Though it wasn’t the 45-3 dismembering the Patriots gave the Jets last season, the Patriots still drew first blood against their rivals from New Jersey Sunday when they beat the Jets, 30-21. The Patriots are now one 30-point game shy of the St. Louis Rams’ NFL-record 14 consecutive games. Who’s moving to the head of the class and who’s stuck wearing the dunce cap? The answers lie below.
When running backs put up 149 yards and two touchdowns, the quarterback can usually ease up a bit. Still, Tom Brady played solidly, completing over 70 percent of his passes and averaging nearly 10 yards per completion. Brady didn’t let his interception off the hands of a still-recovering Aaron Hernandez affect his poise the way picks did against Buffalo. Brady also showed considerable heart by standing in the pocket over and over again despite a porous offensive line that four times allowed Jets rushers to sack him.
Running backs: A
BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn’t quite ready to give up the starting job to Stevan Ridley, setting a career-high with 136 rushing yards and scoring two touchdowns Sunday. His biggest yards came on a fourth-quarter direct snap from the New York 46. Had Green-Ellis not converted that third-and-4, the Patriots would have punted and relied on their defense to preserve a six-point lead. Instead, Green-Ellis executed the play perfectly, chewed up 14 yards, and pushed the Patriots into field-goal range. The Jets burned all three timeouts, and the Patriots still went up nine on the field goal with just a minute to play.
Green-Ellis also added a 13-yard catch and helped sell the one play-action pass the Patriots ran. Terrific game all around.
Wide receivers/tight ends: A-
Wes Welker once again led the team in yardage, but this time Darrelle Revis limited him to a “meager” 124 yards, catching him from behind to turn an 80-yard touchdown reception into a 73-yarder. The Patriots had to run three whole plays to score, the last an easy touchdown pass to a wide open Deion Branch (who led the team with seven receptions). Despite Revis’ prowess, Welker still averaged almost 25 yards per catch.
The Patriots’ duo of Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez struggled a bit in their first game together in three weeks, catching just 12 balls for a combined average of just 10.8 yards per catch. Hernandez is still regaining his speed and agility, and Gronkowski wasn’t targeted often in a game in which the Patriots rushed slightly more often than they passed.
Offensive line: C+
The offensive line gets credit for springing the running backs for 149 yards, but allowing four sacks and a fifth quarterback hit just isn’t acceptable. Had any of those sacks resulted in turnovers or (gasp!) an injury, this grade would have been even lower. You have to protect your quarterback first and foremost, and the offensive line looked completely incapable of doing that Sunday. The Patriots’ running success was what saved Brady from further damage, not the line.
Two holding penalties didn’t help this grade either.
Defensive line: B-
The defensive line allowed nearly 100 Jets rushing yards and a touchdown. They were completely neutralized by the Jets’ offensive line, only getting to Mark Sanchez three times (one sack, two extra hits) before the game’s final play. Sanchez sat in the pocket all day long, safe from just about any of the Patriots’ big, bad defensive linemen. Had Sanchez been more accurate or his receivers not dropped quite so many balls, the New England defense would have been eaten alive. Instead, they held the Jets to 255 total yards, fewest of any opponent. But that doesn’t mean the defensive line played well.
Jets starting running back Shonn Greene averaged just 4.0 yards per rush. A big reason: Gary Guyton, who filled in admirably for Jerod Mayo with nine tackles (tied for team high). The linebackers also held the Jets’ tight ends to just two catches and 11 yards. Sanchez didn’t throw over the middle very often, so the Patriots linebackers had less to do for pass-coverage. But what they had to do they did admirably.
Rob Ninkovich was the only non-lineman to hit Sanchez.
Defensive backs: B+
The Patriots secondary continues to improve bit by bit. They made it at least difficult for the Jets to get open Sunday. Had the defensive line forced a few more hurried passes from Sanchez, the Jets’ wide receivers probably wouldn’t have put up quite so many total yards. Still, the Patriots held Plaxico Burress to just three catches in eight attempts. Solid tackling by Patrick Chung (also nine tackles) and physical defense from Leigh Bodden (credited with the Patriots’ only defensed pass) showed this defense may finally be heading in the right direction.
Special teams: B+
Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko certainly did their jobs: Gostkowski nailed all three field goals, each of which proved crucial in keeping the Patriots’ lead just out of reach, and Mesko averaged 51.3 yards per punt. But special teams coverage was downright atrocious at points in Sunday’s game. Joe McKnight averaged nearly 40 yards per kickoff return, including an 88-yarder in the third that led to a three-play touchdown and cut New England’s lead to three points. The Jets offense is terrible, but if you let them start 80 yards down-field, they’re probably going to score. Bad coverage didn’t kill the Patriots, but it certainly hurt.