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Monday, January 17, 2011

When did the New England Patriots turn into the Indianapolis Colts?

If the NFL playoffs have taught us anything, especially this season, being a top seed or favorite doesn't mean anything these days. Last week, the New Orleans Saints lost to the Seattle Seahawks, the Indianapolis Colts lost to the New York Jets and on Saturday, the Atlanta Falcons got creamed by the Green Bay Packers.

Those were all trumped by the epic no-show, choke job pulled off yesterday by the New England Patriots who lost 28-21 to the Jets in the AFC Divisional Round at Gillette Stadium.

New York took the rubber game of the season series with New England and advances to its second straight AFC Championship game, on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Everything was falling the Patriots' way before the loss; all they had to do was win two games at home (against teams they had already beaten this season) and then top an NFC team that they would be favored over and they'd have their fourth Super Bowl title of the decade.

However, unbeknownest to myself and most of the fan base, we have become the Colts or San Diego Chargers, team built to rack up mostly meaningless regular season games and then turtle in the playoffs.

It's time to face facts: the Patriots haven't won a playoff game since the 2007 AFC Championship. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have lost their last three playoff games and each has been in horrific fashion: losing the perfect season to the New York Giants in Super Bowl 42, getting crushed by the Baltimore Ravens last season at Gillette and then yesterday, losing to your most bitter rival.

While we're dealing with some real talk, can we also admit that Rex Ryan despite all his ridiculousness (foot fetish videos, diahrea of the mouth, etc.) can coach a football team and his method works. All week leading up to the game, it was endless trash talk from the Jets and you had to hope that the Pats would let their play on the field do the talking. Who knows if it had any effect but clearly, there's more than one way (Belichick's no fun model) to win in this NFL.

Patriots honks are the most delusional fan base around here so it'll be interesting to see if this makes them admit the truth, that Belichick and Brady aren't perfect. What is the excuse for yesterday? There is none not that it will necessarily stop them from whining.

I hate the Jets but I have to admire the way they play loose and back up their big talk. They still have to win two games to capture a Super Bowl but this was the biggest win for them in a long, long time.

I want to be really bitter about this defeat but what can you say if you're a Patriots fan? They didn't get screwed by the refs (a loser's excuse) or a random play (tuck rule), they simply didn't execute as well as New York and they seemed rattled from the beginning of the miserable game until the end.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (16 for 25, 194 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) played better than Patriots icon Tom Brady (29 for 45, 299 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) and that was supposed to be the one area where New England had the biggest advantage.

All day, the Patriots receivers were covered by the Jets' outstanding secondary or simply thrown off their routes. Whatever the case, Brady had to wait too long and getting sacked five times didn't help his confidence either.

Shayne Graham had the only points of the first quarter, a 34-yard field goal. Brady threw a terrible pick, on a screen pass but New England's defense held the Jets to a field goal attempt which Nick Folk promptly missed.

New York got on the board in the second quarter when LaDainian Tomlinson scored on a 7-yard pass from Sanchez.

Braylon Edwards gave the Jets a 14-3 lead with 33 seconds left in the half when he fought through tackle attempts by Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty and safety Brandon Meriweather to reach the end zone.

That late score was the biggest one of the game and it came as a result of a bizarre call which will go down in Patriots' lore as one of the worst in history. Apparently, Patrick Chung called for a direct snap on a punt. The problem was he fumbled it then couldn't get a first down and that gave New York prime field position deep in New England territory. Why would you ever make that choice in that spot? Mystifying.

Alge Crumpler got the Patriots back into the game with a 2-yard touchdown catch from Brady late in the third quarter, the frame's only points. Sammy Morris took a direct snap on the two-point conversion and ran it in to cut it to 14-11 Jets.

In the biggest quarter of the season, New York made the plays. Santonio Holmes, one of the most clutch players in the NFL, made an absurd 7-yard touchdown catch and Shonn Greene had a 16-yard touchdown run when the Jets were running out the clock.

Shayne Graham's field goal in between those New York touchdowns had made it 21-14 but there was only 1:57 left. Deion Branch (5 catches, 59 yards) caught one last touchdown with 24 seconds left but New England couldn't recover an onside kick (it couldn't get the one after Graham's kick either) and the upset was official.

This one will take a while to get over. The Patriots overachieved all season with a collection of young players and no-names that combined to go 14-2 in the regular season. Still, when it mattered not enough of them showed up to beat a team they knew very well. And I hate to be a realist but the window on Belichick and particularly Brady closes a little more since they'll both be a year older when the team gets back together for training camp in August.

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