Tom Brady, Patriots get zoned out

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is usually in the zone. In Sunday's stunning 28-21 playoff loss to the Jets, he was flummoxed by the zone.

That is the simple answer to the question many had to be asking after the surprising turn of events: What did the New York Jets do to stop Brady and the Patriots' offense?

Known more for playing man-to-man, they instead played heavier zone coverage. Known more for their blitzing ways, they instead favored dropping players into coverage.

"It was a little bit different, definitely, a little more zone," receiver Wes Welker said. "They did a great job game planning. You work on one thing all week and then you get something different."

It has been a long time since Brady looked as uncomfortable as he did in the pocket. He was sacked a season-high five times, often pulling the ball down after his initial read was covered.

His final statistics looked OK -- 29-of-45 for 299 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception -- but this was a case where the numbers didn't tell the story. The look that Jets defenders saw on Brady's face for long stretches of the game was more revealing. "He looked a little confused," Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said.

Jets defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, a 14-year veteran, called it the best defensive game plan he's ever seen. Meanwhile, the Jets have struck the right mix on defense to knock off the Peyton Manning-led Colts and the Brady-led Patriots in back-to-back weeks, which Jets coach Rex Ryan called "mission impossible."

So now the Jets head to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game on Sunday for the third part of their mission, while the Patriots -- after a terrific 14-2 regular season -- pick up the pieces. Receiver Deion Branch called it a bad time for the team to play its worst game of the season. While true, the Jets had something to do with it.

"It was a good plan by them and you have to give them a lot of credit," Brady said. "I think they played a lot more coverage today, probably similar to what they did last week."

Brady didn't view the Jets' zone-heavy approach as a big surprise, saying he anticipated it was a possibility. He was mostly disappointed in the execution, adding that "there were too many plays that weren't the way we drew them up."

For the Jets, it was exactly the way they drew it up, and those in their locker room after the game could clearly tell how proud they were about slaying another elite quarterback. Brady hadn't thrown an interception since Oct. 17 -- a string of 335 regular-season passes -- but the Jets got one on the Patriots' opening drive when Brady threw a screen pass that he tried to drop over linebacker Calvin Pace but overshot his target, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

That turnover was huge, as was what happened on the Patriots' second drive, when they drove from their 21-yard line to the Jets' 7. At that point, the Jets' defense was getting carved up.

But veteran tight end Alge Crumpler dropped a potential touchdown pass and Brady was sacked on third down, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal. A team that outscored opponents 103-39 in the first quarter during the regular season had only a 3-0 lead after the first 15 minutes, with the Jets weathering the early storm.

The game turned from there, with the Jets' defense putting a stranglehold on Brady for most of the final three quarters.

"In the first half he was absolutely frazzled. You see him scrambling around like a chicken with his head cut off," said Pryce, the veteran Jets end. "It's shocking because you don't see it very often. I think we got to him a couple of times. He was shaken."

Pryce detailed how the Jets' plan was different from the Dec. 6 meeting between the teams, when the Patriots recorded a 45-3 win. In that game, the Jets blitzed more. In this one, they played more coverages.

"Every coverage switched. It was unbelievable," he said. "The game plan was out of sight. Rex did stuff I've never seen a pro football coach do. When you can confuse a Hall of Fame quarterback, you know your game plan is working. Tom Brady literally had no answer."

Few saw that coming.

In a week of trash talk, the Jets had the last word -- on and off the field.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.