Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas comes early for Bodden

Mark Sanchez has a new favorite receiver, a speedster who always seems to know where the quarterback is going to throw the ball.

Oh, were all of those passes not intended for Leigh Bodden?

"I didn't know today was December 25th," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "Three fair catches?"

"I think it was a conspiracy or something," linebacker Pierre Woods said. "Three wide-open fair catches -- two were on a knee, and one was right there to him and he ran it in for a touchdown."

OK, so it wasn't the most challenging day for Bodden, who picked off a career-best three passes and returned one for his first career touchdown. It certainly was a rewarding day, though, especially for a player who previously had spent his career with the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions. With the win, the Patriots moved three games ahead of the New York Jets and stayed two games ahead of the Miami Dolphins for first place in the AFC East.

The three interceptions Bodden had -- the same number of catches as Jets receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller -- had as much to do with the victory as anything else.

A quick rundown of the three interceptions:

* First quarter: Sanchez threw behind Cotchery on a third-and-8 pass along the left sideline. It appeared as though he expected the wide receiver to run a hitch or a curl and not to cut back toward the middle of the field, but Bodden also seemed to force Cotchery out of his intended route. Whatever the reason, Bodden turned before Cotchery turned and returned the interception for a touchdown.

* Second quarter: With Brandon McGowan coming around the edge on a blitz, Sanchez threw too far in front of Braylon Edwards down the left side. Wilhite appeared to be covering Edwards with Bodden sitting back in zone coverage, and the ball just hit him in the hands.

"The first two interceptions were just poor throws," Sanchez said. "Good reads. Poor throws."

* Fourth quarter: On perhaps the worst pass he threw all day, Sanchez had no pressure on him but still somehow threw a pass so inaccurate it was tough to tell whether it was intended for Cotchery or for Edwards. If it was intended for Cotchery, it was badly overthrown. If it was intended for Edwards, it was badly underthrown. If it was intended for Bodden, well, it was perfect.

The interception Sanchez threw to Brandon Meriweather later in the fourth quarter was his worst decision of the day, a floater that would have been better off landing in the second row of the stands than anywhere on the field. That, though, was a throw made under pressure and out of desperation -- it might have been the worst decision by Sanchez all day, but it wasn't the worst pass.

"The last two were definitely bad decisions," Sanchez said, "trying to do too much and not letting the offense work for me. ... I need to be smarter and more conservative with the football in those situations."

It was Bodden, coming on a corner blitz, who applied some of the pressure on that play, too, drilling Sanchez just after he released the ball.

"I saw the ball in his right hand," Bodden said, "and I thought I was coming to get a strip sack."

As it turned out, all he was coming to get was a helping hand in the Patriots' fourth interception of the game.

The Patriots review their opponents' turnovers every Saturday. With Sanchez, they had plenty of material with which to work. The Jets' rookie quarterback now has thrown 11 interceptions in his last five games -- including five in Week 6 against Buffalo and two more in Week 10 against Jacksonville.

"He's thrown some balls to guys, so we definitely knew we could get some of those today," Bodden said. "We just have to catch them. That's what one of my old coaches always said: You've just got to catch the ones that go to you."

That's what happened on Sunday. Most of the passes the Bills and Jaguars intercepted, though, took at least a little bit of effort and athletic ability on the part of the defensive backs. The three passes Bodden picked off all were thrown pretty much right to him.

"I really can't tell you if it was accuracy or what, but (Sanchez and his wide receivers) probably weren't on the same page," said Bodden, who wore a No. 23 Michael Jordan jersey to his postgame press conference.

When a reporter asked if the No. 23 should be retired, Bodden quipped, "Not here. Not yet. I've got to get a few more three-pick games -- and then maybe."

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