They kept their ear to the ground
FOXBOROUGH - The Jets entered Gillette Stadium yesterday with basically the same defensive game plan that flummoxed Tom Brady and the Patriots in New York’s 28-21 victory in the January playoff game.
This time, against a Jets defense that often featured six and seven defensive backs, the Patriots had little trouble moving the ball: only once in 11 drives did New England go three-and-out.
In January, the Patriots had three three-and-outs in the first half.
What was the difference?
A commitment to the ground game and another terrific, hard-running performance by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who rushed for a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
“We need to do it. We’ve got to run the ball,’’ said quarterback Tom Brady. “If they have a lot of [defensive backs] out there, then we have to run it. You just can’t throw the ball every single down against these guys, they make it too tough.’’
The throw-it-all-the-time game plan helped end the Patriots’ season in January.
The Jets played just 11 of 67 snaps in their base 3-4 defense in the playoff game.
Despite the Jets inviting the Patriots to run, they did so just 10 times in the first half while attempting 17 passes.
Six of those carries were by Danny Woodhead, who was ineffective with a 3.2-yard average.
Green-Ellis only got four carries despite averaging 5.3 yards.
The Patriots did not make the same mistake yesterday in their 30-21 win as the Jets played even less base defense.
New England rushed 13 times in the first half and doubled the load for Green-Ellis, who carried eight times for 51 yards.
“They do a good job defensively,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “They give you a lot of different looks. Sometimes they put a bunch of defensive backs in the game and try to bait you into running it and then they all come up there and swarm you.’’
Part of the difference was Green-Ellis, who never gets as much credit as he should.
When rookie Stevan Ridley ran for 97 yards and a score on 10 carries against the Oakland Raiders last Sunday, everyone wanted to know when he was going to get more carries.
People saw the live legs. They saw the explosion. They didn’t see the same sort of flashiness out of Green-Ellis, who had 75 yards on 16 carries last week.
Oh football gods, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.
What they missed was the incredibly tough running that Green-Ellis did in short yardage and on third downs, including the play before the 33-yard touchdown by Ridley.
The Raiders had Green-Ellis sized up for a loss on third and 1. Not only did he beat the defender to the edge, but he leaped over another to get 4 hard-earned yards and a new set of downs.
Green-Ellis has two or three of those runs every game. And they’re just as important as a 30-yard run. Sometimes more so.
Oh, and he has never fumbled in 406 career attempts.
“He’s a great guy to block for,’’ guard Logan Mankins said. “He’s going to read the play out. He’s going to find the right hole. He’s not going to fumble. He’s going to do the right things and he’s going to give you everything he’s got.’’
Even opponents appreciate Green-Ellis.
“He’s just consistent,’’ said Jets safety Jim Leonhard. “He gets what he’s supposed to get, he runs hard, he runs physical, and he’s a guy that you have to tackle well. He’s not just going to go down by getting your pads on him. You have to get him down on the ground. He’s kind of one of their underrated guys that makes you work.’’
Of course, Green-Ellis isn’t doing it alone.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski has flourished as a blocker in his second season. Right guard Brian Waters has brought the same intensity to his side of the line that Mankins has maintained on the left side.
And then you have Brady, who has been tremendous at getting the Patriots into the right play, especially the last two games. There isn’t much that Brady doesn’t control with the offense, and he has the final say on whether the Patriots will run it, and where the ball will go.
Brady hasn’t made many mistakes in that area this season, as the Patriots have morphed into a more balanced team the last two weeks. Against the Raiders, the Patriots had 30 dropbacks and 30 rushes. Yesterday it was 37 and 35.
“That’s something we work on all week and that’s part of Tom’s job, to come up and get us in good looks and, of course, he’s always on top of his game,’’ Green-Ellis said. “Today he was and he got us into some of those checks and we were checking to come up with two or three plays, and he picked the right one and we were able execute.’’
Did they ever on the final drive.
Leading, 27-21, with 7:07 to play, the Patriots needed to run to burn clock. The Jets knew they were going to run. And the Patriots imposed their will.
The Patriots went 69 yards in 13 plays for the game-clinching field goal on a drive that took 6:12. They ran 11 times for 62 yards, including 59 by Green-Ellis.
That’s called imposing your will on the opponent.
“We’re supposed to go out and finish the game when it’s handed over to us,’’ Mankins said. “So I think tonight we did a pretty good job.’’
Did they ever.