Brady, Patriots shut down Jets, secure 1st place
FOXBOROUGH — While it is Rex Ryan and the Jets style to do their talking whenever a microphone is present, the Patriots modus operandi is to do their talking on the field.
Last night, they were shouting.
With their collective foot on the gas from beginning to end, the Patriots drubbed their AFC East rivals, 45-3, on Tedy Bruschi night at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady once again posted a near-flawless performance and bolstered his MVP chances; the defense collected three interceptions, all of which were turned into points.
In the process, the Patriots took a one-game division lead with four games to play.
That they quieted their boastful rivals in the process was just frosting on the cake.
“I made my comments earlier in the week: Just play football,’’ tight end Alge Crumpler said. “They take after their coach, we take after ours.’’
Ryan would tell anyone with a microphone over the previous 11 days that his Jets would end New England’s home winning streak and that the Patriots “should be concerned’’ about the Jets. He said when it comes to facing Bill Belichick, he wants to “kick his ass.’’
Reportedly, in a team meeting Sunday night, Ryan told players they were the better team and should go out and prove it.
From New England? Radio silence. Tom Brady wouldn’t even reiterate his statement from earlier in the season that he hates the Jets. It was, from the outside, business as usual.
“That’s how coach is,’’ Devin McCourty said. “He’s a man of few words. This team takes after him. We’re not going to talk a lot, we just focus on playing football.’’
After the game however, it was clear that behind closed doors, the Patriots had been talking.
“It always feels good to make a statement,’’ safety James Sanders said. “They’re a good team, but we were the better team today. We really wanted this win.’’
The Patriots got off to a great start and led, 24-3, at the break, but having scored a total of 7 points in the second halves of their last three games with New York, they needed to play a full 60 minutes to prevent a meltdown.
For the first time this season, that’s just what they did.
“We had a long time to work on this game and we used our time wisely,’’ Sanders said. “We had our best week of practice of the whole year and we put it together for 60 minutes. It was the first time all season we put it together for 60 minutes.’’
Trailing by 21, the Jets took the second half kick off and began to move the ball. Mark Sanchez completed passes of 12 then 24 yards to Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, and New York got to the edge of the red zone on a 4-yard carry by LaDainian Tomlinson. A fourth-and-1 conversion by Holmes earned a fresh set of downs at the New England 11.
On second down, the much-maligned New England defense rose up. Sanchez looked to Edwards — who did little to help his quarterback last night, dropping a couple of key passes — over the middle at the goal line, and Brandon Spikes reached up and took the ball for himself for his first career interception.
Brady then marched the Patriots 93 yards on eight plays, capping the drive with an 18-yard scoring pass to Wes Welker. The key play of the drive was a 35-yard catch-and-run by Aaron Hernandez, after which Brady grabbed his rookie tight end and pumped him up.
It has been a tough few weeks for the rookie, who had just two catches in New England’s previous three games. But he’s had his best success against New York — his only 100-yard game was in the New Meadowlands in Week 2 — and had some key gains last night.
The defense wasn’t done.
A short kickoff by Shayne Graham into the wind and an 18-yard return by John Conner had New York starting near midfield. An 8-yard carry by Shonn Greene moved the Jets into Patriots territory facing a short second down.
Working out of the shotgun and the no-huddle, Sanchez looked to Edwards deep down the right sideline. Devin McCourty, in one-on-one coverage, turned and made a play on the ball, pulling in his sixth interception of the season and fourth over the last three games.
Not known as a ballhawk coming out of Rutgers, McCourty now has as many picks in his rookie season as he did in his entire college career.
If the door was ajar after the Patriots went up, 31-3, following Spikes’s interception in the third, it was slammed shut at the start of the fourth, after another eight-play touchdown drive, this one covering 94 yards, and culminating in a 1-yard toss to Hernandez.
Danny Woodhead had the big play of the drive, taking a shovel pass from Brady and racing 50 yards.
Once James Sanders intercepted Sanchez with 12:46 left in the game, the deadbolt was locked.
“He had a good play there,’’ Sanchez said of Sanders. “We didn’t get the route communication right and I was throwing to a spot and we weren’t quite there and their pass rush did a really good job.’’
It was a start-to-finish manhandling by the Patriots. The first sign New England would have a good performance came Tuesday evening, after a tough full-pads practice. Belichick gave the players Wednesday off, and it’s easy to assume part of the reason he did so is the players came into the facility that day — after a four-day post-Thanksgiving break — ready to go.
New England posted a 41-yard field goal on its first possession, and after converting on its first fourth-down try, Ryan opted to have kicker Nick Folk — who has been shaky in recent weeks — try a 53-yard field goal, which he missed badly.
Things never got any better for the Jets.
After boasting about his club for more than a week, Ryan was almost speechless when summing up the loss.
“I came in to kick his butt and he kicked mine,’’ he said. “We got out-coached, outplayed, we got our butts kicked. I don’t know what else you can say about it.’’