Beyond that, how the afternoon actually went for the present-day Tom Brady is up for debate.
With Rob Gronkowski once again at his disposal, Brady threw for 283 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the pathetic Jets, an improvement from his stinker two weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans. It was the first game in more than a month during which Brady threw more than one touchdown pass, and the 115.4 passing rating was his best all season.
Patriots radio analyst Scott Zolak delivered raves over Brady’s nifty footwork on Sunday, declaring it the best he’s seen all season, while rookie running back Sony Michel showed plenty of his own to the tune of 133 yards rushing. As if the win couldn’t make the day bright enough for the Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers ended up losing to the Denver Broncos, throttling New England right back into position for the AFC’s No. 2 seed.
So why does everything feel merely pacifying surrounding the New England Patriots?
If last Monday’s Chiefs-Rams game was immediately considered the most memorable regular-season game ever, then Sunday’s tilt between the Pats and Jets should only be considered relevant for as long as it takes to be forgotten.
The Patriots were penalized a season-high 11 times by a flag-happy crew on Sunday totaling 105 yards, including six within the game’s first quarter-plus. That helped contribute to a game pace only the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka could respect.
The team was all out of sorts coming out of the bye, doing little to quell the nerves that started right around the time it slinked out of Tennessee. At the end of the first half, you might be forgiven for toying with the repercussions should the Patriots lose to the Jets, not an unheard of phenomenon in the Meadowlands, of all places. It’s happened before. It’s happened as a precursor to the Super Bowl.
But this….this might have been cause for panic.
“We have to get some things straightened out,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “Overall, I think we played pretty competitively.”
That, they did, though anyone judging the Patriots based on their style points probably ranked them somewhere south of GoBots in their roundup of hot trends for the holidays. It was probably foolish to expect the Pats to humiliate the Jets in a gun-slinging blowout, but their sluggish start didn’t do anything to erase the memory of the mistake in Tennessee.
The second half proved a good pallet for a turnaround, as Michel helped lead the ground game to a churning success, the Jets forgot to cover Julian Edelman, and Shawn Hochuli’s crew limited its influence on the game to only a handful of questionable calls. Pats win. Steelers lose. All is right.
Despite the stellar rating, this wasn’t exactly a game that Brady is going to show on a loop at the entrance to the TB12 facility. It was only the fourth time all season that the quarterback has had Gronkowski and Edelman in a game together, and the end result was a solid distribution of passes between the duo in addition to Josh Gordon and Chris Hogan, who probably introduced himself to Brady before the game based on his recent resume.
But Brady also seemed uncomfortable in the first half, whether that was a product of the penalties throwing him off his game, shaking off rust from the bye week, or overcoming the illness that sidelined him from practice Friday. He nearly got Gronkowski killed on a pass behind the tight end, before finding him for a payday in the end zone. He was more apt to find space in the turf than he was an open man downfield, somewhat reminiscent of a Brady much younger than the 41-year-old we’ve become accustomed to; the game-managing general who made the role of being considered a “game manager” more than just a punchline in NFL quarterback circles.
Brady wasn’t great Sunday. He was fine. He was good enough.
That helps create a false sense of security against the hapless Jets with the Vikings and Steelers looming in December. And yet for all the hand-wringing and consternation about the Pats not looking like THE PATS, they are currently the second seed, one Chiefs loss away from claiming the top spot.
So, what exactly is wrong with the Patriots?
“Obviously a couple of weeks ago, we did everything the opposite of what we needed to do,” Brady said. “I think we’re doing a better job taking care of the ball. It gives us a much better chance to win games. Scoring more points, converting on third downs, scoring in the red area, all those things are really important that we talked about. We made some plays, there are certainly ones we left out there, but we’ll take it and keep moving forward.”
There wasn’t much pretty about Brady’s game, which just so happened to be his best of the season rating-wise.
That’s an old-school approach that has proven effective.
Check out the annals of the Mystique for proof.