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Guess Again
January 15, 2007
Using a baffling array of looks, the Patriots outfoxed the Jets and served notice that they're still a conference powerhouse
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January 15, 2007

Guess Again

Using a baffling array of looks, the Patriots outfoxed the Jets and served notice that they're still a conference powerhouse

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On sunday morning, four hours before coaches Bill Belichick of the Patriots and Eric Mangini of the Jets matched wits in an AFC wild-card playoff in Foxborough, New England quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels met to review their game plan. "I wonder what the Jets will do to us today," Brady said. "I'm really curious." � Said McDaniels, "I guarantee you they're wondering the same thing. They don't know if they're going to get what we showed Tennessee last week or what we gave Jacksonville [on Dec. 24] or something completely different." � The Jets still don't know what hit them. In a systematic 37--16 dismantling of their AFC East rivals, the Pats went regular huddle, no huddle, quick huddle sprint to the line; two-back power running game, empty backfield (daring the Jets to blitz); tight ends on shallow crosses, wide receivers on 10-yard outs; bleed the clock, quick snap. No matter what the down. That has to trouble AFC top seed San Diego, which plays host to New England in a divisional playoff on Sunday. Now that Brady is on the same wavelength with receivers Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell (13 catches, 154 yards combined against the Jets), it's hard to bet against the Patriots in January--especially when the quarterback has won 11 of 12 career playoff games and feels very, very good about his team.

If the Chargers are smart, they'll study one New England series against New York that ate up nearly half of the second quarter. It was a deft combination of skill, power, gamesmanship and intelligence that proved the Patriots are still a Super Bowl--caliber team and that Brady's still the one quarterback you want with the season on the line. The setting: Jets 10, Patriots 10, 7:05 until halftime, New England ball at its 20. To this point, the Pats had mostly no-huddled in their first five possessions to keep Mangini from substituting the way he wanted. Now they huddled.

Running back Laurence Maroney goes up the gut for six yards. False start by tight end Daniel Graham for minus five. Short curl route to Benjamin Watson for 10 and a first down. No huddle. Patriots wait just long enough to catch their breath, making sure the Jets don't sub. ("Dictating the game," Watson says later.) Brady to his receivers: "Stay inbounds"--then a dart to Caldwell for 19. First down at midfield, 4:23 left. Incomplete to Caldwell. Regular huddle. Kevin Faulk up the middle for seven. "Run it again," Brady hears McDaniels say in his helmet earphone. No huddle. Faulk up the middle for eight. "Again," McDaniels says. Quick huddle. " Peter! Peter! Peter!" Brady yells, the code to hurry to the line and catch the opposition off-guard. Quick snap. Faulk for nine. His three carries move the ball from midfield to the Jets' 26. Field goal range.

Maroney up the middle for two: 2:28 to halftime. ("They were killing the clock on us but not letting us get subs in," Jets safety Kerry Rhodes says later.) Brady to Gaffney: "Stay inbounds"--then a 13-yard out near the left sideline. Two-minute warning. Maroney over left tackle for five. Same play again, same result. Ball at the one. New England lingers, milking the clock. The Jets try to bring in goal line defenders. Brady yells, " Peter! Peter! Peter!" attempting to catch them with extra men on the field. New York burns a timeout to avoid the penalty. (Says Rhodes, "They knew how to play the chess match.") Fullback Heath Evans for no gain. Maroney for no gain. Timeout, New England; 14 seconds left, ball still at the one. The Jets call time to figure out what Brady will run. ("You can't get overwhelmed by the situation," Brady says. "There's something in you. You just figure you can handle it.")

Out of a two-tight-end formation, he has two targets: Watson from the left side, running shallow to the left end zone; Graham from the right, running a square-in at the back. Linebacker Brad Kassell, part of New York's goal line D, shadows Graham. "I saw [Kassell] had his head turned," Brady says. "He really couldn't see the ball, and I tried to put it in a place where only Daniel could get it." Kassell dives. He misses deflecting the ball by six inches, maybe. Touchdown. Eleven seconds left in the half. New England takes the lead for good.

After the game Brady stood at his locker, preparing to face the media scrum. He found a CD on his chair labeled san diego chargers defense. "Can't wait," he said with a smile. "It's going to be fun." Shawne Merriman chasing him for four quarters? Fun? To Brady, it will be.

"When you're born," he said, "you're put on this earth and you have a certain skill set that helps you be ready for situations like this. We have a bunch of players who have come up over the years and trained to prepare for moments like this."

Oh, yes, the Patriots will be prepared.