Brett Favre drove the New York Jets downfield to set up a game-winning field goal in overtime, lifting them to a 34-31 victory over the New England Patriots and into sole possession of first place in the AFC East. Favre completed 26 of 33 passes for 258 yards, two touchdowns and--very importantly--no interceptions; after the game he admitted that he was very aware during this contest that if he made even one careless throw that the Jets would probably lose. Matt Cassel, who ESPN's Cris Carter repeatedly refers to derisively as a "high school quarterback," had the best game of his brief career--and one of the best performances in team history--completing 30 of 51 passes for 400 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Cassel also led the Patriots in rushing with 62 yards on eight attempts. Cassel is just the third quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to throw for at least 350 yards and run for at least 60 yards in the same game, joining former NFL MVPs Rich Gannon and Steve Young. Cassel had the best rushing total for a New England quarterback since noted scrambler Steve Grogan ran for 65 yards in consecutive games in 1978.
The Jets marched downfield after the opening kickoff and took a 7-0 lead on a seven yard pass from Favre to Leon Washington. In the early going, the Patriots moved the ball with ease only to stall in the red zone, kicking two field goals. The Jets also tacked on a field goal but then they broke the game open with two second quarter touchdowns, a 92 yard kickoff return by Washington and a 15 yard pass from Favre to Jerricho Cotchery that put the Jets up 24-6. The Patriots maintained their poise and finally reached the endzone just 15 seconds before halftime when Cassel connected on a 19 yard TD pass with Jabar Gaffney.
During the halftime show, the NFL Network studio crew interviewed Cincinnati wide receiver Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson. Deion Sanders asked Johnson what he learned in the wake of all of his offseason "shenanigans." Johnson replied, "OK, this is what I learned the most. This is for anybody else that is coming along after me and for anybody that is playing on the other 31 teams: as an individual, no matter who you are, no matter how good you are, unless you play quarterback you will never dictate or run any organization ever. So don't ever pull what you saw me pull in the offseason, because you will lose." Has Johnson actually learned from his past mistakes or is he just on his best behavior for the moment in order to increase his value so that the Bengals can get trade him (which is what Johnson wanted before the season began)?
The Patriots received the opening kickoff of the second half and moved into Jets territory but their drive was stalled by a Ben Watson fumble. New England's defense held the Jets to 20 yards in the third quarter but the Patriots did not score until the last play of the period when Cassel connected with Watson for a 10 yard TD. Cassel passed to Gaffney for a two point conversion that cut New York's lead to 24-21.
New England forced a Cotchery fumble on the first possession of the fourth quarter and tied the score with a field goal but the Jets countered with a drive that consumed nearly half of the fourth quarter and culminated in a one yard touchdown run by Thomas Jones. After the teams exchanged punts, Cassel and the Patriots got the ball back on their 38 yard line with 1:04 remaining and no timeouts left. Cassel smoothly led the Patriots down the field, making completion after completion and spiking the ball to stop the clock when necessary. As a long suffering Cleveland Browns fan, I have to interrupt this recap briefly to mention that I don't think that the Browns have had a two minute drill--and, technically, this was a one minute drill--run that efficiently since Bernie Kosar was at the helm (the Browns have won some games with last second heroics but usually more out of mad scramble, desperation plays than disciplined execution). I don't know which sin is more unforgivable--that Art Modell fired Bill Belichick or that Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore. During the past decade, Belichick should have been building a dynasty in Cleveland instead of New England; he is the last Browns coach to win a playoff game and, ironically, he did so against New England, then coached by his mentor, Bill Parcells (who has not had nearly as much success as a head coach on his own as he did with Belichick coordinating his defenses). Every time I watch the Patriots play, I can't help but contrast how well coached they are and how disciplined they are with how poorly coached the Browns are. Also, while the Patriots won't use this as an excuse, it is worth mentioning that they are playing without the 2007 NFL MVP (Tom Brady), the heart and soul of their defense (Rodney Harrison), their leading rusher from last year (Laurence Maroney) and two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas. How many teams could absorb that many blows and still be so competitive? The reason that the Patriots can do this is that they are so well coached; also, Belichick and the team's front office have done a great job of building a deep roster. During the telecast, the NFL Network's Adam Schefter said that the Patriots set an unofficial NFL record for most games missed by starting players during their 2003 Super Bowl season, broke that record in 2004 and could threaten the mark this season.
Back to the Patriots' last drive: they reached the Jets' 16 yard line with eight seconds left. Facing a fourth and one, Cassel rolled out and delivered a strike to Randy Moss, who was "posting up" Ty Law in the endzone like they were playing basketball. Cassel made a brilliant throw and Moss' catch and toe tap were also fantastic.
Unfortunately for Cassel, the Patriots lost the coin toss and never got a chance to take the field in overtime. Favre was sacked on the first play of the possession but made a 16 yard completion to Dustin Keller on third and 15 to keep the drive going. The Jets methodically moved into field goal range and Jay Feely nailed a 34 yard kick at the 7:15 mark.
Earlier this season, ESPN's Steve Young--who may be the most perceptive football analyst on TV--said that it would be a 10 week process for Favre to really become acclimated to the Jets' offense. Young's take directly contrasted with what Tom Jackson and Cris Carter said, namely that Favre could have an immediate impact. Young said of Favre, "I think they (the Jets) got the right guy; they just got him a month too late. The thing dragged on and I think they wanted to get him in early August or late July so that they could have that time before the real bullets flew." I agreed with Young's concerns and really thought that by the time Favre and the Jets got in sync the season would be too far gone. However, the Jets managed to win some games while getting used to Favre (and vice versa) and, lo and behold, in week 10 Favre had arguably his most efficient performance as a Jet. Favre candidly admitted after the game that he has been going through an adjustment process but that the good part is that the team has been productive as that took place.
The Jets face a tough game at Tennessee and a loss in that contest coupled by a New England win at Miami could once again put the division title up for grabs but there is no getting around the fact that so far Favre and the Jets are doing better than I expected. After the 2008 NBA Finals, Kevin Garnett looked straight into the camera and said to all of his critics and doubters, "What can you say now?" What can I say now to Brett Favre and the Jets? All I can say is I was wrong--and congratulations on a big win.