Monday, October 10, 2011

What we learned in Patriots' win over Jets

It was another heated, highly-anticipated divisional matchup between the New England Patriots and New York Jets Sunday, and with so many questions going into the game, it seems as though we’ve got some answers … and some more questions.

New England took an early lead and never relinquished it, prevailing at Gillette Stadium, 30-21, over a hungry but hurting Jets squad. We were almost able to forget the butt whooping New York handed the Patriots in the postseason last year — probably the biggest win of Rex Ryan’s head coaching career, and definitely so if the Jets were to have gone on to actually make it to the Super Bowl.

But this game, like so many before it, was different from previous ones on so many levels. The Patriots (4-1) used their running game to put points on the board. The Jets couldn’t move the ball at all until the game’s final minutes. And Patriots quarterback Tom Brady actually threw his first red-zone interception at home. Ever.

But the big picture here isn’t just the Jets-Patriots rivalry. No, this is bigger than that. The Jets (2-3) are in the midst of a three-game skid in an AFC East with no room to breathe, and no matter how you look at it, they have plenty of work to do. But we already knew that. Here are three things we learned Sunday:

The Patriots don’t need a star … at least not on defense

Sure, having your defensive captain on the field during a game as big as one versus the Jets would be nice, but sometimes, uncontrollable circumstances prevent that from happening. The Patriots dealt with the loss of linebacker Jerod Mayo the best way they could have, by both utilizing the leadership around them and having an intelligent, prepared replacement ready to go.

It wasn’t the best defensive effort, but it was solid considering all the adversity the New England D has faced this season.

“We had our moments,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the media after the game regarding his team’s defensive play versus the Jets. “We had some three-and-outs. We didn’t play very well in the red area and we still gave up 21 points, but it was enough to win.”

The Jets still make it difficult for the Patriots

New York found a way to make Brady jittery in the pocket, even if only briefly, but they also sacked him four times. It was an improvement for the Patriots, who last time out lost to the Jets and let Brady get sacked five times. But it still was no cakewalk for the Pats.

While the Patriots’ offensive front looked dominant throughout the first four weeks, it looked like the Jets still knew the trick to getting the best of them. Fortunate for the Jets, too, because without that the game may not have been so close.

Another plus for the Jets' defense was (big surprise here) cornerback Derelle Revis. Revis was stuck to stud wide receiver Wes Welker on Sunday and was able to keep a lid on him for the most part. Welker only had five catches for 124 yards. That’s got to be considered 'under control' when Welker has 740 total receiving yards through the first five weeks. The Jets receivers have 576 COMBINED, and that’s with a stout group consisting of Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Jeremy Kerley and Derrick Mason. It’s fair to say Welker was 'contained' on Sunday.

Gang Green did pick off Brady in its own end zone, handing the future Hall of Famer his first red-zone INT at home ever. The pass was in and out of the hands of Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez then scooped up by Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. That shifted the momentum as the teams headed to the locker room at halftime.

“It’s always physical against the Jets,” Belichick said after the game. “They’re physical. We try to be physical. They ran the ball; they came in aggressively. Their front is physical.”

This one is far from over

Well, you probably knew that. But it’s only going to get better from here. Both teams will improve and, who knows, we might even see this one a couple more times this season.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

“There were some good things to build on,” Belichick said. “We’ve still got a long way to go, and we’ll see (the Jets) again in a month, as well as the rest of our division teams later on this season. It’s good to win and I’m really proud of our team.”

Jets/Patriots week, see ya in a month.

Follow Sam @SammySports