Monday, September 10, 2007

Patriots 38, Jets 14 (9/9/2007)

What a difference a year makes! In last year's playoffs, the Patriots trounced the Jets 37-16. And after months of off-season work, player releases, player signings, new systems put in place, and Sopranos appearances, the Patriots trounced the Jets 38-14. And it wasn't nearly as close as last year's tilt, which tells you which team *really* improved since last year and which one is headed for 8-8.

The Pats controlled this one from the start, running the ball at will against an undersized Jets defense and then passing at will when they overloaded against the run. If you include Ellis Hobbs's NFL-record 108-yard kickoff return, the Patriots averaged 82 yards per touchdown drive (without it, the average was a "paltry" 75.5 per touchdown drive). The Jets had no answers, and they don't have the offense to come from behind, so this one was over when Hobbs made it 21-7 to open the second half.

The offensive line was absolutely superb. Zero sacks give up, hardly any quarterback pressure, nice running holes early and late, and beautiful blitz pickup. Need more proof? None other than Peter King (of Sports Illustrated) named the Patriots starting O-line as his offensive players of the week. And as you would expect, with all that time and no pressure, Brady was a killer (22 of 28 for 297 yards, 3 TDs and no INTs), often waiting 5 or 6 seconds before throwing. He connected with Wes Welker four times in the first quarter (including a touchdown), then switched to Randy Moss, who caught a mere 9 throws for 183 yards. Maybe he can play after all.

The running game was dominant when it had to be, even though the game average was only 3.6 yards a carry. Laurence Maroney (70 yards) and Sammy Morris (54) emerged as more of a two-headed monster than the pre-season would have indicated. Maroney can make guys miss and turn losses into gains, whereas Morris can bowl guys over and has a nice burst of speed when he reaches the second level of the defense. Between those two and the great blocking and passing game, the Pats did pretty much whatever they wanted. In fact, if Wes Welker hadn't dropped a third-down pass, they could have ended the day with zero punts. And *that* would have been impressive.

The defensive front seven didn't disappoint, either. Jarvis Green (in for the injured Richard Seymour) and Mike Vrabel (back at outside linebacker) sacked Jets QB Chad Pennington 4.5 times between them, and Vrabel forced a fumble. There was constant pressure on the QB, with only the quick passes getting off before the D-line crushed the pocket. Adalius Thomas had a stellar day in pass coverage, knocking down several passes and redirecting other receivers. And the Jets big off-season pickup was running back Thomas Jones, who sputtered his way to three yards a carry and 42 yards on the ground against the Pats front seven. However, I am officially starting to worry about Tedy Bruschi -- he looked lost on some plays and overmatched on others. And Junior Seau needs to get off the field faster when the offense is trying to catch him off-guard. He got two encroachment penalties while trying to get to the sideline.

The secondary was a bit more uneven than the front seven. Ellis Hobbs had one pass defensed but not much else, and Eugene Wilson still isn't ready to take over calling the defense from Rodney Harrison. Several times, the secondary looked confused just before the snap, and once it cost them a touchdown. Oh, and the other touchdown came when Asante "Get Paid" Samuel couldn't cover his man for five yards -- sheesh!

As for special teams, it was an up-and-down day. Very good kick coverage, a 108-yard kickoff return, and then a botched hold on a field goal. Backup QB Matt Cassel may have lost his only job on the team with the bobble, but on the whole, the special teams were very solid and/or spectacular. I thought Kelley Washington (#15) played very well on coverage; he was in or near almost every tackle in the kicking game. A great signing this off-season.

And the coaching was beyond reproach on this one. They spent their first-half timeouts too quickly, but overall had a great plan and it was well-executed. Dean Pees is the real deal as a defensive coordinator, and Josh McDaniels couldn't have done much better than he did.

So where does that leave us? 1-0 and atop the AFC East all by ourselves. The rest of the division lost their first game, so the Pats are at the top of the heap for now. This game didn't really tell us much; they should have beaten the Jets and did. Next week against San Diego (in Foxboro) will be a much sterner test. In my blockbuster Season Preview email, I predicted the Pats would lose to the Chargers. We'll see how it goes, but the loss of Rodney Harrison will hurt more this coming Sunday than it did last Sunday.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Randy Moss's 183 yards are the third-highest total for receiving yards in a game in Patriots history. Not bad for a first game, eh?

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "C'mon, you didn't really expect them to lose to the Jets, did you? Call me if they can beat the Chargers this week -- *that* will be something."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-0!

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