On sunday morning,four hours before coaches Bill Belichick of the Patriots and Eric Mangini ofthe Jets matched wits in an AFC wild-card playoff in Foxborough, New Englandquarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels met to reviewtheir game plan. "I wonder what the Jets will do to us today," Bradysaid. "I'm really curious." ¬∂ Said McDaniels, "I guarantee youthey're wondering the same thing. They don't know if they're going to get whatwe showed Tennessee last week or what we gave Jacksonville [on Dec. 24] orsomething completely different." ¬∂ The Jets still don't know what hit them.In a systematic 37--16 dismantling of their AFC East rivals, the Pats wentregular huddle, no huddle, quick huddle sprint to the line; two-back powerrunning game, empty backfield (daring the Jets to blitz); tight ends on shallowcrosses, wide receivers on 10-yard outs; bleed the clock, quick snap. No matterwhat the down. That has to trouble AFC top seed San Diego, which plays host toNew England in a divisional playoff on Sunday. Now that Brady is on the samewavelength with receivers Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell (13 catches, 154yards combined against the Jets), it's hard to bet against the Patriots inJanuary--especially when the quarterback has won 11 of 12 career playoff gamesand feels very, very good about his team.
If the Chargersare smart, they'll study one New England series against New York that ate upnearly half of the second quarter. It was a deft combination of skill, power,gamesmanship and intelligence that proved the Patriots are still a SuperBowl--caliber team and that Brady's still the one quarterback you want with theseason on the line. The setting: Jets 10, Patriots 10, 7:05 until halftime, NewEngland ball at its 20. To this point, the Pats had mostly no-huddled in theirfirst five possessions to keep Mangini from substituting the way he wanted. Nowthey huddled.
Running backLaurence Maroney goes up the gut for six yards. False start by tight end DanielGraham for minus five. Short curl route to Benjamin Watson for 10 and a firstdown. No huddle. Patriots wait just long enough to catch their breath, makingsure the Jets don't sub. ("Dictating the game," Watson says later.)Brady to his receivers: "Stay inbounds"--then a dart to Caldwell for19. First down at midfield, 4:23 left. Incomplete to Caldwell. Regular huddle.Kevin Faulk up the middle for seven. "Run it again," Brady hearsMcDaniels 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 tothe Jets' 26. Field goal range.
Maroney up themiddle for two: 2:28 to halftime. ("They were killing the clock on us butnot letting us get subs in," Jets safety Kerry Rhodes says later.) Brady toGaffney: "Stay inbounds"--then a 13-yard out near the left sideline.Two-minute warning. Maroney over left tackle for five. Same play again, sameresult. Ball at the one. New England lingers, milking the clock. The Jets tryto bring in goal line defenders. Brady yells, "Peter! Peter! Peter!"attempting to catch them with extra men on the field. New York burns a timeoutto avoid the penalty. (Says Rhodes, "They knew how to play the chessmatch.") 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 tofigure out what Brady will run. ("You can't get overwhelmed by thesituation," Brady says. "There's something in you. You just figure youcan handle it.")
January 15, 2007
Out of atwo-tight-end formation, he has two targets: Watson from the left side, runningshallow to the left end zone; Graham from the right, running a square-in at theback. Linebacker Brad Kassell, part of New York's goal line D, shadows Graham."I saw [Kassell] had his head turned," Brady says. "He reallycouldn't see the ball, and I tried to put it in a place where only Daniel couldget it." Kassell dives. He misses deflecting the ball by six inches, maybe.Touchdown. Eleven seconds left in the half. New England takes the lead forgood.
After the gameBrady stood at his locker, preparing to face the media scrum. He found a CD onhis chair labeled san diego chargers defense. "Can't wait," he saidwith a smile. "It's going to be fun." Shawne Merriman chasing him forfour quarters? Fun? To Brady, it will be.
"When you'reborn," he said, "you're put on this earth and you have a certain skillset that helps you be ready for situations like this. We have a bunch ofplayers who have come up over the years and trained to prepare for moments likethis."
Oh, yes, thePatriots will be prepared.
DR. Z'S FORECAST PATRIOTS AT CHARGERS
Last season in Foxborough, San Diego scored 24unanswered second-half points and ran off to a 41--17 win. "My worst halfin football," Bill Belichick called it. This time the Pats are riding a bigwin over the Jets, and no doubt Belichick will cook up something special foryoung Philip Rivers. But this is a multifaceted Chargers attack, not New York'sone-dimensional offense. I'm tempted to go upset, but San Diego has too muchtalent on both sides of the ball. CHARGERS 34, PATRIOTS 31