Monday, November 13, 2006

Sunday's game at Foxboro between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, specifically its climactic final two minutes, demonstrated why football is a great sport to watch. The score was 17-14 for the Jets, who were trying to outlast the Patriots in the the cold November rain and fog, and Phil Simms was along for the ride as a bonus. The Jets pinned the Patriots deep in their own end, meaning that the vampire-like Tom Brady (you just can't beat him) had to go about 70 yards in 70 seconds without any timeouts.

I love listening to Phil Simms for two reasons. The first is undoubtedly his accent, which is so typically American, just like football itself. I think I can listen to a man with a southeastern accent forever (Simms is from Kentucky, Al Gore is from Tennessee, Bill Clinton is from Arkansas). The second is that Simms makes a lot of sharp assertions, often critical, and doesn't shy away from making them at crucial moments. I'll never forget the column Simms wrote where he said that he had no idea what the West Coast Offense meant anymore; his honesty is refreshing in an environment of sychophants. Most of my memories of big football games consist of Simms, loud, frantic and twangy, explaining why something happened.

Right at the start of the drive, Simms blurted out that he didn't understand why the Jets were only sending three men after Brady because it would allow him far too much time to pick the defense apart. Brady proceeded to do just that: a 14-yard dump-off to Kevin Faulk and a 10-yard completion to Ben Watson, both in bounds brought the Patriots to their own 35. There were about 40 seconds left, though the clock was moving.

The next play gave me goosebumps. The Jets again played a suffocating zone, but Brady somehow managed to thread a pass between four defenders to Reche Caldwell for a 19-yard gain. As much as I hate Brady, if only for the way commentators and analysts obsequiously sing his praises in every game he plays, this play shows why he is a great quarterback. With most other quarterbacks, this pass would likely have been intercepted and halt what was a decent but improbable comeback. Brady, however, made a play that had to make every Jets fan uncomfortable as the Patriots were now at the Jets' 46. The ball was spiked with 13 seconds to go and both Simms and Gumble casually spoke of Brady completing another pass of at least 10 yards to the sideline, enabling a game-tying field goal.

On the next play, almost prophetically, defensive end Shaun Ellis came around and sacked Brady, forcing a fumble that caused time to run out. There are exceptions, but I think Simms was right in saying that the only way to stop Brady was put pressure on him, not by sitting back in a zone. Brady, unbelievably in his sixth season already, is one of those quarterbacks who can destroy a defense given enough time to find an open receiver. On this Sunday, the Jets managed to stop him in the maddening frenzy that is the climax of a football game.

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