The seeds of the Jets' 16-9 victory over the Patriots on Sunday at the Meadowlands were sown about 170 miles south on Interstate 95. Two years ago in Baltimore, on a brisk December night during New England's perfect regular season, the Ravens nearly took down Tom Brady & Co. with a belligerent game plan hatched by their defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan.
"This defense allows you to get so many different and unconventional looks," says Jets safety Jim Leonhard, who played for the Ravens last season before joining Ryan (now in his first year as Jets coach), linebacker Bart Scott and defensive end Marques Douglas in their exodus north. "We bring it from everywhere. We'd have people trying to run in from the stands if we could."
On Sunday the Jets used the same game plan and did Baltimore one better, winning the game by sending waves of bodies crashing into and around Brady and snatching the early lead in the AFC East. Though they didn't sack him, the Jets forced Brady into awkward and rushed throws, blitzing him from multiple angles, in various down and distance situations, and from every level of the defense. The Patriots incurred back-to-back delay-of-game penalties in the third quarter, killing a drive in Jets territory, and Brady didn't get New England into the end zone once all day.
It was odd seeing Brady—who was 23 of 47 for 216 yards and one interception—play so ineffectively against a team he has long tormented, but this is a different Jets squad than the ones the Patriots had beaten in 11 of their last 13 meetings. "[The Jets are] a good blitz team," Brady said after the game. "They get home, and there's tight coverage, which [forced] us to throw the ball a little bit earlier. We just have to connect more often."
What makes the Jets' blitz package so effective—and so similar to the best of Baltimore's recent defensive units—is New York's size up front, its speed at linebacker and its fast and physical secondary. It's less of a risk to bring pressure when your best cornerback, Darrelle Revis, can blanket Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss wherever Moss goes.
One week after holding Texans receiver Andre Johnson to four catches for 35 yards, Revis limited Moss to four catches for 24 yards. Sometimes Revis jammed Moss at the line; other times he faked jamming him and instead backed off. At the end of the first quarter he ran with Moss stride for stride down the right sideline and picked off Brady's hurried throw at the New York 16-yard line. "If [Moss] went to the bathroom, I went too," Revis said. "I covered him any way I could."
During the long and successful partnership of Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick, they have never faced such defensive intensity nor such bluster from an AFC East foe. That bravado first surfaced during Ryan's introductory press conference last January, when he predicted that the Jets would soon meet the President at the White House. Then, in June, Ryan offered that he hadn't made the move to the Jets to kiss Belichick's Super Bowl rings.
Last week safety Kerry Rhodes told the New York Daily News that he wanted to "embarrass" the Patriots and predicted that the Jets would hit Brady at least a half-dozen times. Rhodes followed that up by getting into a war of words with former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, saying via Twitter that Belichick preferred him over Harrison as a player.
"If you can talk and back it up, which is what we did, then it's fine," said Rhodes, who led the Jets with eight tackles. "The whole team was behind me. Those words got us more motivated than anybody."
Now the question is, Can the Jets continue to beat their chests and rush the quarterback effectively for 14 more games? They host a desperate 0--2 Tennessee team on Sunday, then visit prolific New Orleans (2--0) on Oct. 4.
"We're a team that should be respected," says Ryan. "Sometimes we talk a little bit, but only because we have confidence. We believe it to be true that we're an outstanding football team."
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Perhaps this is the moment to remind you that Matt Cassel has started only 16 games since high school. Making his Chiefs debut on Sunday after a preseason knee injury, the former Patriots QB put up disappointing numbers (241 yards passing, two INTs and a TD pass) in a 13--10 home loss to the Raiders. This week Cassel travels to Philadelphia to face an Eagles defense seeking to reassert itself after a sorry showing against the Saints. After that: the stingy Giants. K.C.'s offense under new coach Todd Haley may click eventually, but for the next couple of weeks keep Cassel on your bench.
Photograph by DAVID BERGMAN
JET-PROPELLED While New York's defense blitzed Brady repeatedly. Revis (inset) shadowed—and showed up—Moss.
FRANK FRANKLIN II/AP
[See caption above]
JOHN RIEGER/US PRESSWIRE (CASSEL)