by Scott Benson
Not quite what you expected, huh?
Me neither. Things rarely go according to plan while a Nor’easter is advancing, I guess. They certainly didn’t at Gillette Stadium yesterday, where the undefeated Patriots found themselves entangled in a rather nasty affair with the 3-10 New York Jets, who were supposed to be the doormat on which New England would wipe its slushy cleats.
Not quite. Thoughts of triple-figure revenge and NBA scoreboards quickly disappeared, as removed from the cold, wet stadium as September’s blue skies and balmy temps.
But you know what? The Patriots won anyway, becoming the second team in NFL history to begin 14-0, and with its 17th straight regular-season win, New England is just one victory from tying the league mark it set in 2004.
Most importantly, the Patriots clinched home field advantage through the 2007 AFC playoffs.
And when it was over, an ebullient Bill Belichick bounded across the soggy field to greet Eric Mangini with a broad smile and an “awesome!” A hilarious development that was as jarringly unexpected as the Jets performance was.
Quite a day after all. A few thoughts:
*No one could have conceived of the day Tom Brady would have, not after he’s strode the earth like a Colussus all season. I thought Brady was mightily impatient early on, passing up open receivers underneath by forcing balls to Randy Moss up the field. He never got untracked, save for a couple of big fourth quarter completions to Wes Welker (an improvised third down conversion) and Moss (a 46 yard jump ball) that set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal and a late two-score lead. That was it. In a game where he might have been expected to challenge the touchdown pass record, he threw none, while pitching an awful interception to Darrelle Revis on the Patriots first possession of the second half. The pick amounted to nothing, not unlike the Patriots passing game.
*I don’t know how much of that was due to the weather (a toxic looking mix of snow, sleet, rain and high winds) and how much was due to the Jets’ game planning. Considering the Pats ran roughshod over New York’s secondary in Sptember, I’m inclined to attribute their futility yesterday to the difficult conditions, BUT……..it wasn’t like Brady was missing a lot of open receivers with wind-blown passes. There was nobody open, especially in the second half.
*So it was left to the defensive and special teams units to give the Pats an edge, and they did. With New York backed up against its own goal line, Richard Seymour knocked Kellen Clemens on his left shoulder and out of the game on the Jets’ second offensive play, and the bloop that squirted from Clemens was gathered in by Eugene Wilson for the easy score. If you’re Eugene Wilson, you’ve got to like that bunny in your first series as James Sanders’ fill-in.
*Chris Hanson had a pretty good game, but he royally screwed up in the second quarter when, after a bobbled snap, he tried to get a punt through an approaching rush. The block by David Bowens (and easy return) gave the Jets their only touchdown, which kept them in the game through the fourth quarter. It’s easy for me to say, but I figure in that situation (an inevitable block), take off running, and whatever you get is better than what the Patriots got today.
*But Kelley Washington went tit-for-tat late in the first half, blowing through with a perfectly timed, one-handed block of a Ben Graham punt from the Jets 17. I could hardly believe how perfectly and effortlessly Washington blocked that punt, as if he could do it whenever he wanted. It set up the only offensive touchdown of the day.
*So back to the defense for a minute – they started out like they were going to dominate, but Chad Pennington (after a couple of quarters that Mangini wasted by alternating him with Brad Smith) eventually began to chip away underneath, and the Patriots D ended up spending an awful lot of the second half on the field. It got hairy there for a minute (Justin McCareins’ bobbled and overturned touchdown would have cut the lead to three), and I’m wondering if the defense is going the way of the offense. Yet, when it was all said and done, they allowed three points all day.
*Laurence Maroney probably did as much to win this game for the Patriots as anybody. Oh, I’m sorry, do you have to sit down? I didn’t mean to startle you. I’ll eat this plate of crow all day long, because I have often wondered if Maroney had it in him. He stood tall when the weather forced the ball his way, carrying 26 times for 104 yards. Most of it came with a gang of Jets on his back. The only time the Patriots looked good on offense was when Brady turned and simply handed Maroney the ball. To their credit, they did it often. Now, let’s not put him in Canton yet, all right fellas? If I’m not mistaken, he went the wrong way on a couple of early running plays. But today was a great start, and a sight for sore eyes.
*The Pats o-line had a devil of a time with false starts, and later, they seemed to falter in the face of a rallying Jets pass rush. They did do a good job of creating a rugby scrum around Maroney every time he carried the football, a tactic not widely used since the early 1900’s. I LOVED it.
*Adalius Thomas was a man possessed for some reason, laying the wood to anything he could get his hands on. A couple of time he’s got up acting as though he was a blink away from a five-star nutty. What got into him? Can we get him some more? He also chased down Chris Baker and forced him to fumble, which was recovered by……Eugene Wilson. Is he pulling a Costanza here or something, where he’s doing the opposite of what his instincts tell him? What’s with this change in luck?
*Junior Seau was an inspired sidekick to Thomas, and Mike Vrabel came hard off the edge despite being listed as questionable. Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren stuffed the Jets early, and Seymour’s explosive sack of Clemens was a welcome flashback. The cornerbacks stood out mainly because they didn’t convert any of the interception chances that came their way.
*I suppose the question will be asked: can anybody else do what the Jets did to Brady, or was the weather The Main Ingredient of his frustration? I guess everybody plays the fool, sometimes.
*Belichick must have figured that every camera in the stadium would be trained on him the second the clock went to zero, and the images taken as he crossed the field towards Mangini would soon be hurtling across every corner of the Internet, when they could be scrutinized, analyzed, and quite probably scandalized. I like to think that the usually dour coach burst out laughing at the thought of it, and that’s what carried him across to Mangini, and then some warm embraces by a few Jets, before a triumphant fist pump to the Patriots sideline. That ending wasn’t the one we expected either, but it was great.
*”The whole chipper, friendly “great game, great game….awesome” veered dangerously close to John Denver “far OUT!” territory. Man, that was fun.
*With the top seed now clinched, the debate begins: will Belichick rest some starters over the final two weeks? why, with the bye week that’s only two Sundays away? I don’t know if Maroney was this involved in the game plan before the weather arrived, but I’d like to see a lot more of him and his flying wedge, for example. I’d like to see more of Adalius Thomas sprinting around, and perhaps another Richard Seymour sack or two. I’d like to see Tom Brady come out and have another great game, if only to assuage any lingering thoughts of yesterday.