to play the run (with) Corey (Dillon) and (also defend passes to) Ashworth and (tight end) Christian Fauria, who has caught a bunch of touchdowns. So, who are you going to cover?"
Jets coach Herman Edwards said Vrabel's catches didn't surprise his team. "We tried to cover it in practice," he said, "but we didn't get it covered."
--The main blemish on Brady's night was the first-quarter interception that former teammate Ty Law returned 74 yards for a score. It came on a throw intended for wide receiver David Givens. In the first meeting between these teams three weeks ago, Brady generally steered clear of Law. "It was a stupid throw," Brady said. "He made a break on the ball. We hit a bunch of throws in front of him in the first game, and the first one we threw (this time), he jumped it. It was just a bad throw, bad read. It kind of (ticked) me off for the rest of the game."
--The Patriots posted some ridiculous stats against the Jets. They held the ball for 43:21 for their most dominating time of possession (in a non-overtime game) under coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots held the ball for 43:50 in an overtime win in Houston during the 2003 season.
The Pats also ran a season-high 83 offensive plays, including 31 in a row during a 14-minute span that bridged the second and third quarters. The Pats had a 13-play touchdown drive, ran three more plays after the Jets muffed the ensuing kickoff, and then opened the second half with a 15-play touchdown drive. Dillon capped both of the scoring marches with touchdown runs.
The Patriots also recorded the game's first 22 first downs. The Jets didn't pick up their initial first down until a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty on defensive end Richard Seymour with 5:17 left in the third quarter.
--WR Deion Branch had a team-high 69 receiving yards, leaving him 21 shy of 1,000 for the season.
--K Adam Vinatieri converted his 25th straight fourth-quarter field goal, a 26-yarder with 7:15 remaining.
--RB Corey Dillon scored two touchdowns for the second straight week. He leads the team with 13 touchdowns (12 rushing, one receiving).
--SS Artrell Hawkins, who switched back to his regular cornerback position after Asante Samuel was injured, allowed both of the Jets' touchdowns, getting beaten by WR Laveranues Coles twice in the fourth quarter. Hawkins signed with the Patriots on Nov. 15 expecting to be a cornerback, but he was quickly converted to strong safety because the Patriots had been devastated by injuries there.