Beligenius outsmarts himself with fake punt

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick walks on the field during warm ups before the AFC division playoff game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on January 16, 2011. UPI/Matthew Healey

Bill Belichick is widely regarded as the best head coach in the league, and with good reason. Some even go so far as to say he’s the best head coach in the history of the league. That’s going a little too far (in my opinion) because Belichick has a tendency to outsmart himself. Here’s an example:

Down 7-3 with 1:14 to play in the second quarter, the Pats faced a 4th-and-4 on their own 38-yard line, and Belichick dialed up a fake punt that failed miserably. The Jets took over, and four plays later, Braylon Edwards was carrying two Patriots into the endzone to give the Jets a 14-3 lead going into halftime.

I understand what Belichick was going for — he was trying to steal momentum and continue the Pats’ final drive. But his team was only down four heading into halftime and was going to get the ball first in the second half. Why risk giving the Jets even more momentum by potentially giving them the ball in your own territory? It looked from the replay that had Patrick Chung caught the ball cleanly, he may have gained the first down, extending the drive. But there’s always a chance that a risky play is going to fail, and that one did.

The Jets are like a sorta-hot girl who thinks she’s really hot, but isn’t entirely sure, so she constantly needs to spur conversation about how hot she is. She’s not sure she’s as hot as her (really hot) best friend, so she needs that affirmation. When she gets it (via an 11-point lead at halftime), she gains confidence and becomes a real pill to deal with. At that point, even Tom Brady won’t be able to score with her.

If New England had simply punted the ball away, the conservative Jets would probably have been content with their four-point lead, but the doubts would still linger. If Brady and Co. drove down the field on the first possession of the second half and took the lead back, all of those old insecurities would return to the surface.

Instead, the Pats went for it on 4th-and-4 and essentially gave the Jets a field goal with a shot at a touchdown. When Edwards carried those two defenders into the endzone, the Jets’ self-esteem went through the roof.

From New England’s point of view, it seemed to be a frustration call, and those rarely work out. They couldn’t believe how they were struggling offensively in the first two quarters and felt like they should be able to put points up on the board on that final drive. But they didn’t consider the downside of a botched fake punt, and it might have cost them a win.

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Bart Scott: Patriots defense “can’t stop a nosebleed”

Even though the final seconds had ticked off the clock and the Jets had already wrapped up a victory against the Patriots, linebacker Bart Scott was still ready to tackle somebody in this on-field interview with ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio. (Hat tip to Tirico Suave for the video.)

If that’s not poop coming from Paolantonio’s drawers, then I don’t know what is.

Jets back up their talk, shock Patriots in Foxboro

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan (R) talks to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after the Jets beat the Partriots during their AFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Foxborough, January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are five quick-hit thoughts about the Jets’ shocking 28-21 victory over the Patriots in the Divisional Round on Sunday.

1. Jets back up their talk.
If a head coach and his players are going to talk as much as Rex Ryan and the Jets do, they better back it up. Towards the end of this week, even Reggie Jackson was telling the Jets to shut up and just play football. Everyone was tired of them, but as I wrote throughout the week, all that bravado is what riles this team up. That’s who they are and if they continue to back it up, then they might as well keep talking (even at the risk of becoming public enemies No. 1 in the eyes of fans outside of New York). The Jets brought the fight right to the Patriots’ doorstep and then followed through with a knockout punch. For the second straight year, the Jets won two road games to advance to the AFC Championship Game. This may be a strange comment, but I think had the Jets played at home the past two postseasons, they wouldn’t have reached both title games. This team absorbs that “us versus the world” mentality and would follow Ryan off a cliff if he asked them, too. What an upset.

2. Pressure is the great equalizer.
The 2007 New York Giants showed everyone that if a team can pressure a quarterback, it can disrupt the flow of even the most potent offenses. Defensive end Shaun Ellis had a great game as both a pass-rusher and as a run-stuffer. His two sacks of Tom Brady on the Patriots’ second possession set the tone for the rest of the game. From that point on, you got the sense that the Jets would continue to bring the heat until the Patriots stopped them. What’s interesting is that the Jets didn’t blitz Peyton Manning last week. That speaks to Ryan’s ability as a game planner that he can beat two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in back-to-back weeks with two different schemes. In total, Ryan’s defense sacked Brady five times and finished with seven QB hits. It wasn’t until about the five-minute mark in the third quarter that New England’s offense finally got its passing game going and by that time, the Pats were already trailing, 14-3.

3. That said, it was a complete effort by the entire Jets’ team.
The Jets’ ability to pressure Brady played a huge role but New York was just better in all phases of the game. There were times when the Jets only rushed three down linemen and Brady still had nowhere to throw because New York’s back eight blanketed his receivers. Even when New England receivers broke off their routes and tried to shake free in the Jets’ secondary, they couldn’t. Offensively, Mark Sanchez was brilliant. (Or as brilliant as Sanchez can be at this stage in his career.) He only threw for 194 yards but he completed 16 of his 25 pass attempts for three touchdowns and finished with a QB rating of 127.3. His touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes early in the fourth quarter was thrown to a spot where only his receiver could catch it and Holmes made an incredible play to secure the catch and get two feet inbounds. Most importantly, Sanchez also didn’t turn the ball over. In fact, the Jets didn’t turn the ball over once and were only penalized three times. That’s huge when you’re playing on the road against a team as good as the Patriots. From the coaching staff (what a job Brian Schottenheimer did calling plays) down to the players, the Jets were about perfect execution on Sunday evening and that’s why they have a shot to play in the Super Bowl.

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Reggie Jackson wants the Jets to “shut up, play football”

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, Mark Brunell and Mark Sanchez (R) smile on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills in week 17 of the NFL season at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on January 2, 2011. The Jets defeated the Bills 38-7 and advance to the playoffs. UPI /John Angelillo

Former Yankee great Reggie Jackson doesn’t want to hear any more squawking from Jets players this week. He just wants them to shut up and play some damn football already.

From NESN.com:

“Shut up, play football,” Jackson said on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio. “What are you talking about Bill Belichick and these people for? Spend your time looking at film, spend your time knocking down a pass. What are you doing? You’re not affecting [Tom] Brady. You’re wasting time.”

Jackson, who said he’s hoping the Jets win, said he also wasn’t a fan of Rex Ryan’s jab at Brady, specifically the coach’s joke that Brady should have been watching football rather than a Broadway show last Saturday.

“This guy is an automatic Hall of Famer,” Jackson said of Brady. “Making fun of him is like making fun of Mariano Rivera. What are you doing? What are you doing?”

Jackson’s parting words for Cromartie were rather emotional.

“Go look at the hardware, dude,” Jackson said. “Walk through the lobby [in New England] and look at the stuff that’s there. You don’t have that — you don’t have anything close to that. You might want to shut up, you might learn something. Read, you might figure something out. Watch film, you might get educated. If not, you have a chance to get embarrassed on Sunday.”

I don’t disagree with anything Mr. October had to say, but I also think all of this is being a tad overblown.

Look, this is what the Jets do under Ryan. They psyche themselves up before a big game by talking trash and making it an “us vs. the world” thing. Ryan does this because his players usually respond by playing hard for him on Sundays, so it’s worth it to him to stir the pot from time to time.

Let’s not forget that Tom Brady was the first person this year to say that he hates the Jets. Granted, he didn’t follow that up by calling Antonio Cromartie an a-hole, but Brady is on record as saying that he hates them, too. Big whoop.

As far as Cromartie is concerned, he has a track record for losing focus during games so if talking trash gets him angry and propels him to play at the top of his game, then that’s good for New York. Besides, what’s the worse that could happen for the Jets? They lose 46-3 this time? Who cares.

That said, as Reggie Jackson alluded to in his comments: Let’s play some damn football already.

Five Questions: Jets vs. Patriots

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play in the huddle in the first quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on December 6, 2010. The Patriots defeated the Jets 45-3. UPI/Matthew Healey

Matchup: Jets (11-5) @ Patriots (14-2)
Kickoff: 4:30PM ET, Sunday

1. Can the combination of Sanchez and Schottenheimer top Belichick?
Earlier this week, Jets’ coach Rex Ryan essentially told the media that this game will come down to whether or not he can raise his level of coaching to match that of Bill Belichick. I understand what he was saying, but I disagree with him. This game won’t come down to Ryan – it’ll come down to whether or not Brian Schottenheimer can raise his game. While Ryan certainly has his hands full trying to figure out a way to slow the Patriots’ offense, Schottenheimer must design a game plan that will top Belichick’s defense. Outside of a couple of throws, Mark Sanchez did not play well last weekend in Indianapolis. It was the Jets’ running game and defense that propelled them to victory. So first off, can Sanchez play better? If he can, will his offensive coordinator put together an intelligent game plan so that he can exploit the very few weaknesses that the Patriots have?

2. Will the Pats overlook the Jets?
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Patriots are the better football team in this matchup. They have a tremendous coaching staff, they’re always prepared and they have the best quarterback in the league in Tom Brady. But in Week 9, the Pats were beaten by the Browns because they started reading their own press clippings. They did it again in Week 15 after rattling off five in a row and were set to face an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team at home. Matt Flynn nearly beat them that night, as New England’s defense looked flummoxed in a narrow 31-27 victory. With all the trash talk the Jets have been doing this week, it’s highly unlikely that the Patriots will overlook their most hated rivals. But they also beat this team 45-3 just over a month ago and it’s human nature to think that things will play out the same way. Belichick needs to remind his team that the Jets have already beaten them once this season and they’re not going to be caught unprepared like in the last meeting.

3. Can the Jets get their running game going again?
The Jets beat the Colts last week because they were able to run the football in the second half and leave Peyton Manning on the sidelines. They have to do that again if they’re going to pull off another upset. It’s a pipedream to think Sanchez will out-duel Brady, so the Jets need their defense and running game to be as good, if not better than they were against the Colts. A couple of costly turnovers by Sanchez hurt the Jets in their 45-3 loss to the Patriots in December. He must protect the football so the Jets don’t fall behind early and are forced to throw in order to get back into the game. New England has given up 108.0 yards per game this year and an average of 104.0 YPG over the past three weeks. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene won’t be able to run all over the Pats this weekend, but they might be able to control the tempo again like last Saturday.

4. How will Woody’s injury affect the Jets?
Damien Woody was arguably the Jets’ best run-blocker, so losing him for the season could be catastrophic. New York needs to be able to run the ball on Sunday if it’s going to pull off an upset and without Woody that could be difficult. Plus, you have to figure that Belichick will figure out a way to exploit the injury and cause some havoc for Sanchez. There’s no other way to put it: Wayne Hunter (Woody’s replacement) must step up this weekend.

5. Can the Pats stop Keller again?
I the Jets’ 28-14 victory over the Patriots in Week 2, Dustin Keller caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. In the teams’ second meeting, he caught just three passes for 27 yards and was only targeted four times. You can probably bet that Sanchez will look his tight end’s way more this weekend in effort to spread the ball around and keep New England’s defense guessing. Keller has long been a hidden weapon in the Jets’ passing game and he’s killed teams over the middle this season. New England can’t fall asleep on this guy because he can hurt defenses.

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