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Receivers couldn't find open field

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 16, 2011 08:30 PM

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If you require proof that the stat sheet doesn't always tell the whole tale of a football game, we present to you the seemingly respectable final numbers today for Tom Brady's favorite targets:

Wes Welker:
seven receptions, 57 yards.

Deion Branch:
five catches, 59 yards, one touchdown

Rob Gronkowski:
four catches, 65 yards

Danny Woodhead:
six catches, 52 yards.

Nothing spectacular there, but certainly typical of the respectable and steady receiving numbers they compiled during a 14-2 regular season in which Brady had one of the great passing seasons in league history, throwing 36 touchdown passes, and the passing game found balance and consistency with the subtraction of the mercurial Randy Moss and the return of Deion Branch.

Today, however, the numbers are misleading, for one of the lingering stories in the aftermath of the Patriots' 28-21 loss to the yappy Jets will be the inability of Brady to get on the same page as his receivers before it was too late.

"We just didn't execute very well out there and I think at the end of the day that's what it comes down to. The Jets were a better team today and we paid the price for it."

Through three quarters -- after which the Patriots trailed, 14-11 -- no New England receiver had more than three catches. Welker, who according to a CBS report was benched for his subversive press conference this week in which he made references to feet, a topic allegedly familiar to Jets coach Rex Ryan, had just two catches entering the fourth.

(Welker sat out the first drive; coach Bill Belichick refused to discuss the matter after the game, saying: ""I don't have any comment on it." Welker said he would not comment on the press conference, but when asked about the benching said, "I don't feel anything about it. I was just ready for my opportunity to play."

The receiving numbers were compiled when the Jets were content to let the Patriots gain small chunks of yardage while the seconds and minutes ticked off the clock. Branch's touchdown, for instance, came with 23 seconds left and all hope already having hit the exits. But little more than five minutes earlier, he failed to hold on to a slightly off-target Brady throw on fourth and 13 from the New York 34 which would have been good enough for a first down. It was that kind of day.

"We picked a wrong time to play our worst game," said Branch, who noted that some of the Jets were "classless" in the moments after the game ended, before adding: "No excuses. They beat us."

The Jets played more zone defense than they did in the 45-3 loss to the Patriots little more than a month ago, when three different receivers for the Patriots had a catch of at least 25 yards. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said he thought the defensive alterations from the previous meeting threw off the Patriots' attack.

"[Brady was] a little confused," Revis said. "We have seen him before. We saw it in the first game when we played him. In the second game, he seemed more focused. This game he was a little confused out there.

Brady, despite throwing his first interception since October 11 against the Ravens, breaking a streak of 339 passes without a pick, denied that the scheme caught the Patriots off-guard.

"I don't think we were surprised by anything," he said. "They could certainly zone us off more. There were times we handled it well, and times we didn't. They mixed it up, I thought they executed pretty well, they didn't give us any big plays. We just didn't make enough plays."

The biggest play in terms of yardage was made by Brady's biggest target. Tight end Alge Crumpler, who had just five receptions during the regular season, had three catches today, including a 28-yarder in the first half that was the Patriots' longest pass play of the day.

But Crumpler was also among the passing-game culprits. One play after his 28-yard grab, he dropped a perfect 7-yard toss from Brady in the end zone that would have given the Patriots a 7-0 lead. Shayne Graham salvaged the drive with a field goal, but going up by a touchdown early . . . well, maybe the momentum would have stayed with them.

"It's tough," said Crumpler. "Your emotions are going to be at one extreme. You're either going to be really happy or really sad. I hate that we all have to feel this way."

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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