EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 22, 2012

Clutch beats good every time

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — FOXBORO — Last night your New England Patriots were something we haven’t seen a lot of around here in this 3-and-3 malaise they’ve been wallowing in the past month and half.

They were clutch.

They were something else the other 58 minutes too, as in lousy, disjointed to a man, including the coaches.

The mediocre New York Jets came to Foxboro and were able to “Belichick” the Patriots yesterday — dictate the play of the game — and against the Jets that means dull, uneven and unsure.

Precision, particularly on offense, always seem to go out the window before the first quarter is over when the blabbermouth comes to town.

Ahh, but 58 minutes does not make an NFL game.

And with 2:01 remaining in regulation something clicked — something nonexistent in the three losses this season for New England.

The Jets got the ball on Devin McCourty’s fumble on the Pats’ 15-yard line. They were faced with this predicament: A Jets first down and the game would have been over.

But three plays later, including a 10-yard sack (Dont’a Hightower) and the Jets are on the 25 yard line attempting and making a 43-yard field goal to take a 26-23 lead.

Then Brady got the ball with 1:32 remaining in the game and, well, let’s be honest, doubts had to be creeping in. Brady, who has often been compared to Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera for this exploits at the end of games, looked more like Alfredo Aceves, who had eight blown saves for the Red Sox this past season

Well, something happened to Brady. He completed 5 of 6 passes and the Patriots went from their own 21 to the Jets’ 25 before New York knew what had hit them.

Stephen Gostkowski, another guy with some recent issues at the end of games (see his yank-job at the end of the 20-18 loss to the Cardinals), hit the tying 43-yarder with, at least it seemed, ease, as the clock expired sending the game to overtime.

In overtime, the trend continued

Brady methodically marched the Patriots from their own 15 to the Jets’ 30, over 11 plays. It was the classic dinking-and-dunking Brady is famous for, nullifying the Jets pass rush.

And Gostkowski calmy booted another biggie, this one from 48 yards, to give the Patriots a 29-26 lead in overtime (not sudden death). But if you’ve been following this team and this defense, the game was still in doubt.

A tackle for no gain by Vince Wilfork set up the game-clinching play, a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery all by Rob Ninkovich.

The last two minutes and seven and a half minutes of overtime was, again, like old times — times when ugly and clutch was a lethal combination here in Foxboro. Brady was on and the defense finished the job ... or vice-versa.

“The kid’s been doing it ... He’ll probably go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game,” said Jets coach/blabbermouth Rex Ryan of Brady.

“We’re not the first team has done that against,” added Ryan. “They made plays at the end of the game, particularly Brady.”

The Pats defense deserves major kudos, too. They showed a fourth quarter (and overtime) moxie we haven’t seen enough of this early 2012 season.

“I was proud to actually see these guys get their hands on ball, get their hands on receivers, make a few plays in critical situations,” said Patriots defensive captain Vince Wilfork of his teammates on defense. “It never was perfect. You never play a perfect football game.”

Too often, particularly on offense, it has looked “perfect” for a lot of the time. But then, when it mattered most, particularly when the Patriots were a first down or two away from clinching another “W,” Brady and guys failed.

“It’s nice to win the close games,” said Brady. “It’s to win when you’re down three with 1:40 in the game. I think a lot of guys made a lot of really good plays to get us in that position.”

He didn’t say it, but I’ll say it for him: Clutch beats good every time. And the Patriots have three Super Bowl rings over the last decade to prove it.

Email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com