Flip of the coin: Overtime call, patient Favre saved game for Jets
Jets defense was in no shape to stop the Patriots offense
Ty Law's physical treatment of Randy Moss worked for 59:59
Brett Favre, with precise reads and smart decisions, was Montana-like
Do you know what the biggest play in the 34-31 Jets-Patriots game overtime thriller was? The coin toss for the overtime. If the Jets would have lost it, there's no way under God's blue sky that I could have seen them winning the contest.
Their defense had been given a chess board to defend, during the Patriots last minute drive to tie it in regulation time. Three-man rush, four across behind that, you play here, you play there, protect your zone at all costs, and if anyone comes into it, take note of the fact without getting too excited about it. Bail out football, scared football, but hey, we won, Eric Mangini can say. That's the bottom line, isn't it? Yeah, when you win the coin toss.
Ty Law was different. At first I couldn't understand why they brought him to New York in the first place, gave him a couple of workouts, a rubdown and a bucket of water, and then sent him out to start one of the biggest games in the team's history. Soon it became apparent. He was the biggest and most physical cornerback in the lineup. He was out there to rough up Randy Moss.
Moss always was a weird kind of player, even more so now. He's a front runner, a bully. This goes back to his college days, when he played for Marshall, quarterbacked by Chad Pennington, and they lost to Ole Miss by three points in the Motor City Bowl, and the two little Mississippi corners got in his face and roughed him up and took him right out of his game.
Well, that was Law's role Thursday night, and for 59 minutes and 59 seconds he did just fine, holding Moss to two short catches. Then, with the game on the line, he backed off and let Randy catch the ball in front of him -- granted it was a reaching, leaning masterpiece of a catch -- but it was against a soft corner, and now the game was in OT.
Now let's say the Patriots would have gotten the ball. How do the Jets line up? Obviously, they're out of their prevent now, but into what? Mangini, who deviled the Tom Brady Patriots and beat them two years ago with a confusing set of alignments, which alternated pressure with multiple downfield coverages, decided to play it cozy this time, not only on the last drive, but, to some extent, the whole way.
Even when the Patriots were in multiple wides, and the rush lanes were so inviting, he hung back. Oh, New York would get the occasional sack, thanks to one big play by Kris Jenkins, who swatted Logan Mankins aside, and some terrific work by back up end and tackle C.J. Mosley. But Matt Cassel basically was given clear sight and throwing lanes.
The Jets had a 24-13 halftime lead, down from the gaudy 24-6, but it was misleading because New England had been on the field for 40 snaps and had run up 242 yards of offense. People were getting tired for New York. Jenkins, the star of the D-line, had become an infrequent participant, and he hardly appeared in nickel rush situations at all.
They barely stopped New England at all in the second half. One drive ended when the ball just slipped out of tight end Ben Watson's hands. Another one ended when a shotgun snap sailed by Cassel. Then the Patriots settled down and scored on three of their last four series, and the world waited breathlessly for the coin toss.
Jets players were feeling the strain. They had now been on the field for 79 snaps, with the prospect of more to come. Their coach had given them a soft prevent defense that didn't work, but now they would be called upon to switch gears and come in hard, and it's a tough thing to cover.
The Jets called tails, and that's what it came up, and we are saving the best for last, and that is the Glorious Twilight of Brett Favre. What a strange athlete. "Hang in and sooner or later he'll throw the ball to us," have been the defensive coordinator's final words for the last decade or so. Not only interceptions, but goofy ones, mindless heaves, underhanded bloopers, throws to tightly covered targets, as he managed in the NFC title game against the Giants last season.
Not on Thursday night. It was as if a couple of heavies had invaded the Jets' pregame locker and put a knife to his throat and said, "Make one of those throws tonight and you're a dead man."
Everything was careful, well thought out, precise. His reads were not only accurate, they were quick. That's where he had it over young Cassel, who also had a magnificent game...except that it didn't have quite the precision of Favre's effort. When the Patriots had a clean shot at him, he didn't fight it. There was no stiff scramble and desperation heave. He hit the canvas, in the best Joe Namath tradition, and carried the battle to the next play.
The Patriots couldn't double cover everyone. They could stretch their zones only so far. And Favre found the creases, and he locked onto his athletically gifted rookie tight end, Dustin Keller, as his least covered and most accessible target. The 16-yarder to Keller on third and 15 was, of course, the topper.
We are not used to seeing Favre work a Joe Montana, Steve Young type of game, but there it was. His big ones in the past always had a wilder aspect to them, more thrilling, more dynamic. But precision was called for last night, and that's what Favre gave his team -- and it came at a point in the evening when 39-year old quarterbacks usually are showing their age.
He was caught up in the drama of the moment, in the significance of a history that meant nothing to him six months ago. He was part of a classic. Frame it and hang it on the wall, and let's hope that there are more to come. Maybe the Jets will keep it going at unbeaten Tennessee next weekend. If so, then we might be looking at a new star rising on the horizon. If not, if they blew a tire, pushing everything to the max in Foxboro, then...well, it's been a great ride anyway.