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New England assumes NFL's best record

12/22/2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The New England Patriots can thank
their defense for wrapping up their 11th straight win.

Willie McGinest returned an interception for a score and the
Patriots picked off Chad Pennington four other times, keying a
21-16 victory Saturday night. Tom Brady also threw two touchdown
passes 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 (13-2)
now have the best record in the NFL. If the Indianapolis Colts lose
Sunday to Denver, the Patriots would clinch a first-round bye.

The Jets (6-9) 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 for a quick 7-0 lead.

The Jets answered with a 16-play drive that chewed up 9:20 and
ended with Pennington running for a 1-yard TD to tie it up. 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 a total of six defensive touchdowns this season,
which leads 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. Tyrone Carter gave the Jets one last
hope, intercepting a pass from Brady on the following possession.
After getting the ball at their own 46, the Jets could do nothing
and the drive ended when -- appropriately enough -- McGinest and
Richard Seymour sacked Pennington.

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.

On their next possession, they had fourth-and-5 from the Jets
25, but Brady threw incomplete. The Jets took advantage, driving
down to the Patriots' 5. But Jerald Sowell was whistled for a false
start, driving the Jets back to the 11. They settled for a 29-yard
field goal by Doug Brien just before halftime to make it 14-10.

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