The New England Patriots were so sure that their “438-pass” would be successful in the third quarter Thursday night that none of them flinched when it was called on fourth-and-one at the New York 10-yard line.
“We knew they’d be coming up to the line and they had some young guys in the secondary,” said Tony Collins, who was on the receiving end of fellow running back Craig James’ option pass for the clinching touchdown in a 20-6 victory over the Jets.
The play worked perfectly as quarterback Tony Eason pitched to James, who lofted the ball over two defenders, giving the Patriots a 14-6 lead.
After James’ touchdown toss, the Patriots never were challenged by a dispirited Jets team that lost star running back Freeman McNeil in the second quarter. McNeil, who is out four to six weeks with a dislocated right elbow, was injured when he fell heavily on his right arm after gaining seven yards on a running play.
“I think we were plagued by our own mistakes,” Jet quarterback Ken O’Brien said, taking note of his two interceptions and a costly early fumble by Tony Paige. “We caused our own demise.”
The Patriots, who defeated the Jets, 26-14, last December in the AFC wild-card game, are 2-0 this season and alone atop the AFC East. The Jets fell to 1-1.
The first game official’s call to be overruled after consultation with television replays occurred in the third quarter. New York’s Al Toon caught a pass at the right sideline and was ruled out of bounds on the Jet 45.
NFL supervisor of officials Art McNally, who was in the press box, overruled the call after a 3 1/2-minute delay.
The rugged first half took a toll on both teams. In addition to McNeil, the Jets lost defensive end Mark Gastineau for two series with a twisted knee, but he returned near the end of the second quarter.
New York strong safety Harry Hamilton suffered a cut forehead and did not return, while linebacker Kyle Clifton also had to be helped from the field in the first half, but he was not seriously hurt and played in the second half.
New England lost wide-out Stephen Starring for the final 40 minutes with a hyperextended right knee.
The Patriots worked on cornerback Davlin Mullen all night, particularly with Stanley Morgan, who caught 8 passes for 104 yards. Morgan has 31 games with at least 100 yards receiving.
Eason connected on 14 of 22 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown to Collins, while O’Brien completed 16 of 30 for 180 yards but was sacked 4 times and intercepted twice.