EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tom Brady had seemingly struggled of late. After two straight losses, he had, for the first time in his 12 years as a New England Patriot, found himself vulnerable to criticism.
Brady’s 342 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions against the New York Giants was dissected because of his turnovers and questionable misfires to open receivers. Even his misfires from a 25-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers were rehashed.
On Sunday, he seemed to continue the trend of awry passes against the New York Jets. He floated a pass too far for Wes Welker out of the backfield. He had a miscommunication with Deion Branch toward the sideline. He threw into triple coverage, almost getting picked off by noted Brady hater Antonio Cromartie.
In the first half, he didn’t seem himself.
There were worries of an undisclosed injury after Brady iced his arm in front of reporters earlier in the week. There were also worries of favoritism, with Brady targeting Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski too much.
But in the second half, Brady muted any criticism directed at his play. Going to the hurry-up offense, he went 6 of 9 in the third quarter for 53 yards and touchdown. In the fourth quarter, with the Patriots up 23-16 over the Jets, he choreographed a 13-play, 84-yard drive in which he completed 7 of 7 passes for 65 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown to Deion Branch. It was a dagger of a drive that spurred the Patriots on to a 37-16 win. Brady finished 26 of 39 for 329 yards and three touchdowns. He crossed the 3,000-yard passing mark, now with 3,032 on the season.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of Brady’s favorite targets this season, opined on why Brady was so much better in the second half.
“I have no idea,” Hernandez said, putting a voice to the mystery.
Hernandez’s counterpart, Gronkowski – who compiled eight receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns – called it a matter of execution.
“[It] just went faster,” Gronkowski said. “I mean, the offense – everyone – executed well. The O-line is playing great. The wide receivers [are playing great]. Everyone was just playing great. So it was good execution and that’s what we’ve got to be doing all game.”
Brady chalked up it up to some tentativeness.
“It was just indecision,” Brady said. “Sometimes the football is just starting to be released than you just don’t put everything on it. You have to try and eliminate those.”
Esteemed Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis saw Brady’s second half surge differently.
“You saw him get a little bit [more] comfortable back there, but that’s on us as a defense,” Revis said. “We can’t let Tom stay back there. When he has time, he can tear you apart.”
At 6 feet, 6 inches and 265 pounds, Gronkowksi provides matchup problems that teams like the Jets just can’t seem to atone for. Brady found himself connecting with his burly tight end twice in the second half for scores – and almost on a third, had it not been for Gronkowski stepping out of bounds in the end zone before returning to play. He outmuscled Jets CB Donald Strickland in the back of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown in the third quarter and came across the middle again for a 5-yard TD in the fourth.
As far as being a favorite target, Gronkowski takes issue with that.
“There’s a lot of guys that are big targets for him,” Gronkowski said. “Everyone is playing great. You never know who can be the main target that game. You never know what the coverage is gonna be. And you just gotta be prepared for every game and every coverage and go out there ready.”
On Rob Gronkowski
He's a great player and we depend on him. I think he came up very big tonight. We needed him to come out big tonight. It was a tough matchup. He's big, but he has good speed. He's a very good runner and he's a good blocker. We have to keep finding ways to get him the ball.
On the secondary
I think we battle. We say that you know who the guys are, but we've never really seen them perform under pressure. Some of the guys come off the practice squad and play scout team defense this week and now I see them in the game on our defense. A lot of guys really stepped up to the challenge. It was good to see. This is a tough place to play. They are a very good football team, so it was very sweet to get this win.
On building a young team's confidence
Our confidence is week-to-week. We gain our confidence from practice. Every week is a different game plan. What we did against the Giants last week was very different that what we did tonight. We have an extra day to prepare for Kansas City and we will take advantage of that because we have some guys banged up. You win and you move on. We are happy we won, but we have a lot of football left.
On the sense of urgency to win this game
Losing two games straight, you have 14 days of just feeling crappy. Every day at practice is harder. It's hard to build on losses. You are just trying to regroup. It feels really good to win this one. We had two really tough losses and then to come here and play a little bit better [was great]. We have to play better next week. The good teams keep getting better this time of year. That's what we need to do.