When a game gets out of whack so quickly, the way the Patriots’ 49-19 victory over the Jets did in an 11-minute stretch of the second quarter Thanksgiving night, it’s tough to get a gauge on anything.
Because of equal parts skill from the Patriots and ineptitude from the Jets, New England exploded for 35 points while holding the ball for just 2:46.
Impressive and unbelievable.
Does it mean anything that the Jets held a 16-14 advantage in the other three quarters? Doesn’t seem right, so let’s look at a few of the more interesting aspects of the Patriots’ victory and whether they’ll carry over starting Sunday in Miami.
Life without Gronk: So much for going with three receivers after tight end Rob Gronkowski was lost for at least a month after forearm surgery. The Patriots doubled down on their tight ends by having two of them on the field 75 percent of the time (51 out of 68 plays). The Patriots simply plugged Daniel Fells into Gronkowski's “Y” role — a blocking-heavy position depending on how talented the receiver is — and put Aaron Hernandez back in his “F” or flex spot, where he is basically a third receiver. The continuity very well might have been a byproduct of the short week of preparation, and the Patriots always will be a game-plan-specific offense.
Adding more layers in the secondary: With the return of safety Patrick Chung (shoulder) into the lineup, the Patriots used three sub packages against the Jets. There was the normal nickel package (41.5 percent before the final two Jet drives), with cornerback Kyle Arrington taking the place of a linebacker, either Dont'a Hightower or Brandon Spikes, and playing the “star” slot corner position. Chung was inserted as the fifth defensive back in a “big nickel” used to combat tight end Dustin Keller (16.9 percent). That’s the first time the Patriots have showed that this season. The dime package featuring Arrington and safety Tavon Wilson in place of Hightower and Spikes was used for just one snap against the Jets, although it had been featured before the injuries at safety. Add in that the Patriots continued to mix in more 3-4 alignment — their best run defense — along with their 4-3 base, and you have a defense that is becoming more multiple by the week. This is something Bill Belichick does as the season moves along, and it puts more on the plate for opposing quarterbacks and coordinators to prepare for.
The offensive line: Seems like years ago when people were in near hysteria about the state of the offensive line right before the season. Doubt many are complaining or wondering the whereabouts of Brian Waters right now as the offense continues to roll, Tom Brady has gotten good protection, and the running backs gain huge chunks of yardage, usually without having to do much because the blocking has been so good. The Jets certainly helped. Of the 68 plays the Patriots ran, not including two kneeldowns, the Jets played their base defense with three linemen and four linebackers just nine times (13.2 percent). What’s even more amazing is the first snap of base defense didn’t come until there was 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, when the Patriots promptly burned the Jets on a 28-yard strike from Brady to Wes Welker. As we saw with the first Bills game, one of the big differences in this offense and the previous versions is that the Patriots will cram it down your throat if you go small. Seemed like the Jets overrated the ability of their defensive line to clog running lanes. The Patriots had little trouble turning the Jets, with the lone exception of standout end Muhammad Wilkerson, and getting to the second level. They made it look easy.
On to the positional ratings against the Jets:
Quarterback (Rating: 4.5 out of 5)
He wasn’t quite as good as he was against the Colts, but Brady continues to play at an extremely high level. The short week and lopsided score seemed to curtail the normal creativity for the Jets against Brady. They sent an extra pass rusher on 17.2 percent of Brady’s 29 dropbacks. And the Jets used only two zone exchanges — subbing a linebacker or defensive back for a normal pass rusher — which of late had been Rex Ryan’s preferred method of pressure against Brady. He had little trouble deciphering nickel and dime packages, which the Jets used on 86 percent of the snaps. Brady missed a few throws, but he had 11 standout throws/decisions.
Running backs (4 out of 5)
Most of the work was done by the offensive line as it pummeled the much smaller Jets sub packages. You don’t get much better blocking than what you saw on Shane Vereen’s 13-yard run. Hernandez whammed the tackle, and Ryan Wendell and Marcus Cannon easily got to the second level to pick off dime “linebackers” David Harris and safety Eric Smith to open a huge hole. We finally saw the speed and explosion that led the Patriots to take Vereen in the second round of the 2011 draft on his 83-yard catch and run. Nobody was catching him. Vereen also showed more toughness running the ball than he has previously. If he continues both, there will be more of a platoon between he and Stevan Ridley. Both running backs ran themselves into poor runs on a couple of occasions.
Receivers (4 out of 5)
Fells looked like a very acceptable Gronkowski substitute in the run game with three standout blocks. He also showed he can continue the staple play-action post pass Brady loves to feed Gronkowski when Fells hauled in a 28-yard reception. Fells wasn’t flawless in the run game, but he’ll get sharper the more he plays. Why he wasn’t playing instead of Michael Hoomanawanui is a mystery; Fells is twice the player. Somebody got into the ear of Brandon Lloyd about his blatant dislike of contact because suddenly he was looking to gain yards after his three catches. Hernandez may have played 81 percent of the snaps, but he’s nowhere close to his normal self. The cut he made on his 28-yard catch was decent, but not his usual on-a-dime version. Hernandez also got no lift off the ground on the incompletion down the sideline from Brady (which should have been thrown inside). No drop for Welker at the end of the first quarter. He slipped coming out of his break, which is understandable giving the foot issues he’s playing through. As opposed to some of Josh McDaniels’s other deception play calls, really like the one on which, unfortunately, Julian Edelman got hurt because it was quick hitting. Instead of running a fake handoff to the running back first (takes too long against an NFL defense), Brady tossed it directly to Edelman. Great modification.
Offensive line (Rating: 4 out of 5)
Felt tough to gauge how good this group performed because we’re not sure how the score changed the approach for both the Patriots and Jets, but it felt uneven. The line was either really good, or suffered a few minor breakdowns here and there. Nothing drastic, mostly how they finished plays. The Patriots allowed 12 quarterback pressures against Brady, which means he was pressured on 41.4 percent of his dropbacks — and the Jets didn’t even get that creative. The Patriots had 20.5 percent of their runs stuffed for 1 yard or less — about average — but a few were on the running backs for not being decisive. Right guard Dan Connolly (half stuff) had by far his best game of the season and was nearly flawless. Everyone else was about the same in the good category: Nate Solder (hurry, 1.5 stuffs), Wendell (hurry, 1.5 knockdowns, half stuff), Cannon (two hurries, 1.5 knockdowns, half stuff), and Donald Thomas (sack, knockdown, 2.5 stuffs). All the linemen had multiple standout blocks, especially Thomas, who had the uneviable task of drawing Wilkerson most of the game.
Defensive line (Rating: 4 out of 5)
Vince Wilfork was a monster in the middle. There was a nice subtle play by Jermaine Cunningham to fight off the block of tight end Jeff Cumberland to stop Jeremy Kerley just shy of a first down to start the second half. If the Jets had any dreams of a comeback, they ended there. Cunningham is slowly becoming a more reliable player. A good comeback game for Kyle Love, who got blown out of a gap early but recovered nicely. Very quiet game from Rob Ninkovich, but that probably had to do with the score. It’s becoming apparent the Patriots can’t afford any more injuries on the line. The backups continue to struggle. The Patriots, who blitzed Mark Sanchez on 20.8 percent of his dropbacks (most since the ’11 playoff game), delivered pressure on Sanchez a season-low 15.4 percent of his passes. That was likely because of the score.
Linebackers (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
Another standout game from Jerod Mayo with a sack, solo run stuff, two shared stuffs, and two other standout plays against the run. He’s really setting up and getting off blocks well. Spikes had one of his boom-or-bust games with several good plays, and a handful of subpar plays, including two penalties. Spikes trucked center Nick Mangold on the first play of the Jets’ second series and made the tackle. Then on the next play, a 15-yard run by Shonn Greene, he was a little too aggressive and left the middle open. Looked like Spikes blew a coverage on Bilal Powell’s 14-yard catch early in the second quarter. Everyone was playing man coverage except him. Hightower had a sack, but his play continues to be a concern, especially with his continued poor technique against tight ends. He allowed Cumberland, not a great athlete, to get an easy release and then was slow to react. Hightower’s focus seems to wane during games.
Secondary (Rating: 4 out of 5)
The big plays out of this group definitely outweighed some occasionally spotty play. Steve Gregory had a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and a terrific interception. Alfonzo Dennard had poor technique on the catch by Chaz Schilens but more than made up for it by forcing a fumble after the reception. Arrington had his second straight strong game with two pass breakups. Aqib Talib, who wasn’t tested much, was improved in his second outing. Arrington and Talib both set up the goal-line stand with pass breakups in the red zone. Chung played 31 percent of the snaps and was solid. There were six missed tackles in this group (two from Gregory), which is a little high. Don’t expect to see Wilson playing much safety except in emergency or blowout situations. He was not good with a big missed tackle after he failed to react quickly on Kerley’s 36-yard completion late. Then Wilson completely lost Keller on the final touchdown.
Special teams (Rating: 4.5 out of 5)
Outside of Stephen Gostkowski’s missed 39-yard field goal, this unit delivered another terrific performance. Zoltan Mesko averaged 4.39 seconds of hang time. After his first poor kickoff, Gostkowski was booming them 4.3 seconds in the air. Devin McCourty had the forced fumble, and Mike Rivera, Matthew Slater, Derrick Martin, and Nate Ebner all showed up in the coverage units. Edelman nearly broke another punt with a 30-yard return on which he broke two tackles.