Twenty-six thoughts on the Patriots’ win over the Jets:
1. That’s what you call taking care of business. It wasn’t pretty or dramatic, just a job that needed to be done and was with cold effectiveness. With all the suspense of watching water boil, the Patriots beat the Jets, 26-6, to lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The win was their 13th of the season — the sixth time during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era that they’ve won as many in the regular season — and kept Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Dion Lewis healthy. It was a frigid scene, a workmanlike win, and in the end, another good day for the Patriots.
2. Whether because of the cold weather or something else, Brady was just adequate by his standards, finishing 18 of 37 for 190 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He did break his streak of five games with an interception, but he was off target for one reason or another on a number of throws. I’m not concerned about his performance going forward – we’ve seen him step on the accelerator when he has to — but the wild-card bye week should do him some good.
3. So Brady finishes the season with a 66.3 completion percentages, 4,577 passing yards, 32 touchdown passes, and 8 interceptions. I’m not going to have a beef if the Rams’ Todd Gurley wins the NFL Most Valuable Player award. That is a great story in LA. But let’s admit it: No one is more valuable than Brady.
4. One small beef: It’s long since established that Belichick leaves Brady in the game until all of the math is on the Patriots side. But it’s still nerve-racking to watch Brady dropping back and taking hits from Jets defenders that have nothing to lose late in a game that is all but out of reach. Brady took a hard shot — and nearly fumbled — with 9 minutes and 30 seconds left and the Patriots up, 24-3.
5. Theoretically the Jets could have come back. But with Bryce Petty at quarterback, it would have required a minor miracle. At that point, Brady should be practicing his handoffs to Brandon Bolden and nothing more daring than that.
6. As it was, Brady was out on the next series after Eric Lee sacked Petty for a safety. It should be noted that Lee has 3½ sacks since being plucked off the Bills’ practice squad on Nov. 21.
7. The Patriots pass rush is coming from some unexpected places. Marquis Flowers has 3½ sacks in the last two games after never recording even one in his first 42 NFL games.
8. James Harrison announced his presence with authority, burying Jets receiver Robby Anderson on third down near the 13-minute mark of the third quarter to force a punt. And he closed the game with a sack after getting to Petty and forcing a fumble on the previous play. This is going to work, isn’t it? Amazing.
9. I’d never compare any Patriots running back with Curtis Martin, as stylish a runner as they’ve ever had as well as the best running back in franchise history. But when Dion Lewis (26 carries, 93 yards, 1 rushing touchdown, one receiving TD) makes a tackler look foolish with a shimmy or a simple shift of the shoulders, or when he changes direction like a cat dodging a pursuing toddler, let’s just say it looks like something that would fit on Martin’s way-too-short Patriots highlight reel.
10. The Patriots’ first possession couldn’t have been much more impressive. They picked up five first downs, converted a fourth and 2 from the Jets 21 on a quick pass to Danny Amendola, and punched it on Lewis’s first touchdown. A 7-0 lead 5 minutes and 30 seasons into the game felt practically insurmountable.
11. Lewis finished the season with 896 rushing yards, remarkable given that he had 12 carries for 46 yards through the first four weeks. Over the last six weeks, he had 98 carries for 510 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Juxtaposed over the full 16 games, that equates to 1,360 rushing yards.
12. Brandin Cooks had five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown, drew two long penalties, picked up 8 rushing yards on three carries, stopped running on a deep ball that might have been a touchdown, and power-dribbled the football on an in-cut on the following play.
13. I’d say this game is a microcosm of Cooks’s highly productive (65 receptions, 1,082 yards, 7 TDs) but inconsistent season, but then every Cooks performance seems to be a microcosm of the bigger picture. I’m not sure Brady completely trusts him, but he’s so skilled he absolutely must continue to go to him.
14. It seemed like a strange strategy by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to make Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell inactive when the first seed was still at stake. But it worked out probably the way he figured. The Patriots prevailed, making the outcome of the Steelers game moot. And the Steelers had enough — with Stevan Ridley filling in for Bell — to stick the Browns with a winless season.
15. Great stat from CBS’s production team: Tom Brady has as many regular-season touchdown passes (486) as the top four Jets quarterbacks (Joe Namath, Ken O’Brien, Richard Todd and Chad Pennington) total.
16. A couple of footnotes to that stat: Namath is the Jets’ all-time leader in touchdown passes (170). That’s 12 fewer than Steve Grogan (182), but surprisingly, four more than Drew Bledsoe (166 with the Patriots). Barring catastrophe, Brady will end his career with more than three times as many touchdown passes as Bledsoe had with the Patriots, which is nuts.
17. Namath, O’Brien, Todd and Pennington combined for 503 interceptions with the Jets, with Joe Willie alone accounting for 215, which is 55 more than Brady has in his career.
18. In case you were wondering — and who wouldn’t be? — Petty is tied with Bubby Brister for 31st in Jets history with four touchdown passes. With one more, he’ll tie Kellen Clemens and Rick Mirer, who I’m not convinced even actually played for the Jets.
19. I had no idea Jets receiver Robby Anderson was so close to 1,000 receiving yards. He came into the game needing 61 to hit the milestone. He had a catch for 2 yards, falling 59 yards short.
20. Anderson took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Stephon Gilmore early in the fourth quarter. It looked accidental, but it drew a flag, and I did wonder briefly if it was payback for Anderson’s earlier sideline spike, which bounced up and hit Johnson Bademosi in the facemask. Bademosi flopped like Marcus Smart on that play, but didn’t draw a flag.
21. In the second quarter, Malcom Brown appeared to recover a fumble when Petty flipped the ball to JoJo Natson. But the play was called an incomplete pass since it was shoveled slightly ahead. Let’s call that one the correct interpretation of a relatively logical rule.
22. Sometimes the late-season lousy weather games end up being great fun. Tedy Bruschi’s pick-6 against the Dolphins in December 2003 set off a snowy celebration that remains one of the most photogenic scenes in Patriots history.
23. The victory over the Titans in divisional playoff round a month later — a game that was played in colder temperatures than Sunday ( 4 degrees, windchill -10) — was a rewarding test of their toughness. (Weirdly, it also was a game in which perceived bust Bethel Johnson had a couple of huge plays.)
24. But this one — which was at minus-2 windchill before kickoff, the coldest start to a regular-season game in Foxborough since a matchup with the Colts in 1993 — didn’t have much appeal, even though it mattered.
25. The Jets started Petty, who was caught by the camera struggling to put his helmet on before the game, at quarterback. That symbolizes something, but I’m not sure what. I don’t think it was a hopeful scene for the Jets, let’s put it that way.