Hyped as the Super Bowl of the regular season, Monday night’s matchup of the best two teams in the AFC turned into a landslide victory for the home team New England Patriots over the visiting New York Jets, 45-3. The shellacking evened the season series at 1-1, kept New England undefeated at home (6-0) and more importantly, earned itself first place outright in the AFC East with a 10-2 record, with the Jets in second at 9-3.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady followed up a perfect 158 QB Rating on Turkey Day against the Lions with a nearly perfect 148 QB Rating against the Jets. And for only the second time in his career, he accomplished the feat of throwing four touchdowns for the second game in a row.
If there was any question before, there is none now that New England is the best team in football, and that if the vote was held today, Brady would be named MVP of the NFL this year. Not even Rex Ryan would quarrel with that now. With 27 TDs and only 4 INTs thrown, there isn’t a hotter QB in the league right now (as Michael Vick has cooled off a bit).
As the team leader of the youngest team in the NFL, Brady needs to be on top of his game and pretty much has been for most of the year. In 12 games, he’s only thrown INTs in two of them (against the Jets in week two and against Baltimore some weeks later). And in three of the last four games, he’s thrown for over 300 yards and thrown 13 TDs with no INTs in those last four games. That’s outstanding.
Having allowed over 150 yards rushing, it may look like Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and the Pats defense didn’t exactly “stuff” the run but they did when it mattered and didn’t allow many big gains—the longest was a rush of 14 yards by LaDainian Tomlinson.
As predicted though, the Pats defense made the Jets a one dimensional offense due to the secondary tightly covering Mark Sanchez’s receivers (Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes) in the short and long field pretty much all game long. The Jets defense, by contrast, missing Jim Leonhard, could do nothing to stop Brady.
Having gotten down 17-0 early, Mark Sanchez and company had to throw the ball more than they’d have liked to, and eventually, a Bill Belichick defense seized on that as it has so often in the past, picking off three Sanchez passes. Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who picked off one of them, became the first Pats player with INTs in three straight games since Asante Samuel in 2007 (who has also only trails by one for the NFL lead of seven INTs). The Jets now have 15 turnovers in its last seven games after having turned the ball over just once in its first five contests.
Danny Woodhead, who has effectively replaced Kevin Faulk’s role, became the first Pats running back to record over 100 yards receiving since, you guessed it, Faulk did it in 2003. One big and career-long 50-yard run after a reception got him nearly half of his 104 yards receiving to lead all receivers on both sides. It was obviously a career day for Woodhead, who was, as many are aware, cut from the Jets earlier this season.
So how does one explain why the Pats were so dominant and explosive for 60 minutes? One reason is that Belichick and Brady used a couple of intense hours during one of the 10 days off after Turkey Day to study film of the Jets. With the veteran head coach doing double duty as defensive coordinator, he hadn’t had time like that to spend with his franchise QB. He was going to do everything he could to avoid losing to the “hated” Jets for the second time this year. (Fact: Belichick has not lost two games in one season to a divisional opponent since 2000.) So that’s one explanation.
The other is possible inspiration from future Patriots Hall of Famer and former linebacker and stroke survivor Tedy Bruschi. He was honored by owner Bob Kraft at halftime at Gillette Stadium, and warmed the hearts and minds of a freezing sellout crowd. As Belichick said after the game, he got to see that smile of his before the game and at halftime. And yes, Belichick himself was all smiles just talking about him in the postgame press conference. And why not? After all, Bruschi was “the perfect player” to Belichick.
And with the exception of a few sacks allowed by Matt Light and the Pats offensive line, the Patriots pretty much played as perfect a game as you’ll likely see them play this year. And it came in the most important game of the season, one that at least for now, gives them some breathing room in the standings as they head into the final fourth of 2010. Now, it’s off to “Da Bears” country.