(All photographs by Mike Hendriguez)
More than any talent a player may possess. More than any game plan ever developed. More than any pregame game speech ever delivered. More football games have been won and decided due to one thing, momentum.
Don’t get me wrong talent, game plans and pregame speeches are important but Momentum breeds confidence and this is why the New York Jets walked out of Gillette Stadium with a 28-21 victory over the Patriots in their Divisional Round Playoff Game on Sunday.
After the first two series, the Patriots looked like they were going to blow the Jets out of the stadium like they did the last time New York visited Foxboro. The Jets could not stop the Patriots high powered offense as Tom Brady was marching his squad down the field at will. When they did come up with a big defensive play, the Jets could not capitalize on it as they even failed to get even 3 points after David Harris intercepted an off the mark pass from Brady and Gang Green started their first series on New England’s 10 yard line.
Then on their second possession, Alge Crumpler dropped a sure TD and the Patriots had to settle for a FG. This is where Mother Momentum made her presence felt.
Mark Sanchez took the reigns and drove Gang Green down to the Patriots seven yard line where he then hit LaDainian Tomlinson with a short pass to complete the drive which gave the Jets a 7-3 lead. The TD catch came on the heels of a brilliant 36 yard strike to Braylon Edwards where the second year signal caller eluded the pass rush, directed Edwards to an area near the sideline and then hit him with a perfect strike. On this drive, Sanchez showed why the Jets moved up twelve spots in last years draft to select him and handed him the keys to the franchise.
Then after the Patriots’ fake punt attempt blew up in their face on the ensuing drive, Sanchez found Edwards who dragged two defenders along with him into the end zone giving the Jets a 14-3 lead heading into halftime. Clearly momentum was on the Jets’ side. But the question that many were wondering, could they hold on to it?
Tom Brady led his squad to a TD and subsequent two-point conversion toward the end of the third quarter to bring New England within 3 points. Momentum New England? The fans at Gillette Stadium were amped expecting the Jets to fold like house of cards. Unfortunately for them that drive was a big tease.
Sanchez came out at the beginning of the 4th quarter and led the Jets on his second brilliant drive in as many weeks. He hit Jerricho Cotchery on a slant play reminiscent of Montana to Rice that went for 59-yards that led to the team’s third TD. That counter punch swung the momentum back in Gang Green’s favor to the point that New England would never recapture it.
Sanchez only threw for 194 yards, but it was the most efficient 194 yards perhaps in playoff history. That sub 200 yard game yielded three TD passes and kept the chains moving in the Jets’ direction. Every pass was not accurate or on target. Sanchez over threw some receivers and missed some reads especially early in the game. But when the Jets needed him to make a play, he delivered. And when Sanchez was not spreading the ball out to his multiple receiving weapons, the running game complimented the passing attack.
Tomlinson and Shonne Greene tore into the Patriots young defense at the tune of 120 yards between them. The Jets balanced offensive attack kept the Patriots defense off balance for most of the afternoon. Sanchez and the offense played their most complete game of the season, but make no mistake this victory belonged to the defense.
Rex Ryan’s pride and joy frustrated Tom Brady to no end on Sunday. They sacked him five times, hit him seven times and intercepted him once. Even when Gang Green did not touch him, the pass rushers’ presence made the Golden Boy hurry his passes to point that he was missing open receivers. Their presence was just as good as a sack. But unlike during that 45-3 thrashing back in December, the DBs and safeties did not allow the Patriots smurf receivers to get off the line of scrimmage without feeling their presence as well. This disrupted the Patriots offense. Combine this with the pass rush and the Patriots offense came to a sudden halt.
If that 45-3 thrashing was not enough motivation, then perhaps a pregame speech by ex-Jet Dennis Byrd was. Byrd was paralyzed after a brutal hit in a game against Kansas City in 1992. Byrd regained his ability to walk a year later and became an inspiration to everybody who ever donned a football uniform. He brought the uniform that the trainers had cut off his back that fateful afternoon to the Jets team meeting the night before the game. He told the current squad that he would give anything to participate in just one more play. Well he must have lit something in attendees, that to a man, they indicated that Byrd inspired them to go out and kick some ass!
Last week I stated that Ryan finally caught his Moby Dick in defeating Peyton Manning. This week they knocked off the Patriots in New England something very few people, except yours truly, thought they could do. Yeah I have witnesses who heard me predict that at the end of the Falcons-Packers game Saturday night. I just hope that the Jets have not emptied their emotional tanks with these two victories. I am not worried about them physically, but emotionally maybe a different story.
Yes, Rex and Co. came up with a great game plan. The Jets had more talent and experience across the board than New England. And perhaps Byrd did give them the extra motivation that they needed. But there is one thing that no can dispute about Sunday’s victory, this win was about the Jets grabbing the momentum and not relinquishing it.