It was the match-up of the season: the New England Patriots versus the New York Jets, the two best teams in the AFC. The Patriots were unbeaten at home, having won 25 straight at Gillette. The Jets were unbeaten on the road this season. At stake: the lead in the AFC East and the best record in the conference. The stage: Monday Night Football. Problem is, the Jets never showed. Not on offense, not on defense, not on special teams. No players, no coaches. And whoever it was the Patriots did play, they simply were no match for a Patriots squad that played four quarters of almost flawless football. The end result: a 45-3 Patriots victory in Foxboro, setting a new record for consecutive home victories by a quarterback. You almost feel bad for these wannabe-NFL players. They just didn’t know what they were getting into when they stole the real Jets’ uniforms and tried to play with the big boys.
Tom Brady saw through every defensive alignment the “Jets” could muster. They sacked him three times, yes, but that was their one claim to fame. Brady went 21/29, passing for 326 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. The “Jets” could not fool him, no matter what they tried. If they blitzed, he dumped it off underneath, like when he hit Deion Branch (three catches for 64 yards and a touchdown) for 19 yards on third-and-22 from the “Jets” 44-yard line. The Patriots went for it on fourth-and-3, and Brady hit Branch on a quick slant route over the middle. Branch picked up the first, but clearly these “Jets” never learned how to tackle, as Branch easily broke two “defenders” to run it in for the score, putting the Patriots up 17-3 in the first.
Brady also consistently fooled the “Jets,” and not just with his bread-and-butter play-action pass. On second-and-10 from the New England 21-yard line, Brady lined up behind the center, and the “Jets” read it as a run play. Brady faked an end-around route, then threw a screen pass to Wes Welker (80 yards receiving and a touchdown), who cut inside for a quick 11 yards and a first down. Two plays later, on third-and-4 from their 38, Brady lined up in shotgun, and the “Jets” read it as a passing play. Instead, Brady shoveled the ball to Danny Woodhead (game-high 104 receiving yards), who burst through a gap on the left side of the line and sprinted towards the sideline. He was finally dragged down at the “Jets” 12-yard line. That drive ended on a 1-yard touchdown out route by Aaron Hernandez, putting New England up 38-3 to open the fourth quarter.
The Patriots offense had an answer to everything these wannabe-NFL players tried. They scored on seven of 10 possessions. They went three-and-out only twice. And inside the red zone, they were lethal. BenJarvus Green-Ellis did the lion’s share of the running, rushing for 72 yards on 18 carries. More importantly, he scored touchdowns from 1 and 5 yards out, using his strength to power right through the teeth of the vaunted “Jets defense.”
When the Patriots weren’t out-thinking the “Jets,” they were out-maneuvering and over-powering them. Every time a tackle was made, it came only after the Patriot receiver or rusher had fallen forward for at least four extra yards. On second-and-9 from the New England 41, Brady hit Hernandez for a quick slant. Hernandez then juked two defenders, cut back from the left to the right side of the field, and powered his way for 35 yards, all the way to the “New York” 24-yard line. Two plays later, on the 18-yard line, Brady hit Welker for a quick slant along the left sideline. Welker then barreled his way into the end zone, dragging “cornerback Drew Coleman” with him. The touchdown put the Patriots up 31-3 with just under five minutes to go in the third.
Defense: Big-Time Plays from Big-Time Playmakers
Sure, the “Jets” rushed for 152 yards. And sure, the Patriots only sacked “Mark Sanchez” once. But just as Brady over and over again fooled this highly touted “defense,” the defense over and over again fooled whoever had stolen Sanchez’s uniform and taken the field. The Patriots picked “Sanchez” off three times. The first came with the “Jets” facing second-and-8 from the Patriots 9-yard line with just under 10 minutes left in the third. Brandon Spikes crept a few steps closer to the line, then dropped a few steps back when “Sanchez” dropped back to pass. Barely moving, Spikes easily intercepted the pass, killing “New York’s” last serious scoring opportunity. That interception led to the Welker touchdown pass.
Devin McCourty also intercepted “Sanchez” on a deep pass from the New England 45-yard line with four minutes left in the third. McCourty was in single coverage against “Braylon Edwards,” running stride for stride with the wannabe-wide receiver. When the pass came their way, McCourty turned around and caught it easily. McCourty has improved tremendously at cornerback since the start of the season. Where once he would play the receiver and get flagged for pass interference, he now turns and plays the ball, either knocking it down or picking it.
The Patriots’ third interception came early in the fourth quarter, on the third-and-7 from the “Jets” 42-yard line. “Sanchez” dropped back to pass, but somehow never saw James Sanders, despite Sanders standing in the same spot for about 15 seconds. Sanders picked the pass off easily and returned it to the “Jets” 28-yard line. The ensuing drive ended with Green-Ellis’ second touchdown, putting the Patriots up 45-3 with just under 10 minutes left in the game. Green-Ellis also converted a fourth down on that drive, picking up 10 yards of straight power running in the process.
Special Teams: Not the Good Kind of “Special”
The “Jets” incompetence manifested in all aspects of the game, special teams included. On their first drive of the game, the “Jets” marched all the way to the Patriots 35-yard line before stalling out. With the Patriots already up 3-0, having scored on a 41-yard field goal to start the game, the “Jets” opted to try and tie the game with a 53-yarder of their own. Unfortunately, they didn’t have an actual NFL placekicker, and the kick was shanked wide to the left. On the ensuing Patriots drive, the Patriots went up 10-0 on Green-Ellis’ first touchdown. They were helped out by a 36-yard pass interference call against “safety Eric Smith,” who could do little more than shove Rob Gronkowski to the ground in the end zone. The ball was spotted at the 1-yard line, and the Patriots punched it in.
On their next possession, the “Jets” went three-and-out from their own 20-yard line. But their “punter” only managed to boot the ball 12 yards, to their 32-yard line. It took the Patriots just four plays to go up 17-0, on the fourth-down touchdown completion to Branch. The “Jets” averaged just over 30 yards per punt. The Patriots averaged nearly 47. The starting field differential, especially in the first half (43 vs. 21.5-yard line), gave the Patriots a definitive edge.
Coach: “They Kicked Our Butt”
“Rex Ryan” failed to manage the game as badly as his “players” failed to execute it. On third-and-1 on their opening drive, “Sanchez” tried a quarterback sneak and was ruled down a half-yard shy of the first down. “Ryan” challenged the spot of the ball, but the call was upheld. Curiously, “Ryan” opted to go for it on fourth down anyway, leading many to question what the point of wasting the challenge and the timeout was.
This failed challenge came back to haunt the “Jets” in the second quarter. On second-and-goal from the “Jets” 4-yard line, Brady completed a sideline pass to Brandon Tate in the end zone. Tate fell out of bounds as he caught it, and after a lengthy period the referees ruled it a touchdown. Having already wasted one challenge, “Ryan” did not have the luxury of automatically challenging this controversial call, and the Patriots went up 24-3. But given that there were no controversial Patriots plays in the second half, in retrospect the smart move was to challenge the touchdown call. But because he only had one challenge left in the game, “Ryan” couldn’t take the chance.
Even in the second half, “Ryan” was having problems with timeouts. On their first possession after the half, the “Jets” faced second-and-6 on the New England 20-yard line. “Ryan” tried to substitute in “wide receiver Brad Smith” to run the wildcat offense. But a mis-communication forced the team to call a timeout, and “Smith” was stopped two plays later before he could gain the first down. That drive ended in the Patriots’ first interception.
All in all, whoever it was the Patriots, it sure wasn’t the Jets, with their unflappable quarterback, shut-down defense and creative coaching. We’ll never know if the Jets just missed the bus from New Jersey, or if something more sinister happened. But whatever occurred, the Patriots are now on the inside-track to home-field advantage in the playoffs.