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Patriots Pull One Up From the Deep, 27-24

Pro football: After Parcells' Jets tie it in the final minute, New England lands the victory in overtime.

September 15, 1997|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FOXBORO, Mass. — On a mission of revenge, the New England Patriots set out to harpoon the Big Tuna on Sunday night, only to find themselves being dragged under by Moby Dick before bobbing to the top in overtime with a reputation-saving 27-24 victory over former Coach Bill Parcells and the New York Jets.

The Jets, 1-15 a year ago before getting the Parcells' glare, not only tied the score with 31 seconds remaining on Neil O'Donnell's 24-yard pass to Keyshawn Johnson, but they gave kicker John Hall a chance to play Bucky Dent and lift New York over the Boston-area team with a 29-yard field goal 15 seconds later.

Hall's boot, however, was knocked from the sky by Mike Jones, New England's 6-foot-4 defensive end, forcing play to be extended to the Jets' sudden death.

Adam Vinatieri, the kicker of Parcells' choice in New England a year ago after the release of Matt Bahr, kicked a 34-yard field goal with 6:57 remaining in overtime to save the Patriots from devastation.

"Pretty disappointed," said a subdued Parcells after the game, although his reputation as one of the great coaches in the game could only have been enhanced by his team's performance.

The Jets, heavy underdogs to a team hellbent on showing Parcells it could prosper without him, outplayed the Patriots, who at times were undisciplined, disorganized and unprepared for their opponent. The Jets lost their upset bid with three fumbles, including a Richie Anderson drop at the New England five-yard line with 15 seconds remaining in the first half, but still left with respect.

"Coach Parcells has a champion's heart and every team he goes to is going show that," said New England cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock, who didn't play well enough a year ago to earn Parcells' favor and a place in the lineup. "The guy just gets everyone ready to play, and it's going to be like that in every game with those guys."

There were signs everywhere belittling Parcells for not taking the team plane home with his players after last season's Super Bowl loss and for skipping town five days later. In addition to blue pom-poms, fans were given "Can the Tuna" towels and a Drew-Bledsoe-to-Ben-Coates touchdown of 32 yards 1:54 into the game to get all fired up.

But the Jets would not stay down for the count, pugnacious as their coach can be, fighting back to tie the score at 17-17 and then 24-24, and forcing New England's Derrick Cullors to fumble the ensuing kickoff at the Patriot 18-yard line with 27 seconds left in regulation.

"My best friend, [Jet safety] Corwin Brown came running over to me when they had the chance to win and yelled, 'It's over, it's over,' " Hitchcock said. "I told him this game's like chess--it's not over until somebody says checkmate."

After gaining 11 yards, the Jets took a delay-of-game penalty, pushing Hall back from a 24-yard field-goal attempt to 29 yards.

"I hit it good," Hall said. "I heard a thump, and that's when I knew it was blocked."

The next kick came from Vinatieri and it was good.

"Adam's field goal said checkmate," Hitchcock said.

Until then, however, the Jets had countered the Patriots' every move, almost as if Parcells still had a copy of the New England playbook.

"Hey, what a game--so dramatic," said linebacker Ted Johnson, who had two of New England's seven sacks. "Coach Parcells is such a tough coach and he just wants to beat you up, and his guys were doing just that to us. He had our defense reeling in the first half."

And he had Bledsoe looking like the quarterback he had scolded so often on the New England sideline. Bledsoe picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and failed to make connection on eight consecutive passes at one point, including an errant throw returned for a 43-yard touchdown by Jet linebacker Mo Lewis.

His 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lovett Purnell, Parcells' seventh-round draft pick a year ago, lifted the Patriots to a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.

But Bledsoe, who had thrown eight touchdown passes in the first two games with no interceptions, finished this one 16 of 34 for 162 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, including a turnover on New England's first series in overtime.

The Patriots went to their "Don't-let-Bledsoe-throw-the-ball" offense in overtime. They used running back Curtis Martin over and over until he had finished the game with 40 carries and 199 yards, moving the ball to the 17-yard line for Vinatieri's kick.

"In the end. I think I prayed more than I played," said Martin, one of the first Patriots to run across the field and shake Parcells' hand after the game. "He's not my coach anymore, but he taught me a lot of things that I have carried with me, and I wanted to tell him that I loved him."

Bledsoe, who said he never really had the chance to make contact with Parcells before or after the game, said New England Coach Pete Carroll had challenged the team earlier in the week.

"Pete said that a lot of the guys had said they liked playing for Pete and the way he was doing things," Bledsoe said. "He said then go out and prove it."

Well, maybe next time, because this game was all about Parcells: the improving Jets under Parcells and the team that Bill built in New England.

"The beginning to a very nice rivalry," Johnson said.



* Tampa Bay: 28

* Minnesota: 14


* Oakland: 36

* Atlanta: 31


* Green Bay: 23

* Miami: 18


* Denver: 35

* St. Louis: 14


* Washington: 19

* Arizona (OT): 13


* San Francisco: 33

* New Orleans: 7


* Kansas City: 22

* Buffalo: 16


* Carolina: 26

* San Diego: 7


* Baltimore: 24

* N.Y. Giants: 23


* Detroit: 32

* Chicago: 7


* Seattle: 31

* Indianapolis: 3


* New England: 27

* N.Y. Jets (OT): 24





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