Patriots nip Jets behind nice defense

Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. 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.

Vikings 45, Chiefs 20

MINNEAPOLIS Onterrio Smith ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns, and Randy Moss caught two of Daunte Culpepper's three touchdown passes in the Minnesota Vikings' 45-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.

Minnesota boosted its playoff hopes and delivered a blow to the Chiefs' chances for home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs.

Culpepper completed 20 of 29 passes for 260 yards and one interception to help Minnesota (9-6) move a half-game ahead of Green Bay in the NFC North. Moss had seven catches for 111 yards.

Priest Holmes, held to 55 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving, scored three times for Kansas City and matched Emmitt Smith's 1995 NFL record with 25 rushing touchdowns in a season.

The Chiefs (12-3), who have wrapped up the AFC West and their first playoff berth since 1997, can still clinch a first-round bye if Indianapolis loses to Denver on Sunday.

Falcons 30, Buccaneers 28

TAMPA, Fla. Michael Vick threw two touchdowns and Atlanta intercepted four of Brad Johnson's passes in victory that eliminated Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay from playoff contention.

A furious Tampa Bay rally fell short when Travis Hall batted down Johnson's two-point conversion pass with 27 seconds remaining.

With the Bucs (7-8) down 30-7 going into the fourth quarter, Johnson threw three TD passes in the last 11 minutes, including an 11-yarder to Jameel Cook that gave Tampa Bay a chance to send it into overtime.

Vick completed 8 of 15 passes and ran 12 times for 38 yards.

in his third start since missing the first 11 games of the season with a broken right leg. The third-year pro threw TD passes of 6 yards to Alge Crumpler and 13 yards to Brian Finneran in the first half, then led a long third-quarter drive that produced Jay Feely's 37-yard field goal for a 30-7 lead.

Juran Bolden returned one of Atlanta's interceptions 41 yards for a TD, and the Falcons (4-11) used picks by Keith Newman, Keion Carpenter and Bryan Scott to set up 17 more points and a 27-7 halftime lead.



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