By Jeremy Gottlieb Patriots Daily Staff
Well that was fun, wasn’t it? With the game of the year on the docket against their insufferable, motor-mouthed rivals from the swamps of New Jersey, the Patriots performed a complete, total and utter destruction of the Jets on Monday night at Gillette Stadium to the tune of 45-3, a final margin that didn’t really feel that close. For 11 days leading up to the game between two (then) 9-2 juggernauts, universally agreed upon as two of the three or four best teams in the league, the Jets, led by their boor of a head coach, Rex Ryan, did nothing but constantly proclaim themselves to be the better team, the soon-to-be AFC Super Bowl reps, the greatest thing since sliced bread, etc., while the Pats, as always, said nothing, preferring to let their play on the field do the talking (boy, what a novel idea). When it came time for the game, on the biggest of any regular season stage, they did just that, while the big-talking, small-balled, fraudulent Jets, um, ahem… crapped themselves. It was a lesson in unadulterated domination, with the Jets trying to win the game on their first possession and Ryan, through a bad challenge and a worse decision to try a long field goal despite far less than ideal conditions, displaying that for all of his bluster, he had not the first clue of how to handle the moment. The Pats capitalized on Ryan’s mismanagement of his team’s first drive and proceeded to run the Jets off the field, out of the stadium, onto Route 1 and halfway back to the New Meadowlands. Tom Brady was nearly flawless again, basically sealing up his second MVP award with another vintage performance, the defense played perhaps its best, most complete game of the season and Bill Belichick coached circles around his overmatched counterpart. This game was one of the most satisfying in years, a pretty much perfect performance that Belichick himself characterized as, “the best 60 minutes of football we’ve played all year.” So with that, let’s get to this week’s report card, which will be a tad different than usual this week. No need to grade each positional group – everyone gets an A for this game. Sure there were a few bits and pieces here and there that could have been better, and those will be briefly addressed. But to do any more than that would be nitpicking to the extreme and there was nothing nitpicky about Monday night. Not in the slightest.
OFFENSE: Overall Grade: A
During the post-game, ESPN’s Steve Young said, “The Jets defense completely capitulated. Rex Ryan didn’t even know what to say about it. It was that exacting.” That sums it up rather tidily, eh? The Pats came into the game with the best offense in the league and all they did was increase the distance between themselves and whoever is second best. Facing a supposedly top-flight defense, the Pats did whatever they wanted all night long. Through another perfect balance and mix of run and pass, the Pats devastated the Jets vaunted D, rendering all of their “stars,” (Darrelle Revis, Shaun Ellis, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, etc.) practically invisible. After failing to sustain their first drive of the game and settling for a field goal, the Pats scored TDs on their next three possessions, racing out to a 17-0 first quarter lead and a 24-3 halftime advantage. On the first TD drive, Brady, who was a ho-hum 21-of-29 for 326 yards and four TDs, converted a big third down to Wes Welker by virtue of his fantastic ability to feel pressure in the pocket and slide away from it, then was aided by a huge pass interference call on Rob Gronkowski at the goal line, enabling the Law Firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (another terrific game with 18 more rushes for 72 more bruising yards two more TDs) to chalk up his first score. On the second, the Jets inexplicably gave up a 20-yard pass to Deion Branch on third-and-22, before Brady, on fourth down, easily deciphered an all-out blitz, calmly hit Branch on a super quick slant and watched him break a tackle by the wildly overrated Antonio Cromartie and stroll into the end zone.
The rest of the evening featured more of the same; Brady seeing mismatches, recognizing blitzes, basically ruling the entire stadium in as efficient and surgical a way as possible. He was aided tremendously by his receivers, not just Branch and Welker (seven catches, 80 yards, TD), but by the tight ends, Gronk and Hernandez, who had two big plays, a TD catch on which he was as wide open as it gets and also smoked a couple of Jets defenders as a run blocker on BJGE’s first scoring run, and of course, Danny Woodhead. Rudy 2 took two dinky, little flips – one a shovel pass, the other a dump-off after a perfectly designed play fake that featured Welker as a decoy, and turned them into a 50-yard gain and a 35-yard gain respectively. Overall, Woody caught four passes for 104 yards and now has more receiving yards since Randy Moss was traded than Moss has accumulated for Minnesota and Tennessee combined. What’s more is that he produced the performance against the team that let him go in favor of king-sized bust Joe McKnight, who is now the Jet’s mop-up guy out of the backfield.
And naturally, the O-line must be recognized and given just as much credit as Brady or any of his skill players. Brady was sacked three times and on a couple, someone was surprised by an unexpected blitz. But generally, Brady had all day to throw, as he has throughout the season. The amount of time Brady had to find Welker on seemingly every pass he threw to him was endless, as it was on his second TD pass to Brandon Tate, on which he had time to play fake, survey the field, see nothing over the middle, stride to his left, turn and strike the ball to Tate perfectly. And again, he didn’t turn the ball over (the Pats have a measly nine on the season), extending his streak of passes without a pick to 228 straight. If there’s anyone out there who doubted a) Brady is far and away the best QB in the NFL at the moment, b) the Pats offense wasn’t as good as has been reported of late or c) they can handle any look that any defense gives them at any time, I hope you watched this game. All of those doubts must be put to rest.
DEFENSE: Overall Grade: A
Sure, the Jets ran on the Pats. Shonn Greene was extremely tough for anyone wearing blue to tackle, and LaDanian Tomlinson, when he wasn’t pounding his chest after making a first down with his team down by three scores, had a few significant carries. But it didn’t matter because the Jets inexplicably hardly utilized the run, only their strongest, most important weapon on offense, nearly enough before the game got out of hand. Instead, Ryan and his offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer chose to put the game on the shoulders of their second-year, 24-year old QB Mark Sanchez. And boy oh boy was that the absolute worst decision they could have made. Even facing a defense that has struggled the way the Pats have statistically all season, the scheme, the different looks, the shifts in formations displayed by the home team were all too much for Sanchez to handle. He was confused bordering on flustered all night and even though he showed a keen sense of how to avoid pressure (the Pats had just one sack but probably should have had at least four), he rarely made the right decision or read and consistently failed to see clear examples of throws a QB can’t make, He threw three INTs, all in the second half, all within the span of six pass attempts and two of which were thrown directly to a Pats defender. The first, a terrible red zone pass early in the third quarter on which he failed to Brandon Spikes literally standing right in front of him (as well as three defensive backs encircled around his intended receiver in the end zone), pretty much ended the game for the Jets; a TD there makes the score 24-10 and gives the visitors some momentum, instead, the Pats took the gift and embarked on the first of two straight eight-play, 90-plus yard scoring drives.
It didn’t help Sanchez that his top targets in the passing game were mostly nowhere to be found. Santonio Holmes, Sanchez’s favorite target, had seven catches, maybe one of consequence. Tight end Dustin Keller and woeful No. 2 receiver Braylon Edwards did exactly nothing. And a lot of credit for that must go to the Pats secondary, which had a tremendous night. Even Darius Butler made a couple of plays. Kyle Arrington had his best game of the year, keeping up with both Holmes and Edwards without incident. Devin McCourty had yet another pick, his sixth of the year and fourth in his last three games and again, the INT was an example of perfect technique and athleticism. The other pick went to Indy game hero James Sanders while Patrick Chung was the biggest reason why Keller was so quiet.
Elsewhere, Vince Wilfork played most of the night like he was shot out of a cannon, providing some pass pressure in addition to his usual run stuffing. Jerod Mayo again looked a step slow and was completely run over by Greene a couple of times, but still managed another double digit tackle game. Tully Banta-Cain did an excellent job of hounding and harrassing Sanchez all night. And Jermaine Cunningham played arguably his best game of the year, making plays against the run and getting after the Sanchez equally well. The Jets were complicit in their own demise on offense. But that doesn’t mean the Pats didn’t play great on D. Three points and a little over 300 total yards allowed is pretty damn good. Let’s hope it was a sign of things to come.
Special Teams/Coaching/Crowd/Weather/Everything Else: A
Shayne Graham kicked a 41-yard field goal into the blasting wind and boomed some kickoffs, Gostkowski-styles. Our man Zoltan averaged 47 yards per punt and made a rip snorting tackle on one punt return. And Woodhead had his customary huge hit playing on the kickoff team. It was the Pats best game on special teams in weeks and why shouldn’t it have been given how well everything else went? The crowd was in full throat all night long and it sounded as loud as it has at Gillette in a long time, even from my living room. A buddy of mine who was there emailed me, “We stayed in full til the bitter end and so did the rest of the crowd. It was magic. It was palpable.” Gone are the days when Brady has to indirectly ask the fans to come on time, stay in their seats and actually make some noise, it would seem. And the weather, bitterly cold with icy winds, probably played a role in that. It had to have felt like 68,000 people were all in it together, freezing their asses off, and they’d be damned if they weren’t going to revel in it as their team beat the snot out of its opponent. It was a site to behold, even on TV. Man, it must have been cool to be there.
As for the coaching, as big as any other mismatch was (Brady vs. Sanchez, the Pats receivers vs. the Jets pass coverage, etc.), perhaps the biggest was between the two coaching staffs. Ryan and company made one boneheaded decision after another, panicked five minutes into the game and may as well have puked on their shoes. Belichick and his men calmly, quietly outsmarted their blubbering counterparts, taking advantage of every tactical mistake the Jets staff made all night long. The offensive game plan and play-calling, courtesy of de facto offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, completely flummoxed Ryan and his supposed defensive brilliance. It was said during the week that Ryan’s defenses are Brady’s Achilles heel. Anyone who claimed that want to take it back after Monday night? As Young said, after a while, the Jets D simply rolled over – it was whipped that thoroughly. And therein lies the biggest difference between Ryan and Belichick. Ryan talks about being great. Belichick simply is. One coach pounds his chest after winning in Week 2. The other destroys his opponent in Week 13, when a possible division title is on the line, and just goes about his business, before and after. Of course, Belichick said after the bloodbath ended that the Jets are still a very good team and that the Pats may well see them again somewhere down the line. He’s probably right, as always. Barring a total collapse, the Jets will make the playoffs as a wild card and if certain things break a certain way, they could be back in Foxboro for the divisional round sometime over the weekend of January 15-16. And naturally, that would be an even bigger game than Monday night. Based on the way that one went down, Belichick, O’Brien and company then may well be licking their chops.