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Patriots don't mind quarterback gap

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  November 14, 2011 03:24 PM

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Maybe it should be In Tom We Trust.

It is largely thanks to Tom Brady that the Patriots find themselves returned to their rightful place atop the AFC East and chiding their doubters, following a 37-16 win over the New York Jets.

The Patriots' order-restoring, hysteria-avoiding win over the Jets boiled down to the comparison between the two quarterbacks, and the fact there is no comparison.

While Brady was carving up one of the league's best pass defenses, Jets quarterback (Off the) Mark Sanchez couldn't capitalize on playing against the league's worst-rated pass defense, even though the Patriots were missing Patrick Chung, out with a foot injury, and cornerback Devin McCourty, who suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter.

We have the education gap, the income gap, the credibility gap and in the Patriots-Jets rivalry the quarterback gap. The last might be the most yawning of all, and as long as it exists in its current form the Jets will be looking up in the division standings. Truthfully, the Jets know that Sanchez is not Brady, so they've relied on coach Rex Ryan and cornerback Darelle Revis to level the playing field.

However, whatever Jedi mind tricks Ryan was using on Brady with disguises and simulated pressure and repeated public pronouncements that Peyton Manning is just a little bit better don't work any more. Brady has cracked the code of the wise-cracking Jets' coach's vaunted defense. While last night Sanchez just cracked.

In two games against the Jets this year, Brady has completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 650 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. That interception should have been another touchdown pass, as in the October 9 meeting, Aaron Hernandez had an apparent TD pass escape his grip and land in the hands of Antonio Cromartie.

Those numbers are staggering considering coming into the game the Jets had held opposing passers to just five touchdown passes all season and a 51.7 percent completion percentage, both of which were tops in the league. Half of the TD passes allowed by the Jets in nine games this year have been thrown by Brady.

As good a job as Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his defensive coaching staff did coaching up a depleted defense just like the old days, what separated the Patriots and Jets on the scoreboard last night wasn't coaching. It was quarterbacking.

Can you imagine what Brady, who threw three touchdown passes and had the 40th 300-yard passing game of his career (26 of 39 for 329 yards, no) would have done against the makeshift secondary the Patriots were forced to deploy? (There is no truth to the rumor that undrafted rookie defensive back Sterling Moore, who started at safety, was acquired via Groupon.)

The Jets came out wanting to test the Patriots' 32d-ranked pass defense. They threw on eight of their first 12 offensive plays. But then the Patriots' pass rush started to kick in, Sanchez started to samba in the pocket and New York pulled the plug.

Brady, who actually got off to a slow start (7 of 16), and you could hear the "What's wrong with Brady?" murmurs cascading down I-95. But starting with the final drive of the first half, he went 19 of 23 for 200 yards and three touchdowns the rest of the way, completing his final 12 passes, a quarterbacking clinic.

If anyone can appreciate Brady's play against the Jets it is Patriots defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, who was part of the Jets defenses that had flummoxed Brady in his two prior trips to New Jersey to face Ryan, holding him without a single point in the second half.

"Oh, yeah, I've been on the other side. I know how dominant they can be on that defense, so yeah," said Ellis.

Ellis was almost at a loss for words to describe what it was like watching Brady pick apart a Jets defense engineered specifically to stop him.

"Man, it's just ... amazing," Ellis said. "That's all I can say. To just sit there and watch him go to work. It's one of the things that a lot of people don't get to see from the inside. I'm glad he's my quarterback."

Brady and Sanchez actually threw the same number of passes last night (39), but that's where any similarity to their play ends.

Sanchez was 20 of 39 for 306 yards with a touchdown. However, before garbage time, he was 14 of 28 for 206 yards with the TD and two interceptions that led to Patriots' touchdowns, including a back-breaking pick-six by Rob Ninkovich.

It is an indictment of Sanchez's accuracy that in today's pass-happy NFL, he is only completing 56.7 percent of this throws. It's an even bigger indictment that that is a career-high for him.

Sanchez is supposed to be a game manager but he couldn't even manage to do that correctly. Ryan was livid that Sanchez called a timeout before his 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, which gave the Jets a 9-6 lead. Instead of letting the play clock run down to one or two seconds, Sanchez called time with about 17 seconds left, leaving Brady plenty of time to march down and find Rob Gronkowski for an 18-yard touchdown with nine seconds left before the half.

A peeved Ryan referred to it as the "stupidest thing in football history" during the NBC telecast, before trying to shield Sanchez from further criticism after the game by taking responsibility for the game management gaffe.

It's the type of mental error Brady never makes.

In fairness, Sanchez wasn't alone. Santonio Holmes got tripped up by air on an apparent touchdown. Kicker Nick Folk missed a 24-yard chip-shot field goal. Joe McKnight muffed a punt and then two other Jets let the ball slip through their grasp before the Patriots recovered.

But teams often take on the personality of their quarterbacks. Sanchez is bold, but skittish and inconsistent. Brady is calculating and a consummate winner who responds to a challenge.

The quarterback gap remains, and so does the Patriots' grip on the AFC East.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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