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
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
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.
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
Oh, yes, the
Patriots will be prepared.