FOXBORO – I can see it coming next September. The Patriots unveil a banner before the Thursday night season opener that reads: “Super Bowl Champions, 2016” and people will be wondering why there’s no fine print stitched on the bottom saying, (“But everyone they beat sucked…”).
At some point, isn’t it just not their “fault” that every quarterback and offense they play lays an egg against them? Couldn’t maybe just a little bit of it be thanks to them? Has to be a little bit, right?
"Yeah, But Nation" won’t have a hard time giving the Mutombo to this 41-3 win over the Jets. Given that the Jets quit at home last week against Miami, nobody in their right mind expected them to grind hard on Christmas Eve Day on the road, in the rain with their head coach on the sidelines distracted by a kidney stone.
PATRIOTS 41, JETS 3
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And they didn’t. But the Patriots flat smothered them from the start defensively. The field goal the Jets kicked may have been the most humiliating three points scored in the NFL this season, though I will give Jets coach Todd Bowles a pass. Think about it, would you want to stand there in a downpour with an angry gall bladder and pass on the only chance you have to avoid a shutout?
The loss left the Jets squabbling among themselves the same way the Broncos were left squabbling among themselves last week after scoring just three in a home loss to the Patriots. That one came with the caveats that Trevor Siemian stinks, the Broncos can’t run it and the Patriots benefited from some Denver miscues.
The caveats from the week prior were that Joe Flacco threw it sideways all night and didn’t challenge the Patriots secondary downfield. The week before that it was Jared Goff. The week before that it was the Jets and the fact the Patriots took 58 minutes to finish them off. The week before that it was just Colin Kaepernick.
It’s a tired lament that the Patriots play in a division pockmarked by buffoon owners and/or coaches and that their path to a division title is easier than everyone else’s. A brief thought on that.
Yeah, there are some boobs in charge around the AFC East and you can start with Propeller Hat Woody Johnson and the Jets and the fact that Rex Ryan’s been smashing crème pies in faces for two teams for going on eight seasons.
But what are the Patriots supposed to do, apply for relocation? Secede? Start their own Super Extreme Division? They play a first-place schedule every year so they get three games against the best from the other AFC divisions. This year, they are 3-0 in those games and they beat last year’s NFC runners-up, on the road, in the opener. We’ve fixated on the “something missing” this year to the point that this is easily the least celebrated, most under appreciated Patriots team I can recall.
Did people criticize Babe Ruth in the 1920s for being that much better than everybody else every year? Because isn’t that part of the issue? If the Patriots didn’t exist, would people even know other teams were unremarkable? New England’s the measuring stick. And if they don’t finish off a season with a title, the reason is (at least since 2011) the attrition that changes them from September to January.
They have no foil. There’s no Magic for their Bird. No Jordan for their Magic. No Manning for their Brady.
The Patriots themselves have fed that perception. After the win at Pittsburgh, the “meh” mood of Tom Brady hung in the air because it just didn’t look on offense the way he wanted it to. It’s been there with the defense, too. They knew they weren’t playing at a championship level even as they kept laying out opponents. They tweaked, they changed, they persevered. Now?
“I think it’s just come together and you’re seeing it,” said cornerback Logan Ryan. “In this business, people are quick to hop on either way. One thing I’ve learned you can’t get too high or too low. First we were terrible, now we’re all world. I think we’re somewhere in the middle.”
But undeniably improving on the field and very solid between the ears.
“This was an easy week to be distracted with the holidays and how the Jets have been playing but we know how they play us, we know how tough the last game was, we know how Brandon Marshall is, we knew (Quincy) Enunwa gave us trouble last game, Robby Anderson’s become a target, (Austin) Sefarian-Jenkins has made plays, Bilal Powell’s been running the heck out of the ball. We respected them and expect them to execute. When we respect our opponent and put the work in during the week, I think this can be the outcome. It’s just doing it consistently.”
The Patriots I speak with are well aware of the disclaimers continually attached to what they’re doing. To their credit, they aren’t overly whiny and distracted by it. They just keep showing up to deal with the next opponent regardless of the condition that opponent may be in. Clinical and efficient.
“(This week’s mindset) went back to the Denver game,” said Tom Brady. “We won that game and we got on an airplane and we said, ‘Look, we’re finishing strong. We’re putting the pedal to the metal.’ Last year we didn’t finish strong and we didn’t like the way that things ended. We need to keep playing well down the stretch. Different guys are contributing and all phases of the game are contributing. It’s been a lot of fun. Thirteen wins is pretty good. We’ve got to try to finish strong though next week.”
“It’s the last stop for the regular season and we want to keep building on every one, every week, every performance,” said Ryan. “This is a game last year we struggled with just like the Jets in Week 15 we struggled with. We definitely talked about it, we talked about practicing better and starting with that. We’re gonna enjoy this holiday then get back to work at Miami.”