Jets edge forth in battle for AFC East

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Eleven weeks into the season, the New York Jets are in first place.

Not the unremitting New England Patriots. Not the fast-starting Buffalo Bills.

The Jets are alone atop the AFC East with six games to play after beating the Patriots, 34-31, in overtime Thursday night in Gillette Stadium.

"Wow," Jets running back and return specialist Leon Washington said. "What a game to be a part of."

The Jets barely beat the injury-raked Patriots, squandering an early 18-point lead and then, after scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 3:10 to play, giving up a game-tying touchdown on the final snap of regulation.

"That's not good on my heart, man," Jets linebacker Calvin Pace said, "when it comes down like that."

But the Jets finally got one over the Patriots in a game that might be looked back upon as a symbolic changing of the AFC East guard if the Jets can continue riding their wave of momentum. They've won four in a row and six of their past seven.

"It's huge," said Pace, a free-agent acquisition who could have signed with any number of clubs. "I think that's why guys like myself came here, to play in games like this, to play for something.

"It's coming together. We're taking how we're practicing, taking everything that we're working on and putting it on the field. We're finally coming together."

Here are a few things we learned Thursday night about the AFC East:

1. The Jets' offense is evolving. Running back Thomas Jones had another 100-yard game and scored his eighth touchdown in six games.

But Brett Favre also rifled the ball around the field much more emphatically than he had in recent weeks and seems to be building a nice rapport with rookie tight end Dustin Keller, who finished with eight catches for 87 yards.

"He hurt us tonight," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Keller.

Favre went to Keller three times for 32 yards on the game-winning overtime drive. Every one of those pass plays was for a first down, including a 16-yard catch on third-and-15.

"Being able to use that weapon offensively the way that Brett has, it spreads things out," Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "It forces you to push the coverage to different places."

Keller was a non-factor until last week. Over his past two games he has 14 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown.

He should have had another one Thursday, but dropped a Favre fastball in the end zone late in the first quarter, leading to a field goal instead. Keller also drew a defensive holding call on Mike Vrabel to help set up Jones' 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Favre's final numbers were 26 of 33 for 258 yards and two touchdowns for a 119.4 passer rating, his highest since Week 4, when he threw six TD passes.

2. The Patriots might be oblivious to injuries. They went into Thursday night with enough big names on their injury report to field an all-star team.

Most recently added to the injury list were linebacker and sack leader Adalius Thomas and starting defensive end Ty Warren, a surprise scratch whose groin wasn't good enough to play on the slick turf.

"That's the way it's been out there, starting with Tom [Brady] at the beginning of the year," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "You have to deal with it. Guys are going to get hurt, and guys are going to get aches and pains.

"We don't look at it as who's not out there. We look at it as how do we have to have the guys play that are out there. That is the way we see things."

The Patriots did get Sammy Morris back, although he ran only five times for 14 yards on a night Matt Cassel threw the ball like a young Favre.

3. Cassel continues to grow before our eyes each game. He is stringing together some impressive games.

Cassel had a career night despite the loss, completing 30 of 51 passes for 400 yards and three touchdowns. He'd never thrown for 300 yards before. He also ran for a team-high 62 yards. The rest of the Patriots combined rushed for 63 yards. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Cassel is the first player in NFL history to pass for 400 yards and rush for 60 in the same game.

"He played a great game," Morris said. "Matt is showing that he's a pretty good quarterback. He makes a lot of plays and has a lot of intensity and really sets up the offense."

Cassel threw a pinpoint pass to send the game into overtime. On fourth down from New York's 16-yard line, with eight seconds on the clock and the Patriots down by a touchdown, he rolled right and fired a dart to Randy Moss on the sideline.

"That was a situation we practiced a lot, to go down and be able to execute and score that touchdown when we needed to," Cassel said. "I think that's a confidence-builder for us offensively."

4. Freshly signed Jets cornerback Ty Law can make a difference down the stretch. He said he felt rusty, but he looked pretty good for most of his first game in 11
months. The five-time Pro Bowler signed with the Jets this week, choosing them over the Patriots, who also wanted to bring him aboard.

Law found himself heads-up against Moss much of the night and helped limit the star receiver to zero catches in the first half and, until the game-tying touchdown, two catches in the game.

Law was in great position when he posted up with Moss on the touchdown, but the veteran defensive back insisted he would have made the stop if he was in game shape.

"I'm just trying to replay it over: 'What could I have done differently on that last play?'" Law said. "Basically, the game was perfect up until that point. That's the life of a cornerback. You have to have a short memory, and I won't think about that after I leave this locker room, but it gets to you a little bit.

"It was a good test for me. I gathered some good play time out there. I got some stuff I can build on, and I also realize there's some stuff to improve on."

5. It will be difficult for the Jets to oust Jay Feely. Mangini has said injured kicker Mike Nugent will return to the job once healthy. Nugent traveled to New England and was a game-time decision, indicating he's close to returning.

But Feely has been sensational. He kicked the winning field goal in Gillette Stadium, four nights after he tied a franchise record with a 55-yard field goal against the St. Louis Rams. Feely kicked a last-second field goal to send their Oct. 19 game into overtime against the Oakland Raiders.