FOXBORO, Mass. — With a little over two minutes to play and the New York Jets driving for a go-ahead score, the Patriots defense huddled on the sideline.
It was fourth-and-8 from the New England 30, and the Patriots clung to a six-point lead. They stayed calm, drawing on their varied experiences in close games, and knew they had to get after Chad Pennington to have any chance at saving the game.
When the ball was finally snapped, Pennington hurried his throw to Wayne Chrebet, and Rodney Harrison broke up the pass with 2:14 remaining. The Patriots had come through as they always did, and extended their NFL victory streak to 21 games in a 13-7 win over the Jets on Sunday.
The Patriots also set the regular-season mark of 18 straight wins, surpassing the 17 won by the 1933-34 Chicago Bears. They also moved to 6-0 for the first time in franchise history while handing the Jets (5-1) their first loss this season.
"Chrebet went up the seam, and I saw the ball. I saw Pennington looking at him and I just broke on the ball and tried to touch it," Harrison said. "We were successful at it."
Since 2003, the Patriots are 9-1 in games decided by seven points or less. For that reason, there was no panic when the Jets started driving down the field.
"It's nothing new to us," cornerback Ty Law said. "Whenever the situation presents itself, it's, 'Oh we've done this before.' No one's tight, no one's nervous to make a play."
The matchup was the first pitting two undefeated teams with five or more wins since the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams were both 6-0 going into a game Oct. 28, 1973. The game lived up to the hype, and turned into a defensive struggle in the second half.
New England led 13-7 at the break and could not muster much on offense in the second half. Neither could the Jets until late in the fourth quarter. Facing fourth-and-1 from their own 23, coach Herman Edwards decided to go for it.
Pennington made the first down on a 2-yard sneak. The Jets then marched to the Patriots 27. Richard Seymour and Willie McGinest made a crucial play on third-and-5, forcing Curtis Martin to lose 3 yards on a run. On fourth down, Pennington tried to throw to Chrebet, but Harrison was there to make the play.
Jets coach Herman Edwards said there was no way the Jets would settle for three points.
"We're not kicking a field goal," Edwards said. "You're not going to get lucky and beat the champs. We were in fourth down territory the whole way."
Tom Brady finished 20-of-29 for 230 yards and a touchdown, while Corey Dillon had 22 carries for 115 yards, the first 100-yard runner the Jets have allowed all season. David Givens also had the second 100-yard day of his career, finishing with five catches for 107 yards.
Martin passed Jim Brown for seventh place on the NFL career rushing list in the second quarter. He had 70 yards on 20 carries and now has 12,382 career yards, compared to Brown's 12,312.
Mistakes ended up costing the Jets. Two penalties led to 10 points in the second quarter. A too many men on the field penalty on fourth-and-1 gave the Patriots a first down early in the quarter.
New England converted the mistake into points, when Adam Vinatieri made a 27-yard field goal to make it 6-0. After Pennington scored on a 1-yard bootleg run to put the Jets up 7-6, New England got the ball back with 1:55 left before halftime.
Brady expertly ran the two-minute offense, moving the Patriots down to the Jets 13 with 18 seconds to go. On the next play, tackle Dewayne Robertson was whistled for roughing the passer. Brady connected with David Patten for a 7-yard score with 5 seconds left before halftime to give the Patriots the lead back.
"It was important to put some points up," Brady said. "We continue to work on the two-minute drills and they keep getting better."
The Jets also had their first drive of the game squelched because of a mistake, when Ted Johnson forced Jerald Sowell to fumble at the Patriots 15, and Randall Gay recovered.
"Playing New England is very much like playing chess," Martin said. "When two very good people play chess, the one that makes a mistake loses, and that's what happened today."
Of course, New England has made a name for itself by forcing teams into mistakes. It helped save the day again.
"It felt like an old Foxboro moment," Johnson said. "The defense had to make a big play to win the game."