Friday November 14th, 2008

Musings, observations and the occasional insight while we're still digesting Thursday night's instant classic at the house known as the Big Razor Blade ...

• If nothing else about Brett Favre's New York era goes as planned, and there's no ticker-tape parade or storybook ending written by No. 4 during his time in Gotham, Jets fans will always have this night to remember. For one game, the Favre magic was real, and he delivered when it mattered most. For the first time all season really, no one who roots for Eric Mangini's green-and-white-clad team can say Chad Pennington would have won this one.

The 14-play, 64-yard, 7:50 game-winning drive in overtime (ending with a Jay Feely field goal) that decided this 34-31 thriller (Recap | Box Score) was easily Favre's finest moment of his New York re-incarnation. That it capped an efficient 26-of-33, 258-yard, two-touchdown, no-interception game for the 39-year-old Jets quarterback only made it all the sweeter.

This one was that rare game that lived up to the first-place showdown/rivalry hype, and the Jets somehow managed to win it, lose it, win it, lose it, and win it yet again. Thanks to Favre.

"Time will tell (how much this means),'' Favre said. "I don't know what happens from this point forward. But it can't hurt us. It wasn't the Super Bowl. We've still got a lot of football left. But that was fun. It was fun. It was just one game, but it was a big one, I'll say that. We're 7-3. We just gave ourselves a much better shot.''

In a game that had an impossible number of pivotal plays, one stood out: The 16-yard overtime pass that Favre completed to rookie tight end Dustin Keller on 3rd and 15, keeping alive New York's opening drive of the extra period. Without it, the Patriots would have had the ball back in great field position, with all the momentum in the world to transform into a game-winning drive of their own.

If you saw the pass to Keller, you know there was nothing all that special about it. It looked like a blown coverage by New England, and Favre all but admitted as much in the postgame. But it was the kind of tide-turning clutch play that Favre was brought to New York to make in just this situation, and he made it.

"I felt like it's now or never,'' said Favre, of his team's third-and-long situation in overtime. "It was our one shot. They were rolling and our defense was tired. I just looked down the middle of the field for Dustin. To tell the truth, I was shocked as anyone (he was so open).

"After those first two plays in overtime, I was like, 'Oh, boy, here we go.' I was nervous as heck. I'm human. Everyone coming up saying, 'This is when you do your thing.' And I was thinking, 'My God, can't we make this easier?' There was no one more nervous in this building than me.''

There was nothing easy about this one. The Jets blew an early 24-6 lead and wound up giving up a game-tying desperation touchdown pass to Randy Moss with one second remaining in regulation. But they still won it, and if it's not the AFC East's changing-of-the-guard game that everyone was desperate to make it out to be, it was still a huge step for a Jets team that has been owned by the Patriots for most of this decade.

"It's not over,'' Favre said. "It's not over. But it was a big win. It was against the Patriots, and I know how big that was. But it's not over. We can't go through the rest of the season banking on what we did tonight. But I think it helps our football team.''

It does that, and more. And it gave Jets fans everywhere a taste of vintage Favre, with the kind of memorable win that we've measured his Hall of Fame career by. All of New York is hoping there's much more to come this season; but for now, on this wild and crazy night in Foxboro, it was an unforgettable moment to savor.

• The Jets won and the Patriots lost, so that ridiculous overtime-inducing 16-yard Moss touchdown catch will get short-shrift in terms of its place in history. What a shame, because I can't recall too many more improbable plays than that one -- or more athletic ones, for that matter.

With newly signed cornerback Ty Law draped all over him in the front right corner of the end zone, Moss pulled in the Matt Cassel pass and got his feet down in bounds, making his one and only meaningful play of the night. With everyone at Gillette Stadium in some state of disbelief, the game was tied 31-31.

"Until it's over, when you've got (No.) 81, anything can happen,'' Favre said.

Moss finished the game with just three catches for 26 yards, but talk about saving the best for last. Even Law, who owns multiple Pro Bowl appearances, sounded a little in awe of Moss's catch and Cassel's throw.

"He is Randy Moss,'' said Law, who signed with the Jets this week and hasn't played since last season. "(Cassel) put it where only Randy could get it. It was a hell of a play.

"But good ol' Brett saved me. Brett saved the game. I have to say thank you to him for that.''

• Who said Cassel can't play from behind? I guess we can put that myth to bed. Before this game, conventional wisdom said that Cassel and the 2008 Patriots were pretty much dead once they fell behind in a game. Not so much. Down 24-6 late in the second quarter, New England looked ready to succumb to a New York blowout. But Cassel and the Patriots kept playing, and 18 unanswered points later, they tied the game at 24-24 with more than 10 minutes remaining.

"I think any time you can come back from a 24-6 deficit, it's a building block and something every team should be proud of,'' Cassel said. "Obviously, we never want to lose, but it's definitely something we can take away and hopefully not have to use down the road, but we might have to use down the road. To show that kind of fight and tenacity, I thought was great for the team.''

• And here's another out-dated idea we can put to bed: Matt Cassel, game manager. Game manager-type quarterbacks don't throw for 400 yards and three touchdowns, completing 30 of 51 passes without an interception. All the key numbers were NFL career highs for the former USC backup.

Think about it: The injury-depleted Patriots came thisclose to sweeping the Jets this season, despite starting a quarterback who had hardly played since high school against a future Hall of Famer in Favre. Imagine how much that bit of hard, cold reality would have hurt in New York had the Jets not stepped up in overtime.

"Matt played a hell of a game tonight,'' said Patriots receiver Jabar Gaffney, who finished with seven catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. "He moved us up and down the field. We were down and he brought us all the way back, and we had a chance. We had a chance, and that's all you want.''

• One more thing about Cassel: He's a running fool. He also found time to lead the Patriots in rushing Thursday night, taking off eight times for 62 yards -- or 24 yards more than the next best New England rusher, Kevin Faulk (eight for 38 yards). All told, Cassel had almost exactly half of New England's 125 yards on the ground. It was the best rushing performance for a Patriots quarterback since Steve Grogan in 1978, and made Cassel, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards and run for at least 60 in the same game.

Take that, Tom Brady.

• This Jets-Patriots grudge match is one heck of a series. And close, too. With New York's nail-biter, the all-time series is now tied 49-49-1 after 99 games (including playoffs). Can't get any more even than that, even with New England's recent dominance (it had won 13 of the past 15 entering the game).

I can't wait for the 100th meeting. Playoffs, anyone?

• Jets running back/return man Leon Washington said the emotion was so thick in New York's post-game locker room that Thomas Jones cried tears of happiness and relief. That's how big a win this was for a New York team that loaded up on veterans this offseason, determined to take its best possible shot to win right now.

"It was emotional,'' said Jones, who led the Jets with 104 tough yards on 30 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter. "This was a big game for us. To be able to come up here and play New England in their house and win, it was just big for us. Now we're in first place in the division.''

Jerod Mayo locked up my defensive rookie of the year vote tonight. What a remarkable game by the Patriots linebacker, who is a star in the making. He was everywhere, registering 16 tackles and four assists, with a pair of tackles for loss. And what a hitter. He looks like the game's next big knockout puncher to me, because he absolutely levels people.

It was Mayo's tackle of Jones on a 3rd-and-2 from the New York 31 that held the Jets a yard shy of the first down and allowed the Patriots to get the ball back once more in regulation, with 1:04 remaining. That led to Moss's miraculous game-tying touchdown catch.

Hard-hitting Patriots safety Rodney Harrison is out for the year with a quad injury and has likely played his last game for New England. But Mayo has replaced the missing wallop in the Patriots lineup. We all saw that firsthand Thursday night.

• Speaking of impact rookies, Keller is obviously Favre's new favorite target. Keller caught a team-high eight passes for 87 yards, and while he did drop a touchdown pass in the first quarter, he has been a steady play-making presence for New York in recent weeks.

"I don't even know if we know exactly how good he can be, or how we would use him,'' Favre said. "Some of those plays late in the game, he was third or fourth in the read, which you know he can't control. He's got good character. He works hard. He wants to be good. Good things happen to guys like that.''

• Can't really remember the last time I saw the Patriots make so many un-Patriot-like mistakes (unless it was a few weeks back in that narrow loss at Indy). In the third quarter alone, New England had that loss of 24 yards on a bad shotgun snap by center Dan Koppen, had a costly unforced fumble by tight end Ben Watson, and had a drop by Gaffney on third-and-1.

In the fourth quarter, the Pats had to endure a key Mike Vrabel holding call on third-and-6 from their own 7, and saw Koppen commit a potentially costly false start with 23 seconds remaining in regulation. And that doesn't even include New England giving up that second-quarter 92-yard Washington kickoff return for a touchdown to make it 17-6 New York.

• I'll say this about the first-place Jets:

-- Ty Law can still play some man coverage when he puts his mind to it.

-- Kris Jenkins is a beast at nose tackle in New York's 3-4 defense, a position I didn't think he'd transition to well at all.

-- Leon Washington is one of the game's unsung difference-makers. When he gets the ball in his hands, things happen. Good things.

-- Once they got a big lead in the first half, the Jets started playing not to lose, a classic mistake for a challenging team trying to unseat the champion. But New York corrected its course and found a way to win.

-- There were times in this game when I was thinking we started to see the Brett Favre of 2007, taking better care of the football and making big plays when he had the chance to.

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