Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Patriots 31, Jets 14 (11/22/2009)

The Patriots took care of business and whooped the Jets 31-14, maintaining their two-game lead in the AFC East and bouncing back nicely from the "devastating" loss in Indy. BTW, if you were looking for a hang-over from the 4th-and-2 game, check the Colts -- 3 turnovers in a 17-15 squeaker over the .500 Ravens. Losses by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati put the Patriots back into a tie for the second-seed in the AFC playoff picture, so don't write them off just yet.

Given that this is a day late, you probably don't need me to go over every detail. So here is an abbreviated summary.

The offensive MVPs were Wes Welker, Tom Brady, and Laurence Maroney, in that order. Welker destroyed the Jets, catching over half the completed passes (15 out of 28), making 9 first downs (including a run on an end-around), and totaling 203 yards from scrimmage. In the future, the Jets should feel free to put supposed "best cornerback in the NFL" Darelle Revis on Randy Moss most of the day. But they should probably make sure someone covers Welker, too.

Brady is on a run of games reminiscent of 2007. Over the last five weeks, his average game looks like this: 27 of 37 (72%), 341 yards (9.25 yards per attempt), 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a QB rating of 112.6. Just to make look even more like 2007, he even tosses in the thrice-a-game "jump-ball/bomb to a covered Randy Moss" (in case you missed the sarcasm, he should cut out that last part). The Patriots are 4-1 over that span, with the lone loss a 35-34 gut-wrencher to the undefeated Colts in Indy.

Still not sure what to make of Laurence Maroney overall. While Brady has lit it up the past five weeks, here are Laurence's rushing totals: 123, 43, 82, 31, 77 (against the Jets). But he scored 2 touchdowns yesterday, and he ran more patiently and with more authority in the game. As the weather turns colder and nastier, the Patriots will need more of a running game, and they should get Sammy Morris and (maybe) Fred Taylor back from injury soon. So in the meantime, Maroney has to be more boom than bust -- and three of the last five weeks, he has been. One thing to watch out for: Maroney fumbled in each of the last two games. As Pete Carroll used to say, "Gotta clean it up!"

On defense the first half stats were amazing. The Jets had 2 first downs, 34 total yards on 22 plays, 0 third-down conversions, 28 yards rushing, 6 yards passing on 2 completions, 2 interceptions, a 0.0 QB rating, and... well, do you really need any more than that?

Leigh Bodden was the obvious star of the day. He snagged three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), giving him five for the year, which ties him for third in the NFL. (Quick trivia: one of the players Bodden is tied with used to play for the Patriots, name that player -- answer below.) Bear in mind that this was a young quarterback and the entire secondary deserves credit for tight coverage all the way around. But even so, it isn't often you give up just one touchdown on defense, and the Patriots did that to the Jets twice this year.

Overall the defense was stout against the run. Thomas Jones ran for 103 yards, but 40 of those were in garbage time. Vince Wilfork was his usual self, and having Ty Warren back helped close up the middle. Tully Banta-Cain returned and got excellent pressure on the QB (two sacks, one QB hit, one forced fumble), and fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo continues to improve, coming back from his knee injury; not quite there yet, but getting better every week.

The special teams were decent except for one play. The Jets blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown late in the first half, giving them hope for a comeback after a half when they'd been dominated.

As for the coaching, they did a great job rallying the team after their 1-point loss in Indy. And as expected, they had a great plan to confuse and beat the rookie quarterback.

So where does that leave us? The Patriots are 2-1 in their critical five-game stretch so far. They've got a big Monday Night game in New Orleans next week, so the undefeated Saints are the only thing on their radar screen. If they lose that game, they'll have a showdown with the Dolphins in Miami for the AFC East lead, so it's important that they stay focused and do their best to hand New Orleans their first loss of the year.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The four teams that have given up the fewest points in the league are all in the AFC: Colts (157), Patriots (164), Bengals (167), and Ravens (161).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Rex Ryan had it all wrong. His rookie QB turned the ball over 5 times; his vaunted defense got lit-up by Wes Welker; he lost an important division game, all but ending any playoff hopes he had for the season. *Now* is when he should be crying!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-3!

PPS. Trivia answer: old friend Asante Samuel has five interceptions for the Eagles.

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