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Pats gain homefield in playoffs

Associated Press
Published December 21, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Patriots can thank their defense for wrapping up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Willie McGinest returned an interception for a score and the Patriots picked off Chad Pennington four other times, keying their 11th consecutive win with a 21-16 victory Saturday. Tom Brady also threw two touchdowns to David Givens, but the offense struggled most of the game, keeping the Jets in it until the end.

With Kansas City's loss earlier in the day, the Patriots now have the best record in the NFL. The Jets will finish the season with a losing record for the first time since 1996, when they went 1-15.

Pennington helped the Patriots win, throwing a career-high five interceptions - including one in the end zone to Ty Law. Pennington had seven interceptions going into the game.

Fittingly, the Patriots ended the Jets' final rally with an interception. Eugene Wilson picked off Pennington to preserve the victory. Pennington finished 24-of-43 for 229 yards and two running scores.

Tedy Bruschi got the first pickoff on the second play of the game. It took eight seconds for the Patriots to score, when Brady threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Givens. The Jets answered with a 16-play drive that chewed up 9:20 and ended with Pennington running for a 1-yard TD. With the Patriots struggling offensively, the defense stepped up again. McGinest returned an interception 15 yards for another score, the fifth time this season the Patriots returned a pickoff for a touchdown, tying a team record set in 2001.

New England has six defensive touchdowns this season, leading the NFL.

The Patriots were not done making big plays. After Brady threw his second TD pass of the game to Givens to make it 21-10 in the third quarter, the Jets drove down the field. Pennington threw a pass for Santana Moss in the end zone on third down from the Patriots' 21, but Law was there to intercept it - stopping yet another drive.

But the Jets would not go quietly. Pennington scored on a 10-yard run early in the fourth to make it 21-16. The 2-point conversion try failed when he threw incomplete to Kevin Lockett. The Patriots punted away, and the Jets had the ball with a chance to go ahead.

Rodney Harrison made sure that did not happen, intercepting a deep pass intended for Moss. Brady finished 12-of-25 for 138 yards and two scores, while Antowain Smith had 18 carries for 121 yards.

The Patriots could not muster much offensively in the first half, even though they entered Jets territory on all of their possessions. They had plenty of chances. After converting a fourth-and-1 from the Jets 36, they lost 3 yards on three plays and punted.

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