- Michael Smith, NFL Senior Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- After answering the critics who questioned his ability against elite opposition with an impressive showing against a halfway decent (relative to the NFC) Seattle team last Sunday, Jets quarterback Chad Pennington delivered his infamous "action speaks louder than words" postgame diatribe.
Then New York turned around a week later against New England and gave everyone the silent treatment.
As if necessary, the difference between the AFC East "rivals" was illustrated again in a 23-7 Patriots win that really wasn't all that close. While the Jets have a tendency to spend too much time politicking, the Patriots, time and again, just handle business.
The Jets missed an opportunity to prove that they could contend come the postseason and now are in danger of missing it altogether. From the first meeting, a 13-7 loss at Gillette Stadium, they took the confidence that they could play with the Patriots. But, as their coach has said, you play to win the game, and lately when New York plays New England, the Jets always lose. They've been swept each of the last two seasons.
"Our players were prepared to play. Our coaches did a good job all week," Jets coach Herman Edwards said. "They went up to a different level, obviously. And we didn't match it."
New England (13-2), meanwhile, bounced back from their breakdown in Miami on Monday night to clinch the second seed in the conference and the first-round playoff bye that comes with it. The Patriots finish up at home against San Francisco. The Jets (10-5) are left to try to secure that elusive playoff berth next week at St. Louis.
When it comes to reserving their place in the playoffs, they're the ultimate procrastinators.
"I guess that's how we like it around here," running back LaMont Jordan said. "If you look at the last couple of times we've gotten into the playoffs, it's always that last game of the season. We like to do things the hard way and leave people on the edge of their seats. We started off with a very promising season, and now we're right back to where everyone expected us to be, vying for our lives. And that makes for a bit of a stressful situation. We're not going to stress out about the St. Louis Rams. I'm not going to concern myself with those guys.
"I've said it before, it's not about the other team, it's all about what we do. And we clearly did not do anything today."
"This is the worst we performed all year," Curtis Martin said.
It was 23 to nothing with less than 10 minutes remaining and after the first quarter the Jets, especially offensively, had done just that -- nothing. For the game, New York had possession for 24 minutes 12 seconds, but in the second and third quarters, when the game was decided, the Jets were on offense for a total of 7:39.
Not appreciative of what he considered to be unfair criticism following a loss at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, Pennington tried to show up the New York media last Sunday once he'd carved up the Seahawks for three touchdown tosses. Sunday he simply didn't show up. Low on some throws, high on a few, and wide on others, he threw two bad interceptions, both over the middle and easy catches for Tedy Bruschi and Eugene Wilson, respectively. The second led to the Patriots' final touchdown, a six-yard catch by a wide-open Deion Branch 2:13 into the fourth, and started a mass exit of Giants Stadium.
When it mattered, the Jets' offense amassed a mere 139 yards, 92 coming in the first quarter. Stymied by the Patriots' front seven, the Jets failed to exploit New England's depleted secondary and instead were exposed as deficient in their passing game. New York's first seven possessions went as follows: interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception. The Jets were working on their worst offensive output of the season until gaining 140 meaningless yards on three fourth-quarter possessions. They avoided a shutout with a garbage-time touchdown, Santana Moss's 15-yard catch from Pennington with 9:32 left.
"They just flat came down here, and I told our football team this, and kicked our behinds," Edwards said. "Offense, defense, special teams. We knew what was at stake. We needed to win a game at home to get back in the playoffs and we didn't do it."
Martin hasn't done much of anything lately against his former team, only once gaining 100 yards and scoring no touchdowns in his last seven reunion engagements. The Patriots held him to 33 yards on 13 carries on Sunday. New York's defense did a good job on Corey Dillon, holding him to 89 yards on 29 rushes, but in defense of the Jets' defense, it got little rest. And with no help from the offense, it couldn't continue keeping New York in the game and New England out of the end zone. Tom Brady (21 of 32, 264 yards, two touchdowns) got back to form and was crisp in stiff winds of 10-15 miles per hour, making big throws and crucial points.
Now his counterpart finds himself right back where he was after the Steelers loss, in which he threw three interceptions. Pennington just so happens to have had his two worst games of the season against the two best teams in the conference. And he thought the critics were harsh before.
"I think about this game, and it's just fitting how it happened," said Pennington, winless in his last three starts against New England since beating them the first time he faced them in December 2002. "It's just one of those things. When it rains, it pours. You put in a lot of work and preparation, and you want it to go right, and it blows up in your face."
Pennington knows that he has a little egg on his face after lecturing the press last week about the "privilege" of covering the team. The Jets supporters among the crowd of 77,975 didn't enjoy watching their team Sunday, and several times they booed Paul Hackett's conservative play selection and really gave it to the Jets as they exited the field at halftime.
"All I can do is smile about it," Pennington said of his humbling experience. "People will tell me, 'I told you so.' And that's fine. They did tell me so. I will learn from it and get better."
Over the last two seasons, Brady always has played better after bad games. In seven games following outings in which he threw two or more interceptions, he's undefeated. He, too, had a bit of a rough week after throwing four picks in the loss to the Dolphins. For the most part, he and his offensive linemen managed to handle the Jets' attempts at pressuring him (he was sacked only once), and on his 16-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Graham in the second quarter, Brady basically toyed with New York's defense, luring it to his right with a fake to Dillon, creating a clear throwing lane to the end zone.
"The team was really intent on going out there and playing our best," Brady said. "We had three pretty good days of practice. We knew it was going to be a battle.
"It's a team with a lot of mental toughness. It's a team that battles and a team that has strong character. Anytime you have that, you're going to be awfully proud of yourself at the end of the day. At 12 o'clock when we had our meeting today, everyone said that 7 o'clock was going to tell us what this team was all about. Everyone feels pretty good about what happened."
23-7. 'Nough said.
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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