The Jets’ defense brought the fight early and often to the Patriots offense Sunday in their stunning 28-21 AFC Divisional Round playoff triumph over their old AFC East rivals.
“We stuck to our game plan and our D-line had a hell of a day today,” said LB David Harris, one of the many stars of the monumental victory. “They created havoc for Tom Brady back there all day. What did we have, six sacks? And numerous other pressures? You have to take your hat off to the D-line and the guys in the secondary covering a good bunch of receivers on the other sideline.”
Harris, who had a game-leading 12 tackles, delivered the first blow to Tom Brady and company, intercepting an overthrown short ball to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and returning it 58 yards to the Pats’ 12. It was Brady’s first interception in an NFL-record 340 pass attempts.
“We were in Cover-3 and Tom made a bad pass,” Harris said. “He threw it over his head and I was in the right spot at the right time. I thought I was home free when I made Brady miss. but I was caught by Alge Crumpler, who is a 300-pound tight end.”
Even though the offense couldn’t capitalize with any points when Nick Folk’s 30-yard field goal attempt sailed left, the “D” wasn’t deterred.
Defensive end Shaun Ellis, who often brought pressure right up the middle and was unblockable, got to Brady in the red zone late in the first and forced a Shane Graham 34-yard field goal.
“Man, it’s tough. There were a lot of double-teams,” Ellis said about the often coverage-heavy formations that left him and his linemates 3-on-5 or 4-on-5. “We up front knew it was a tough challenge but we just had to keep pushing the pocket. It’s what we practiced all week.”
Harris said Ellis “probably had the best game of his career and it was on the biggest stage. He came up big for us with the two quick sacks, gave us momentum and we took it from there.”
Then Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine’s unit put on a show in the second stanza as the Green & White cruised to a 14-3 lead at the break.
The Pats went three-and-out on their first possession of the second quarter as CB Drew Coleman — a.k.a. The Little Sackmaster — got to Brady for a 9-yard loss on third down.
That was followed by another Pats three-and-out, backing up the 7-3 lead the visitors had just taken. The Pats finally got a first down on their next possession, but S Eric Smith wasn’t fooled on a mishandled fake punt and the offense took over in plus-territory at the 38.
Four plays later, the Jets built their 11-point lead when Braylon Edwards bullied a pair of Pats defensive backs and went in from 15 yards out. Brady took a knee to close out the half after getting sacked three times and averaging just 5.8 yards on his 17 pass attempts.
The Jets got great coverage in the back end, continually applying the pressure on Brady and confusing him with different looks. When Patriots Nation expected Brady to come out smoking in the third, the Jets forced a punt after four plays.
Calvin Pace nearly broke Brady in two when he got a free shot on the future Hall of Famer midway through the third deep in Pats territory. That shot caused a fumble that Green-Ellis recovered, but the Jets continued to dictate to an offense that had averaged 37 points over its last eight regular-season outings.
A team that laid 45 points on the Jets on Dec. 6 on this same field didn’t score a touchdown until there were 13 seconds left in the third quarter — Brady to Alge Crumpler for a 2-yard hookup. Sione Pouha got a fifth sack of the night in Jets territory with the Patriots, down, 21-11, frantically attempting to make a comeback push.
And it was fitting that a fourth-down incompletion form Brady to Deion Branch had Antonio Cromartie right there in coverage. These Jets may talk a big game, but they play one, too. For good measure, Cromartie recovered an onside kick as the Jets secured their second trip to the conference championship in as many years.
“I think we just showed Brady different looks and our front four was humming,” said “Cro.” “Shaun Ellis, Calvin Pace, Jason Taylor, Mike DeVito …. David Harris had a tremendous pick in the first half. It was just guys going out, making plays and playing their technique.”
“Our coverage was actually pretty simple on the back end,” said Pettine. “We just played.”
This was a masterful playcalling performance from Ryan and Pettine, executed perfectly by a hungry defense. The Pats’ young tight end duo was held in check the majority of this confrontation (excluding a 37-yarder to Rob Gronkowski on the TD drive) and the coverage downfield was tight on the outside as even when Brady had time he often couldn’t find anyone open.
Former Jets DL Dennis Byrd delivered an inspirational speech to the club Saturday night and then Ellis, who had two sacks and has appeared in more games than any other defensive linemen in club history, led an improbable charge against these Men from Boston.
“Anytime you take a beating like we did last game, it’s just huge,” Ellis said of the motivation the Jets shared going into this game. “We felt like we were totally disrespected — they ran the score up, Brady had his gestures, they were doing the Jets [airplane] run. Going into this game, we just wanted to get it back.”
And that’s what the Jets did. “The Monarchy” was dethroned and these upstarts from New York, powered by a physical, smart and savvy defense, will soon start planning an attack on Big Ben in Pittsburgh.
Tags: Antonio Cromartie, David Harris, New England Patriots, Shaun Ellis, Tom Brady
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