|Deion Branch caught three passes, including this 25-yard touchdown from Tom Brady. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
From Jets, silence is golden
FOXBOROUGH — Whatever else happens in this increasingly astonishing bonus season — no one on earth pegged the Patriots for more than 10 wins — the fans will always have DJ (Destroy the Jets) Day.
We can’t ignore the context. With last night’s unimaginably decisive 45-3 victory, the Patriots have seized control of the AFC East. If they take care of business in the final four weeks, and the remaining schedule is not exactly Cupcake City, they will win the division, finish with the best record in the conference, and enjoy the spoils, which begin with a first-round bye and then include guaranteed home games in the playoffs. The Jets would then become the wild card, and they would be wise to book hotel rooms in Kansas City for the weekend of Jan. 8-9 now and avoid the rush.
That’s all well and good, but the overriding issue for the delirious Gillette Stadium crowd on this frosty evening was seeing their beloved Patriots put the mouthy Jets in their place. Winning by 1 point, or by an OT field goal, would have been good enough. Reducing the Jets to a Panthers-Bengals level was positively orgasmic. After all the hype and all the anticipation, this turned out to be the easiest Patriots victory of the season. John DiBiaso’s Everett team would have provided better competition.
Let’s start with the obvious. Tom Brady is at the top of his game. If he keeps playing like this, no one will care if his next haircut comes in 2025. Jets fans can only hope Mark Sanchez was taking notes. This was a masterpiece of a Masterclass, a Montana-like clinic on “How To Play Quarterback.’’ And just think if he could stretch the field . . .
The Brady numbers: 21 of 29, 326 yards, four TDs and, of course, zero interceptions. His passer rating after three quarters, at which time the score was 31-3, was 153.3. (He ended with 148.9.) It’s a bunch of grid hooey, of course, but it’s worth mentioning because his rating in the Thanksgiving Day game against Detroit was a “perfect’’ 158.3. It does indicate he’s playing at a rather high level.
Those four touchdown passes enabled him to pass Drew Bledsoe’s team record. He’s now got 252. Most notably, he put it up 29 times and had zero interceptions. He last threw a pick in the middle of the baseball playoffs. That’s seven games worth of taking care of the ball.
That said, his final yardage numbers do not reflect the gaudy Yards After Catch (YAC) factor, especially when the party of the second part was Danny Woodhead, the Jet expatriate who has, in 10 weeks with the team, become both a major crowd favorite and a practically indispensable part of the league’s highest-scoring offense. It had to be an enormously satisfying evening for Woodhead, who was let go by the Jets in September. Rex Ryan has already confessed that he wished he had Woodhead back, but to have the kid from Chadron State play a major role in a humiliating destruction of his team had to be double galling, or perhaps embarrassing, if Rex Ryan can be embarrassed.
Woodhead caught four passes for 104 yards, one going for 35 (maybe 90 percent YAC) and another accounting for 50 when he took a shovel pass from Brady that might have traveled all of 2 feet and did all the rest himself. For years I know I have dreaded seeing the Patriots take the field without Kevin Faulk. Well, they don’t have him. And the new Kevin Faulk is about 10 years younger.
This was never, ever, ever, ever, ever a game. The Jets won the toss and deferred, as the Patriots like to do. Brady took the team downfield for a 41-yard Shayne Graham field goal. The Jets responded with a 12-play drive that stalled at the New England 35. Ryan didn’t like the idea of going for it on fourth and 7, and he wasn’t in a punting (i.e. concession) mode, so he asked the beleaguered Nick Folk, who had missed five of his previous 10 attempts, to kick a 53-yarder. Bad call. It was wide left.
As the Patriots have gotten better and better since that jarring loss to Cleveland, one distinguishing characteristic has been making opponents pay for every mistake, no matter how teeny-weeny. It took Brady and company just six plays and 2:48 on the clock to get into the end zone, the key play being a 36-yard end zone pass interference penalty assessed on Eric Smith as he attempted to cover the towering (6 feet 7 inches) Rob Gronkowski.
It was 10-0, and it might as well have been 110-0, because the Jets never came close to making this a game. Three additional New England touchdowns came in the aftermath of what could be called mistakes, whether it was a 12-yard shanked punt by Steve Weatherford or two of the three interceptions thrown by Sanchez, who took a major step backward in his development.
Oh, sure, it all makes sense now. The Patriots had clearly improved more than the Jets since New York’s 28-14 victory back on Sept. 19. Among other things, the young defense is better, Brady is better, Logan Mankins is back, and Woodhead has emerged as a game-changer. The Patriots had beaten good teams. The Jets had really beaten nobody since defeating the Patriots a long, long time ago, and they had been winning far too many games in “Perils of Pauline’’ fashion. Playing a quality team on the road with an opportunity to submit a performance that would match their rhetoric, they came up woefully small.
It was an evening of fan bliss, providing warm memories that will carry the faithful through the New England winter.
45-3. The New York tabloids ought to have fun with this one.