Monday, December 27, 2004

Resilient in 23-7 win over Jets

by Fred Kirsch, from the official site of the New England Patriots
Tom Brady passed for 264 yards on 21 of 32 passing and two touchdowns. Corey Dillon ran for 89 tough yards and the Patriots defense played championship ball in holding Curtis Martin to 33 yards rushing and Chad Pennington to 216 yards passing while intercepting him twice.

It was a spirited win for the Patriots, still jockeying for playoff positioning.

The red hot Jets were showing signs they deserved to be in the playoffs, Chad Pennington was back playing to form and the Patriots were coming off a shocking loss to the Dolphins with a banged up secondary. On the road, a must-win for the Jets -- the scenario favored New York in every way.

Except one. The Patriots were simply the better team.

The Patriots secondary was still the main area of concern going into this one. Rumors had Ty Law perhaps returning to action but the Patriots top cornerback was a scratch prior to the game. That left Earthwind Moreland as the starting corner opposite Asante Samuel. But when the Patriots defense took the field for the first time, it was Eugene Wilson lining up at corner with linebacker Don Davis manning Wilson's safety spot.

New York looked like it had its offense going from the start, driving into Patriots territory with a big third and 11 pass to Martin good for 22 yards along the way. But on first and 10 from the New England 40, Pennington was intercepted by Tedy Bruschi who returned the pick to the Jets 38.

New England could do nothing with the turnover and was forced to punt after three plays.

The Jets took over at the Patriots 14 and began to march once again. Another third down attempt turned into a big gainer when Pennington found Wayne Chrebet on third and five and Chrebet shook would-be tackler Moreland short of the first down and turned the play into a 20-yarder. But on third and two at the Patriots 32, Willie McGinest hit Martin for a 4-yard loss and the Jets were stopped again.

Meanwhile, the Patriots offense was finding things difficult. It began the next drive from its own 9 and Brady immediately hit David Givens for 29 yards. Then, two plays later, Corey Dillon fumbled with Christian Fauria recovering, Brady was sacked for a loss of 6 by Jonathan Vilma on the next play and New England punted.

As the second quarter opened it was the New England offense gaining some momentum. Brady and crew was content to chip their way downfield with Dillon and Patrick Pass runs and short passes to Dillon out of the backfield. That strategy worked until Brady's pass fell incomplete on third and five from the Jets 10 and Adam Vinatieri was brought on for a 28-yard field goal which he made.

The early 3-0 lead marked the 20th regular season game in a row in which the Patriots scored first, an NFL record.

With the Jets defense stuffing the run and Dillon effectively, Brady did his work through the air on the Patriots next scoring drive. After hitting Daniel Graham for 14 yards, Brady looked downfield to Givens and put a perfect pass on his outside shoulder for a gain of 35.

That play moved the ball to the Jets 17. After a Dillon run it was play-action to Graham right down the middle for a 16-yard scoring strike.

The Patriots defense, too, was picking up steam. With just over a minute left in the first half, the Jets tried to answer the Patriots score but on third down, Mike Vrabel sacked Pennington for an 8-yard loss.

Looking more and more like the championship team to which Patriots Nation has grown accustomed, Troy Brown fielded the punt and took it 23 yards to the Jets 43.

With 1:13 to work with, Brady had his team on the New York 11 with three straight passes to Deion Branch and with :23 left. From there, the Jets pass defense stiffened and New England settled for a Vinatieri 29-yard field goal and a 13-0 lead.

The Patriots actually had a chance to add to the lead before the half when Vinatieri's squib kick bounced off several Jets and into the hands of Tully Banta-Cain. That gave Vinatieri an opportunity for a 50-yard field goal with no time left but the kick was just off the mark.

After both teams exchanged punts to begin the second half, Dillon began to get rolling. Up to that point, he had only 21 yards rushing as the Jets were doing a good job defending the run. But on this drive, he had 32 yards alone. It was enough for another Vinatieri field goal -- a 26-yarder -- to up the score to 16-0.

As the third quarter ended, it was Jarvis Green sacking Pennington for a loss of 10 to set up a third and 19 from the Jets own 21 to begin the fourth.

Jason Fabini was flagged for a false start to move New York back 5 more yards. On third and 24, Pennington, perhaps feeling the pressure, threw down the middle right into the arms of Wilson. Wilson took off to the Jets 15, Dillon broke the Patriots franchise record for rushing in a season with a 9-yard run and two plays later, Brady found Branch alone in the end zone from 6 yards out.

The Jets finally got on the scoreboard with 9:32 left in the game, a 15-yard pass to Santana Moss that the smallish receiver made a good play bulling his way into the end zone with after the catch. The extra point made the score 23-7.

Now it was clock-killing time for the Patriots but not before Brady hit Fauria for 23 yards on third and two at the Jets 43. After the next three plays netted 9 yards, New England was faced with a fourth down decision and elected to go for the 1 yard needed for the first down. Dillon got the call but came up short and the Jets took over with 5:26 left.

In the blink of an eye Pennington had his team down on the Patriots 34 in three plays but then stalled. On fourth and six his pass to Justin McCareins was a yard short of the first down marker and the Patriots took over.

The Jets held New England to three plays and had the ball back with just over three minutes remaining. Just like the Jets last drive, Pennington had his team on the Patriots 35 in a flash with a 36-yard pass to McCareins. That was as close as the Jets would come as Pennington was sacked on the next play by Rosevelt Colvin and lost the ball in the process. Green recovered to give it back to the Patriots, this time at the two-minute warning.

With a series of Brady kneel downs, the Patriots had their thirteenth win of the season.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Gay a Consistent Figure in Secondary

by Frank Tadych,
One Patriots rookie who has certainly exceeded expectations this season is cornerback Randall Gay. The undrafted rookie free agent out of Louisiana State, who made the team out of training camp and has seen his playing time increase during the season, is turning into a consistent playmaker for the Patriots.

Randall Gay recovers a fumble and scores a touchdown vs. Browns - 2004On Thursday, head coach Bill Belichick noted Gay's consistency this season, saying the rookie has had good production considering his opportunities and has established a sustained level of play since starting the season as the team's fourth cornerback.

"I think Randall is one of those guys that has had really a pretty consistent year," Belichick said. "He started maybe in the back of the pack, relative to draft position and so forth. But by the time rookie mini-camps were over and the spring mini-camps were over, I think that the opportunities that he had, he was pretty productive with them."

Gay has played in all 12 games this season, starting the last six at right cornerback, collecting 24 tackles and two interceptions. In addition to being able to play both cornerback and safety, Gay has several factors working in his favor - especially his mental approach to the game.

"He's a smart kid, he picks things up very well," Belichick said. "He's had experience playing corner or safety at LSU and a little bit here, so he mentally understands, from a football standpoint, what's going on in the secondary whether as a perimeter player or an inside player."

Gay has gone from a player used in spot duty to one seeing significant action mostly because of injuries to Ty Law, Tyrone Poole and Asante Samuel. But his consistency, and his willingness to fit within the game plan, may mean that Gay will continue to stay there when others return from injury. Several veterans have taken note of Gay's willingness to listen and his propensity to pull even the smallest details from game film.

Randall Gay intercepts a Ravens pass - 2004"He understands he wasn't one of those first-round [picks]," Law said. "I think he understood that fact that his chances of making the team were slim in the beginning, but he just continued to work at it and work and was consistent all through training camp. When he got his opportunity to get in there and play, he showed up."

In addition to solid coverage skills, Gay has display veteran savvy and a knack for big plays on several occassions. He scored his first career touchdown in last week's win over Cleveland on a 41-yard fumble return. During the Patriots 24-3 win over Baltimore on Nov. 28, his first quarter interception of Kyle Boller came on a play where he was caught between two receivers on the sideline but correctly interpreted the read of the quarterback.

According to Law, the play was very similar to his own interception against the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener. Gay pinpointed the play during film work and learned from it.

"You can see every game he's getting more comfortable. He's been out there playing well and holding his end of the bargain. We're so happy for him. I think when we all get back, we're going to still be looking for Blue to come in there and contribute the same way he's always done."

The fact that Gay has progressed steadily and hasn't had an "up-and-down" season, according to Belichick, could be an aspect separating Gay from other young players - or even the player he was earlier this season. Certainly, his production and consistency as a first-year player make him dependable in the eyes of the coaching staff. Belichick pointed to that consistency as an important factor for rookie defensive backs.

"I think when you're a rookie defensive back, you're going to be around the ball one way or another," Belichick said. "They're going to find you. That's the NFL. If you're a rookie defensive back, someone is going to be throwing on you. He expects that, we expect it, and it's just the way it is."