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Thing of beauty: Jets defensive masterpiece stops Patriots cold

Mark Sanchez

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez celebrates his touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)


The New York Jets backed up all their talk and then some.

In one of the best playoff defensive performances we’ve seen in a long time, the Jets stymied Tom Brady and the Patriots 28-21 in Foxboro on Sunday. There were heroes aplenty for New York: Santonio Holmes made an incredible touchdown grab; Shaun Ellis dominated on the defensive line with a legendary performance, and Darrelle Revis played his usual shutdown coverage.

But the biggest star was coach Rex Ryan and his defensive gameplan. He said all week his goal wasn’t to be the greatest coach of all time, but the greatest coach on the field Sunday. He was certainly that, out-foxing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at every turn.

Ryan kept mixing up coverages to confuse Brady. He sent pressure at the right time and enough got pressure from his defensive line. Brady is one of the smartest quarterbacks in football, and couldn’t unlock the mystery deep into the fourth quarter. The performance reminded us of Belichick’s gameplan against the Rams in the 2001 Super Bowl.

All season long, the Jets defense chased the dominance they showed in 2009. They were a good, not great group that could no longer shut the opposition down. That all changed Sunday against the best offense in the league. Brady averaged only 5.8 yards-per-throw and had only two plays over 20 yards.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, meanwhile, was occasionally erratic but threw three touchdowns. All three of the Jets’ top wide receivers made difficult plays for him.

When the Jets offense needed to respond to a late third quarter Pariots touchdown, Sanchez directed a five-play, 71-yard touchdown drive. New York dominated line play on both sides of the ball.

“We came here for a reason,” Ryan said after the game. “We believed. We worked too hard to get back here. We thought we were the better team.”

There was no doubt about that on Sunday.