Following a nice season that saw the New York Jets make an improbable postseason appearance, Tom Brady and New England separated the men from the boys on Sunday with a 37-16 victory. While the Patriots move on to battle San Diego next week, the Jets head home after getting a brief taste of the playoffs.
New England won the coin toss and proceeded to drive the ball 65 yards for a touchdown. The Jets traded punches with the Patriots for most of the first half. However, a Brady touchdown pass to Daniel Graham gave New England a 17-10 lead just before intermission.
"They had him pretty well covered and I saw the linebacker had his head turned," Brady said. "He really couldn't see the ball and I tried to put it in a place where only Daniel could get it and Daniel made a great catch. Third-and-one there with no timeouts and 14 seconds left on the clock, you can't take a sack and you can't really run it because we didn't have timeouts. So, I think they probably were playing for the pass and they had it pretty well covered. They had Ben (Watson) covered in the flat. I just tried to put it up there and let the big guy make a big play for us."
The Jets were within 20-13 late in the third quarter when Rosevelt Colvin tipped a Chad Pennington pass to Jericho Cotchery at the line of scrimmage. The play was ruled a fumble and recovered by Vince Wilfork. The backwards pass turned out to be a backbreaker for Gang Green.
"I thought it was a forward pass and incomplete, but luckily Vince Wilfork scooped it up and it was a big turning point of the game, Colvin said. "The offense got a field goal out of it and it was definitely good to stop them. I was definitely surprised and I was upset with myself because it was a game changing play, just like Asante Samuel's pick to the end zone."
New York moved the football effectively most of the afternoon but stalled inside the 20-yard line against the NFL's top ranked red zone defense. New England forced the Jets to settle for field goals of 28, 21 and 37 yards. Not getting the ball into the end zone proved to be costly for New York in what was a close game for three and a half quarters.
"It was a bend but don't break philosophy," Artrell Hawkins. "We don't even want to give up field goals, to be quite honest, but there are going to be situations sometimes because they are talented people. Their quarterback is good and was the Comeback Player of the Year and they're going to drive the ball and we don't like that and would rather they not be in the end zone at all."
After defeating their AFC East rivals, the Patriots reward is traveling to San Diego to take on the 14-2 Chargers. San Diego has the NFL's best record and a league-leading nine Pro Bowlers. The Patriots know they'll need their best performance of the year on Sunday if they plan on getting by the explosive Chargers.
"Hands-down the best team in the NFL, hands-down," Wilfork said. "It's going to be a tough challenge. I think all three phases of the game - defense, special teams, and the offense - they have weapons everywhere. So in order for us to win that game we have to bring our A game. If we play an A-minus' or a 'B game, we will lose that game. It will be an exciting football game, it will be a dog fight. Right now we just have to enjoy this game for a couple more hours and then get started on San Diego."
--WR Jabar Gaffney, playing in the first playoff game of his five-year career, grabbed eight passes for 104 yards on Sunday. His highest yardage total in the 2006 regular season was 65 yards, gained on three catches against the New York Jets on Nov. 12. His 2006 regular-season high for receptions was three, achieved twice, on November 12th and also on December 24th at Jacksonville.
"He had a great day," Tom Brady said. "He had a great week of practice. It was probably our best week of practice all year. Reche (Caldwell) had a great week. Jabar made a bunch of plays in practice and it ultimately carried over to the game. He was in a good spot to be able to catch the ball. He was the guy who was singled a lot out there. He really played well in his first playoff game ever."
Wilfork Has Nose For Ball
--OLB Rosevelt Colvin batted down a Chad Pennington lateral pass in the third quarter, causing a fumble on the play that was recovered by Vince Wilfork and returned 31 yards to the New York 15-yard line. The forced fumble was the second of Colvin's playoff career, having also forced Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis to cough up the ball in the 2004 AFC Championship Game on Jan. 23, 2005. Wilfork's fumble recovery was the first of his playoff career. The Patriots transformed the turnover into a 28-yard field goal and a 23-13 lead late in the third quarter.
"Once I got it in my hands, I looked over to the sidelines and they were saying, 'Go, go, go' and I was like, 'Okay'" Wilfork said. "That's when I started running, but I didn't know that it was a fumble. I knew it had a good chance of being one, so that's why I at least had it in my hands. If it was one, I would have got tackled right there, but we still would have had the ball."
Samuel Adds Another
--CB Asante Samuel intercepted a Chad Pennington pass intended for Justin McCareins and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown with 5:04 left in the game, giving the Patriots a 37-16 lead. The interception was Samuel's second career playoff interception return for a touchdown, becoming the ninth player in NFL history -- and the only Patriot -- to return two or more interceptions for a touchdown in his playoff career. Samuel's pick marked his third straight playoff game with an interception.
"He (Pennington) throws the ball kind of soft," Samuel said. "I was kind of timid a couple times to go after it. I knew if he kept throwing it out there, I was going to get it. When I caught it and I looked, I expected someone to be there in my face and once I kept running I saw that there was no one there and I just kept running."
Gostkowksi Tries To Escape AV's Shadow
--Rookie K Stephen Gostkowski nailed all three of his field-goal attempts on Sunday, connecting from 20, 40 and 28 yards. Gostkowski made 20 of his 26 field-goal attempts in the regular season and connected on 13 of his final 15 regular-season kicks. Gostkowski's total of three successful field goals marks the third time in the team's 29-game playoff history that a kicker has been perfect when attempting three or more field goals, joining Adam Vinatieri's 5-for-5 performance in the 2003 AFC Championship Game against Indianapolis and Vinatieri's 3-for-3 night in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoffs against Oakland.
"Well, you just have to trust that he is prepared and he wants to kick in this type of atmosphere," Brady said. "Nobody can do his job for him. We are all worried about doing our own job and executing what we need to. When a guy has to go out there and kick, you just hope that he does the best that he can do. He did great today."