Brady sure there’ll be no Jets’ lag

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Tom Brady finished his last game against the Jets sitting in the mud at midfield. In his last playoff game, he watched helplessly as Champ Bailey’s 100-yard interception return dashed the Patriots’ hopes.

Certainly, those were two rare positions for the two-time Super Bowl MVP.

On Sunday, Brady gets a chance to rebound from both in a single game when New England (12-4) faces visiting New York (10-6) in the first round of the playoffs.

“It’s my favorite time of year. You look over the course of the 16-game season, and you come to this week and you are so fatigued from 16 games, but you definitely get a second wind,” he said. “How we played eight weeks ago has zero bearing on this game. I can’t overstate that enough.”

Eight weeks ago, the Jets pressured Brady repeatedly and beat the Patriots in Foxborough 17-14. On the last play, a second-and-10 at the New York 46 with 9 seconds left, Brady fumbled when he was sacked and driven to the sloppy field by Shaun Ellis, who recovered.

Ten months ago, New England trailed 10-6 and had a third-and-goal at the Denver 5. But Brady’s pass to the right side was picked off by Bailey, who raced to the 1 before being smacked out of bounds. Mike Anderson then ran the ball in for a 17-6 lead with 43 seconds left in the third quarter and the Broncos won 27-13.

It was Brady’s first playoff loss after 10 victories, but that setback is a distant memory.

“We are sitting here with a great opportunity ahead of us,” he said. “Let’s see what we can achieve this week. Hopefully, we can go play much better than we did last time we played the Jets.”

In 20 NFL seasons, seven with the Jets, Patriots third-string quarterback Vinny Testaverde sometimes felt motivated to make up for poor performances in later games.

“But when you’re talking about the playoffs I think you have to let go of all that,” he said. “You just have to focus on what your job is this week and winning the game. … You can’t let anything else be a distraction to you.”

The other starting quarterback Sunday already has made a remarkable comeback.

Chad Pennington led the Jets to the playoffs after they went 4-12 last season when he played just the first three games before tearing the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. It was the same rotator cuff that was operated on after the 2004 season to repair another tear. On Thursday, Pennington was selected the NFL’s comeback player of the year after playing in all 16 games for the first time.

“The organization has been great in providing me (help) to get back healthy, play at a high level,” he said. “My teammates have been behind me since day one. For us to be able to put it together out on the field would mean a lot.”

In a 24-17 loss to the Patriots in the second game of the season, he threw two of the 10 touchdown passes New England has allowed all season. In the victory at New England, he completed 22 of 33 passes for one touchdown and led scoring drives of 15 and 16 plays.

“It is remarkable to have rehabbed a twice surgically repaired shoulder,” Jets guard Pete Kendall said, “a shoulder that even some experts from the medical community said he would never come back from. All the while, he had to master a third offense in three years. Chad has worked really hard. I think we are all proud of him and happy for him.”

Brady also does an exceptional job of overcoming adversity. The Patriots hadn’t lost two straight games until the Jets beat them this season. And they’re 6-1 since that loss.

Both quarterbacks were drafted in 2000, Pennington with the 18th pick and Brady with the 199th. There’s another similarity between them.

“What we understand and what you have to understand is that it is the Jets versus the Patriots,” Pennington said. “I think Tom would be the first person to say, “Hey, it’s not just Tom versus everybody.’ It’s always been a team effort up there.

“From our side of the ball, we look at it as, “Hey, it’s our team versus their team.’ “

Pennington has completed at least 71 percent of his passes in four of the last six games. Brady’s completion percentage in the last three games is 68.6 with four touchdown passes and no sacks. Both teams have momentum with three-game winning streaks and a 6-2 record in the last half of the season.

“The key to those guys is their third-down efficiency,” Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs said, “how they’re able to stay in manageable down and distances and then convert those and keep the drives alive.”

Just last Sunday, the Patriots showed they could strike back quickly after such drives.

Tennessee had just capped an 11-play drive with a field goal to cut New England’s lead to 19-13. On the next play from scrimmage, Brady threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Reche Caldwell and the Patriots went on to a 40-23 win.

“That’s pretty deflating for the defense,” Brady said.

So are touchdown passes of 71 and 46 yards like those Pennington threw in his first game this season against the Patriots.

“He’s an outstanding quarterback and has been for a number of years,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s always played well against us and always played well against everybody.”

AP-ES-01-04-07 1804EST

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