EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One week after digging out of a double-digit deficit to record a season-opening win, the Patriots tried a different route yesterday. They built a sizable lead then hung on for dear life.
The team had a 17-point advantage at halftime, increased it to 24 points six minutes into the third quarter, then withstood a furious rally from the Jets to record a 24-17 victory before 77,595 fans at Giants Stadium.
Several Patriots acknowledged that recording a victory was of primary importance, but they still expressed disappointment with the way things unfolded.
``It shouldn't have been that close," said safety Rodney Harrison. ``That was just terrible by us. Breakdowns. A lack of concentration. We can't go into next week doing those type of things, because Denver will definitely beat you."
Linebacker Mike Vrabel added that the team had a lesson to learn: ``When you get up, you have to keep people down and bury them."
A clock-chewing, fourth-quarter drive that covered 8:15 was crucial to the Patriots' cause. But still, the result wasn't secure until inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi -- playing for the first time since breaking his right wrist July 31 -- intercepted a pass at the Patriots' 21-yard line with 15 seconds left, as the Jets were attempting a last-gasp drive with no timeouts.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who faced his former defensive coordinator Eric Mangini for the first time and exchanged a quick handshake with him afterward , called it a ``typical kind of AFC East game."
With victories in their first two games of the season, the Patriots get a quick jump on their division foes. After the Bills beat the Dolphins on the road yesterday, the AFC East now looks like this: Patriots 2-0, Bills 1-1, Jets 1-1, Dolphins 0-2. Both of the Patriots' wins are in the division and yesterday's result is their seventh straight victory over the Jets.
The Patriots also reached another franchise milestone, improving to 357-356-9 all time and marking the first time the club eclipsed the .500 mark since the end of the 1968 season when the Boston Patriots' record stood at 60-59-9.
The Patriots were in command at the half.
Corey Dillon's 1-yard touchdown run with 5:36 remaining in the first quarter opened a 7-0 edge, and culminated a drive in which receiver Chad Jackson (29 yards) and tight end Benjamin Watson (14 yards) had key receptions. On the team's next possession, back-to-back 29-yard receptions by tight ends David Thomas and Daniel Graham ultimately led to Stephen Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal, giving the Patriots a 10-0 edge 1:45 into the second quarter.
A key field position shift spotted the Patriots their final points of the half. After Jets punter Ben Graham's 10-yard mis-hit with 1:08 left in the half, the Patriots took over at midfield and needed five plays before quarterback Tom Brady (15 of 29 for 220 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) found Jackson for a 13-yard touchdown under the shadow of the goal posts with 14 seconds left.
When the Patriots stopped the Jets on fourth and 1 on the opening drive of the third quarter -- their second stop in that situation in as many weeks -- there was no reason to think the game would be close coming down the wire. Then Laurence Maroney scored on a 1-yard run with 8:57 left in the third quarter and it was 24-0.
However, big plays -- and some poor tackling by the Patriots, especially in the secondary -- got the Jets back in the game.
When receiver Jerricho Cotchery hauled in a 71-yard touchdown down the right sideline, somehow avoiding the ground as defensive backs Eugene Wilson and Chad Scott attempted to make the tackle, the Jets had closed to 24-7. Jets quarterback Chad Pennington (22 of 37 for 306 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) then connected with Laveranues Coles for a 46-yard touchdown at the end of the third quarter, slicing the margin to 24-14.
When Brady was sacked and lost the ball two plays later, the Jets marched for a 42-yard Mike Nugent field goal to make it 24-17.
That's when the Patriots' offense countered with its long drive. Belichick often preaches situational football, and the march was reflective of that. On third and 5, the Patriots gained 6 yards (Reche Caldwell reception). On another third and 5, the Patriots gained 6 yards (Kevin Faulk reception). And on a third and 7, the Patriots gained 8 yards (Troy Brown reception).
Although the drive ended with a blocked field goal, it was just enough. There was only 1:05 left on the clock, the Jets had no timeouts, and needed to cover 91 yards to tie.
``It's always good to come down to Giants Stadium and win," Belichick said. ``It's kind of like we talked about last week, when you think about how a game is going to go, you probably didn't think it would go the way it went -- the way it started and the way it ended up. But it's a good win. We'll take it."