FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)—The Patriots found another way to stay unbeaten—with a running game. And their stone-faced coach showed a new way to greet his nemesis—with a smile.
Facing rain, wind and chilly gusts above 20 mph, New England relied on Laurence Maroney’s rushing instead of Tom Brady’s passing and beat the New York Jets 20-10 Sunday in the Spygate rematch to clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
After the Patriots became the second team in NFL history to go 14-0, Bill Belichick broke into a broad grin at his sideline and kept it until he met Eric Mangini, his former protege and defensive coordinator. Mangini had angered Belichick when he left to become coach of the Jets last season.
“Great game, awesome,” Belichick appeared to say as they shook hands. Then Belichick walked away, pumping his first twice over his head.
“He said, `good game or good luck,”’ Mangini said. “I can’t remember.”
Most of their previous four midfield meetings were colder than Sunday’s weather.
“Maybe they’re friends again,” Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said with a laugh. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Mangini had turned Belichick in for having a video assistant use a sideline videocamera in violation of NFL rules after the season opener in which the Patriots beat the Jets (3-11). The NFL fined Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 and took away their first-round draft choice next year for the illegal taping.
He said there was no extra meaning to Sunday’s win because of that.
“Just like the other games,” Belichick said. “It’s good to win. It’s good to win in the division. It’s good to sweep the Jets.”
On Sunday, video helped the Patriots when they challenged a call of a 7-yard touchdown pass from Chad Pennington, who was in for the injured Kellen Clemens, to Justin McCareins with 2:32 left. Replay officials ruled he didn’t get both feet in the back of the end zone. Then Mike Nugent missed a 35-yard field goal attempt.
“The ball was slippery, but I thought I had it pinned in time,” McCareins said. “Obviously not.”
The Patriots led 17-7 and the teams exchanged field goals in the fourth quarter.
Maroney ran for 104 yards, just the fourth time this season a New England rusher surpassed 100. The Jets entered the game having allowed the third most yards rushing this season.
“When you have elements like this you want to play great defense and run the ball,” Brady said.
Brady didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season and completed 14 of 27 passes for 140 yards and an interception. The Patriots remaining games are at home against Miami and at the New York Giants.
It’s unlikely Belichick will rest his starters.
“We’re paid professionals. None of this taking a break,” cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. “But knowing Bill Belichick, I don’t see that coming.”
The Jets played the Patriots a lot closer than the 21-point spread.
“We were able to slow them down tremendously,” Jets linebacker Victor Hobson said, “but that is what good teams do, they just find ways to win.”
Clemens didn’t return after being sacked and Pennington took over. Brad Smith also took some snaps at quarterback, but the Jets’ offense was held without a touchdown.
Fans celebrated Wilson’s touchdown by throwing some of the 6 inches of snow that fell before the game into the air. The puffs of white powder flew again when Kelley Washington blocked a punt by Ben Graham, giving the Patriots the ball at the Jets’ 3.
“We’re all cold and wet out there,” Washington said. “When you see things like that, it just makes it that much better.”
Two plays after the block, Maroney scored on a 1-yard run with 1:05 left in the half and the Patriots led 17-7. And more snow sailed from the stands.
That made up for the Patriots’ own botched punt midway through the second quarter. Chris Hanson bobbled the snap and by the time he kicked, David Bowens was inches away and blocked the ball. Bowens scooped it up and ran 26 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 10-7.
New England did get off the punt on its next series, then Washington slapped Graham’s punt with his right hand on the following possession.
Fans drove through snow that turned to sleet and, finally, to rain. Gillette Stadium was half empty a few minutes before the game began but was nearly full as it progressed.
“I don’t like playing in this weather,” Patriots linebacker Junior Seau said. “I’m a surfer.”
On about a half-dozen occasions in the first half, fans bundled in parkas, rain slickers and Brady jerseys flung snow into the air and onto the field. Some of it, and some remarks, were aimed at the Jets’ bench.
“You get a boatload of derogatory comments,” Mangini said. “You get that at every stadium.”
So with 3:55 left, the officials held up the game until fans stopped throwing snowballs. But that brief lull didn’t stop the Patriots.
After play resumed, Stephen Gostkowski’s 34-yard field goal, his second of the game, made it 20-10.
Wilson is the 21st Patriot to score a touchdown this season, tying the NFL record set by the Los Angeles Rams in 1987 and Denver Broncos in 2000. … Smith threw his first pass in his two pro seasons. … Brady remained five touchdown passes short of breaking Peyton Manning’s record of 49. Randy Moss still needs four scoring catches to break Jerry Rice’s mark of 22.