Forget 'Spygate,' this game almost brought 'Snowgate'
For a time, it seemed like “Spygate” might give way to “Snowgate.”
In this meeting with the New York Jets, it wasn’t the New England Patriots head coach and his video assistant who were misbehaving, it was a number of their fans.
With 3:55 remaining in the fourth quarter and their team driving for the score that would ultimately put Sunday’s 20-10 victory over the Jets at Gillette Stadium out of reach, play was suspended when Patriots fans ignored repeated pleas made over the public address system and continued to toss snow from the stands.
What was Jets head coach Eric Mangini about to do next, demand a forfeit?
“Not in San Diego,” 14-year NFL veteran (nine with San Diego, five with New England) Rodney Harrison answered when asked if he’d ever experienced anything like that in a home game. “It was the first time here, so shame on the fans.”
“It’s cool to see the fans throwing the snow and everything like that,” free safety Eugene Wilson said, “but we don’t want to get into trouble as a team because of our fans.”
Upon further review, if it was the Patriots who were ultimately humiliated by “Spygate” – the incident in which they were found guilty of illegally taping New York’s coaches as they signaled to their players from the sideline during New England’s 38-14 opening day romp – perhaps it was the Jets who should have been most embarrassed by this latest chilly episode in the teams’ heated rivalry.
After all, a number of the fans in the stands exhibited far better arms than any of the three guys New York employed at quarterback on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s difficult,” said Chad Pennington, who did manage to “dink and dunk” his way to 25 completions in 38 attempts (for all of 186 yards). “When you’re a little kid, you dream about playing in games like this. You ask your mom and dad to play outside in the snow and the rain … It’s difficult, but again it’s football.
“For the most part, you do everything you can to stay away from turnovers, especially throwing the football, and you have to understand it’s going to be a close game. It was a close game and we didn’t make enough plays.”
In a game that was every bit as ugly as the weather, the Patriots made enough plays to prolong their “perfect storm” in a raging Nor’easter against a 3-11 team.
In doing so, the Patriots clinched the top seed in next month’s AFC playoffs and became just the second team in the 88-year history of the NFL to open a season with 14 straight wins, matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins who accomplished the feat back in the days when 14 games comprised the entire regular season.
For those reasons and, one would presume, a whole lot more, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick seemed rather, to quote his predecessor, “pumped and jacked” at game’s end, hugging the day’s 100-yard rusher, Laurence Maroney, and smiling as he walked toward midfield after the game where – yes – he exchanged the traditional postgame handshake with Mangini.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” running back Kevin Faulk said of his team’s 14-0 mark, “but it’s not what we’re trying to do. As a team, we’re trying to accomplish something a little bit greater than what that is right now.”
The 10-point win would have to be enough to satisfy the revenge-seeking masses who turned out with hopes of making the Jets pay on the scoreboard in the manner that the Patriots had been forced to pay for their role in “Spygate” – a sin that cost the team $250,000 and a first-round draft pick in 2008 and Belichick $500,000 for masterminding video assistant Matt Estrella’s dirty deed.
From the time it hit the daily double on New York’s first possession – Wilson intercepting Kellen Clemens’ one and only pass (he left with a rib injury, which tends to happen when a 310-pound mass by the name of Richard Seymour lands atop you) and returning it 5 yards for a touchdown – the Patriots’ defense dictated tempo, limiting the Jets to 236 yards and 13 first downs.
Clemens was succeeded at quarterback by Brad Smith, who transitioned from his starting role at wide receiver to run an option offense, and Pennington, whose lone scoring drive covered 70 yards, but took 17 plays and ate up 7:40 off the clock in the fourth quarter when the Jets would have been better served operating in a hurry-up mode.
“I felt like I was playing college ball,” said Harrison, the Patriots’ strong safety. “It was crazy. Going from Chad Pennington to an option quarterback.”
But if the Jets were attempting to deceive the Patriots, at the end of the day it was the New Yorkers who were the victims of a snow job.
And, for what it was worth, Belichick did manage to exact a measure of video vindication. His late-game challenge of what was originally ruled a 7-yard TD pass from Pennington to Justin McCareins led to a reversal of the call when it was determined the wide receiver didn’t have possession of the ball in the back of the end zone.
Following a holding penalty and two more incompletions, Mike Nugent missed a 35-yard field goal and the Patriots’ 10-point lead remained intact.
“The conditions were bad,” said Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss. “Each week it’s something, but as you can see, they have problems, we have problems. (There were) a couple of mistakes in the kicking game on both sides. It’s really just getting a win. Luckily, we’re 14-0, and it’s something good to smile about.”
Staff writer Glen Farley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.