The Patriots' defense entered yesterday's game against the Jets ranked 32d in the NFL in yardage allowed. They finished the day 32d in the NFL in yardage allowed.
Which just goes to show that at least that particular statistic falls short of telling the whole story.
Over the course of their 30-21 victory over the Jets, the Patriots found several encouraging signs that the defense may be headed in the right direction, the most notable of which was holding the Jets to seven three-and-outs, including three straight in one stretch.
"I think we stepped up big today,'' said Vince Wilfork. "I think every week we’ve been getting better and better. Today was a good day to get back on track. I think a lot of guys took it upon themselves to go out and make plays and be in the right position without giving up big plays. I am very proud of the defense. Is everything perfect? No. There are a lot of things we could better but I think the penalties are down, [and] we aren’t giving up big plays. We have to continue to grow. We definitively have to continue to grow, continue to get better, but I think we definitely did a good job tonight."
The Patriots held Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to 166 passing yards, while New York's running game gained 97 yards on 25 carries (3.9 per attempt). New York picked up just 14 first downs (to the Patriots' 26), and converted just three of 11 third downs.
But it was those seven Jets drives that didn't survive past the first series of downs that left Wilfork particularly encouraged.
"I just remember guys saying to each other, ‘Hey let’s do it again.' Because we knew eventually our offense was going to get back on track and put some points up. Every week we have that offense,'' Wilfork said. "So, I think the better we get defensively, the better this team will be. I think it is a start in the right direction. That’s one thing we are going to need to continue to build on. . . . I think everybody’s momentum and confidence is up. We need to start stringing it together for 60 minutes."
Cornerback Devin McCourty said the Patriots' strategy was pretty fundamental.
"We're just trying to make the play out there and get off the field,'' he said. "You go back and watch our third-down tape, it always comes down to usually one player somewhere or one wrong step. That down is so important. I just think we executed a little better on third down today.''
Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised his entire team after the game for having an excellent week of practice. Wilfork said he was proud of how focused his peers on defense were leading up to the showdown with the Jets.
"From coming in here on Tuesday on our day off to watch film all the way to Saturday night leading into the game, we really nailed it,'' Wilfork said. "Bill didn’t give up until the last second. We were in here until our 2:15 meeting still talking about things we need to do to win the ball game. I think everybody took it upon themselves to make sure we would be in pretty decent shape as the game went on. And we were. We executed the game plan, we knew it was going to be a tough game. Both teams would want to slug it out, they were going to make plays, we were going to make plays, but we knew we had to hang in their tough and play good solid football and then we knew we’d be OK. I think we did tonight. I think third down was a plus for us tonight. The yardage, no big plays- that’s part of the most impressive stat for us. Like I said, we weren’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.''
Albert Haynesworth, who returned the lineup after missing the past two games with a back injury, said it only makes sense that the Patriots' defense showed signs of improvement.
"You know, when you have the core of a defense that has a lot of the same guys and still has a lot of new pieces -- me, Andre [Carter], Shaun [Ellis], and all that -- we are going to need time to jell,'' he said. "We didn't have that during the offseason, so you've got to let the defense jell to have a good defense. Today was a step in the right direction."