Mark Sanchez threw three touchdown passes and the Jets held the National Football League’s top-scoring offense to one touchdown until the final minute yesterday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
The Jets avenged last month’s 45-3 loss in New England and advanced to the American Football Conference title game on Jan. 23 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We believed, even though maybe no one else did,” Jets coach Rex Ryan, whose team was an 8 1/2-point underdog, said during his postgame news conference. “We knew if we played the way we’re able, we could beat them.”
The Chicago Bears will host the Green Bay Packers in the National Football Conference championship game, also on Jan. 23. The winners advance to the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Bears beat the Seattle Seahawks 35-24 in yesterday’s first playoff game as Jay Cutler threw two touchdown passes and also ran for two scores.
The Patriots entered the playoffs as Super Bowl favorites at Las Vegas sports books after going 14-2 during the regular season. With the Patriots’ loss, the top seed in each conference has been eliminated. The Atlanta Falcons, the NFC’s No. 1 seed, lost two days ago to Green Bay 48-21.
“It’s a disappointing way to end the season,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We didn’t do enough things well. We’re a better team than we played today.”
The Jets are back in the AFC title game after beating the Indianapolis Colts and Patriots in consecutive playoff games.
New England had won three Super Bowl titles behind Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, while the Colts reached the Super Bowl two of the past four seasons with four-time NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning.
Next up are the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who led Pittsburgh to Super Bowl wins after the 2005 and 2008 seasons. The Steelers (13-4) beat the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 two days ago.
“Big Ben, he’s next on our list,” Jets receiver Braylon Edwards said during a televised interview. “But I’ll tell you, we’re going to enjoy this.”
New York, who lost to the Colts in last year’s AFC title game, beat the Steelers 22-17 in Pittsburgh on Dec. 19.
“We’re both one step away from where we ultimately want to be,” Sanchez, who had 194 yards passing, said at a news conference. “It’s good that we have the experience of playing there, because we’re going to need it.”
Interception of Brady
The Jets, who suffered their worst loss in 24 years in their previous trip to New England, ended Brady’s record streak of 339 straight passes without an interception on the Patriots’ first possession yesterday.
Sanchez threw second-quarter touchdown passes to LaDainian Tomlinson and Edwards as the Jets opened a 14-3 halftime lead. The crowd at Gillette Stadium booed as the Patriots were held to their lowest first-half point total in their last 43 home games.
New England led the NFL with 518 points during the regular season and only once before failed to score a first-half touchdown, on Oct. 4 at Miami.
“We could never really find a rhythm,” said Brady, who was sacked five times. “We made too many mistakes and had too many plays that weren’t the way we drew them up.”
The Patriots finally got their first touchdown with 15 seconds left in the third quarter, when Brady threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Alge Crumpler. Sammy Morris then took a direct snap and scored the 2-point conversion to pull the home team within 14-11.
The Jets answered with a 75-yard drive that was capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Santonio Holmes in the back corner of the end zone. The score extended New York’s lead to 21-11 and came three plays after a 58-yard pass from Sanchez to Jerricho Cotchery.
Sanchez, who improved to 4-1 during the postseason, had thrown one touchdown pass in his five previous full games.
A 35-yard field goal with two minutes left pulled the Patriots within a touchdown. Antonio Cromartie then returned New England’s onside kick attempt to the Patriots’ 25-yard line and the Jets scored two plays later on a 16-yard touchdown run by Shonn Greene.
The Patriots’ final touchdown came with 30 seconds left on a 13-yard pass from Brady to Deion Branch.
New England was held under 23 points twice before this season, in a 28-14 loss to the Jets on Sept. 19 and in a 34-14 loss at Cleveland on Nov. 7. The Patriots had gone 12-1 to finish the regular season after their Week 2 loss to the Jets, earning the AFC’s top seed in the playoffs.
“We’re a pretty good football team, but not when we play the way we did today,” Brady said. “A lot of the credit goes to the Jets.”
The Bears, back in the playoffs for the first time in four years, raced out to a 28-0 second-quarter lead over the Seahawks amid swirling snow at Soldier Field.
Bears Oust Seahawks
Cutler threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen less than three minutes into the game and had scoring runs of 6 yards and 9 yards in the second quarter. Cutler added a 39-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Davis in the fourth quarter, when the Seahawks scored 21 points, including two touchdowns in the final 2:16. Seattle, which was coming off a 41-36 win over the defending Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs, finished the season 8-10.
The Seahawks were the only team in NFL history to reach the playoffs with a losing record during a full season.
Chicago improves to 12-5 and will meet Green Bay in the postseason for the first time since Dec. 14, 1941. The Bears beat Green Bay 20-17 in Week 3 before losing 10-3 at the Packers in the last game of the regular season.
“We’ve got our hands full, we’ve got to have a good week of preparation,” Cutler, who completed 15 of 28 pass attempts for 274 yards, said in a televised interview. “We’re both familiar with each other, so nothing’s going to be new.”
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