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Jettin’ to Pittsburgh: By Stunning Mighty Patriots, Jets Headed Back to AFC Championship

Braylon Edwards (17) and Santonio Holmes (10) celebrate their rematch against Steelers, return trip to AFC Championship

So it turns out, Rex Ryan wasn’t just talking all week because he likes the sound of his own voice.  And it turns out the New York Jets aren’t just talk after all.  New York put another notch in the win column in the playoffs against the evil empire, in a place where they were so pubicly undressed back on Dec. 6 on Monday Night Football, 45-3.

Now that’s a distant memory.  And so are the New England Patriots.

Walking into New England’s own backyard, the Jets outmuscled and outplayed the Patriots on their way to a stunner, 28-21.  The team with the best record goes home and the team with the biggets mouths marches on to their second straight AFC Championship Game.

If someone were to tell you before the game that the winning team was able to protect the quarterback, protect the football and get pressure on the opposing quarterback and confuse him, you would’ve probably said that team would be New England.   But it’s the Patriots’, whose season comes to a surprising end, an eight-game win streak wiped away in which Brady and company scored at least 31 points in each victory while defeating five playoffs teams along the way.

For the first time since early November when they were beaten soundly by Cleveland, the Patriots didn’t score at least 23 points on Sunday afternoon against the Jets, something they had done in all 14 wins in 2010.  That’s a tribute to how good the Jets were defensively.  New York flustered Brady all afternoon, hitting him as much as he’s gotten hit this season totaling five sacks.  Their coverage downfield was terrific, at times nullifying both the short, crossing routes over the middle and the deep pass.  On the flip side, it was the Jets’ offensive line that kept a clean jersey on Mark Sanchez, allowing zero sacks.  And it was the Patriots’ defense missing tackles and allowing the big plays.

This was a game the Jets deserved to win and the Patriots deserved to lose, thanks in large part to Brady’s counterpart, Sanchez.  In just his second year in the league, Sanchez’ playoff record has improved to 4-1 with all four victories coming away from New York.  He outplayed Brady, throwing three touchdowns to Braylon Edwards, LaDainian Tomlinson and Santonio Holmes.  And now, Sanchez and the Jets accomplished a rare feat of beating both Manning and Brady in consecutive playoff games.

Sanchez outplaying Brady?  Not many of us had that scenario playing out.  You have to give him credit.  In just two years, Sanchez has found a way to get it done in the postseason.  For the second time in two postseasons, Brady didn’t perform well, completing 29-of-45 attempts for 299 yards, two touchdowns and his first interception in almost 340 pass attempts. 

One of the critical turning points in the game happened in the fourth quarter.  Trailing 14-3, Brady and the Patriots struck back with 13 second left in the third quarter, after Brady’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Alge Crumpler and Sammy Morris’ 2-point conversion set up an exciting fourth quarter with the Jets hanging on to a 14-11 lead.

But it was Sanchez who responded, squashing any momentum the Patriots gained.  His 58-yard catch-and-run to Jerricho Cotchery got New York right back in the red zone.  Despite playing behind bigger names at receiver, it was Cotchery who plagued the Patriots with a team-high five catches for 96 yards.  Then, there was that guy again, Santonio Holmes, who all he does is make the biggest catches in the biggest spots in the biggest of games.  Holmes hauled in a beautiful 7-yard touchdown reception in the back of the end zone, displaying great body control making sure to get both feet and even a knee down.  Just like that, the Jets sucked the life out of the stadium and the momentum away from the Patriots. 

Sunday's Divisional Round loss to the Jets makes it three straight playoff defeats, two in a row at home, for Brady and the Patriots

With 1:41 left and the Jets up 21-14, Shonn Greene put the game on ice with a 16-yard touchdown run giving the Jets the lead 28-14.  Celebrating in the end zone, Greene laid his head down on the football using it as a pillow.  While the Jets’ performance wasn’t worthy of a yawn, the Patriots did an excellent job of putting the New England faithful to sleep with their performance.  Despite being one of the best teams in the NFL this decade, the Patriots have now lost three straight playoff games, including dropping their last two at Gillette Stadium.

In the first half, Brady took three sacks and was forced to move out of the pocket and away from his comfort zone numerous times.  His interception to Jets linebacker David Harris on his first series, ending a streak of 335 pass attempts without an pick set the tone for the lousy day.  On their fifth possession, the Patriots tried to reach into their bag of tricks and went for a fake punt that was mishandled by Patrick Chung off a clean snap.  The Jets ganged up on Chung and stopped him at the Patriots 37 yard line.  With 1:07 left before halftime, the Jets went to work.  After runs of 17 and 5 by Tomlinson, Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards for a 15-yard touchdown in which Edwards dragged Chung and fellow defensive back Devin McCourty into the end zone.  

Ryan has been banging the Jets’ drum from the beginning of the season, touting his team as a Super Bowl caliber squad.  He’s made both bold and irritating remarks.  He’s called games personal, even stating that the Jets/Patriots contest was between he and Belichick.

But through it all, his team has responded with toughness and an undeniable swagger, epitomized by Ryan and his demeanor.  Their win in New England is a great testament to the Jets’ character and toughness.  Now, as they find themsevles back in the AFC Championship, they’re about to enter a new level of toughness against the toughest team in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ironically, now it’s the Jets are on a mission to accomplish what the Steelers did in 2005 and the Giants did in 2007:  win three straight playoff road games and earn a trip to the Super Bowl.

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