Perry's Report Card: A defensive masterpiece
HIGH MARKS IN SOUND BEATING
Usually it's enough for the Patriots to beat the Jets. The margin of victory hasn't mattered because -- since the Butt Fumble, at least -- all of their matchups have been one-possession games late in the fourth quarter.
But given the personnel that Jets coach Todd Bowles is running out on the field at this point in the season, and given that the Patriots have established themselves as the team to beat since a loss to the Seahawks in Week 10, anything short of a blowout on Christmas Eve probably would have been an underachievement.
The Jets laid down early in their 41-3 defeat, but only after the Patriots helped beat them into an early submission. Let's take a look at how Bill Belichick and his club did it with this week's Report Card.
It wasn't a perfect day, and there will be plenty for Josh McDaniels to harp on this week as the Patriots prepare for Miami, but it was a well-balanced and persistent attack that the Jets were forced to deal with. The Patriots were stubborn in using the run game against their opponent's talented run defense, handing off 37 times. They averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, but that helped keep Tom Brady clean (one sack), and they were able to pound it into the end zone twice with LeGarrette Blount. They also utilized a varied passing attack, completing passes to nine different targets, and they converted on 11 of 18 third-down plays. The Patriots got plenty of help from the Jets -- they committed three key defensive penalties that led to points -- but this was a sound performance against a defense that gave them some problems back in Week 12.
Brady was stellar and improved his case for a third-career MVP award before being lifted at the end of the third quarter for Jimmy Garoppolo. He missed Julian Edelman for an easy touchdown early in the first quarter, and early in the second quarter he forced two passes from the four-yard line -- both thrown at Jets defensive back Juston Burris -- into tight coverage for incompletions. Otherwise? He was on point, completing 17 of 27 attempts for 214 yards, three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 124.6. His touchdown throws to tight ends Martellus Bennett and Matt Lengel were well-placed dimes, as was his 25-yard score to James White. The throw to White deserves perhaps a little extra grade bump due in part to the fact that White dropped a sure-thing long-gainer earlier in the game, yet Brady trusted him enough to target him again soon thereafter. On passes that traveled 20 yards or more in the air, Brady continued to be highly-effective, hitting on four of six for 110 yards and a touchdown. On the season, he has completed 23 deep passes on 48 attempts for 834 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception for a rating of 125.0. Garoppolo attempted just three passes, one to Hogan and two to Michael Floyd, completing one to the new Patriots wideout for six yards. The other attempt for Floyd should have been a touchdown, but Garoppolo was a second late with the football and the throw came in too high. A defensive holding call on Burris erased the play and allowed Blount to get into the end zone three plays later.
RUNNING BACK: B
White's drop was his third in the last two games, and it hurt this group's grade this week. He has been one of the team's most dependable receivers over the course of the last two seasons in terms of his drop percentage, but his hands have become somewhat of an issue of late. Blount had difficulty finding room to run, and for the second consecutive week could not crack 3.0 yards per carry (2.5). He did, however, find the end zone twice, and he continues to do a fine job in terms of ball-security; he hasn't fumbled since coughing up the football in Weeks 1 and 2. Dion Lewis ran 16 times for 52 yards, and his most impressive carry may have been one of his shortest. He picked up three yards in the fourth quarter after making two tacklers miss in the backfield for what should have been a loss of two or three yards. Those small swings -- turning a second-and-goal at the 12 into a second-and-goal at the seven -- are part of what make Lewis so valuable to the Patriots offense.
The best news for this group coming out of Saturday? Edelman had an opportunity at a little bit of rest. Arguably the team's second most important offensive player, he played 36 snaps, falling in behind Hogan (64) and Malcolm Mitchell (58) for the fourth consecutive week in terms of playing time. He did lead the team in targets once again, however, and he returned two punts for 12 yards. Edelman was smart with his touches against the Jets, though, getting to the sidelines quickly on one return and often sliding over the middle of the field on a couple of different catches instead of trying to keep his feet and subject himself to big hits. Hogan made a nice play to reel in his 22-yard reception in the first quarter, but he recorded his second drop in as many weeks, and he whiffed on a block to help lead to a stuffed run in the first. Floyd's debut was fairly uneventful, playing 17 snaps and seeing three targets. He was open for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Garoppolo missed him. In the first quarter, on the first play of New England's second drive, he was wedged out of bounds on Brady's deep attempt down the sidelines. After the game he said he was feeling comfortable in the offense thanks in part to the help he's received from Brady and other teammates. His background under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame also helped him understand about 60 percent of the language in the team's playbook, he explained.
TIGHT END: B+
Bennett had some difficulty holding his ground as a blocker -- both in the running game and in pass-protection -- but the quickness he showed getting off the line of scrimmage an the play he made to go up and get the football on his first-quarter touchdown has to be encouraging for the Patriots. On that particular snap, he looked as healthy as he's looked in a long time. Lengel played a season-high 24 snaps, and caught the first pass ever thrown his way for an 18-yard score. He wasn't the first read, but when he saw the middle of the field devoid of Jets safeties, he knew he might be given a chance, and he made the most of it. Fullback James Develin continues to be an ironman of sorts, seeing 40 snaps after playing a career-high 43 against the Broncos. Blount, who Develin ushered into the end zone twice, pointed it out after the game: It's not easy to see that many plays when your job is to blow someone up every time the ball is snapped.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A-
The only hope the Jets had at keeping this one close was for their talent-laden defensive front to wreck the game for the Patriots. Sheldon Richardson -- one of the few Jets who seemed to give consistent effort -- did his best, but Dante Scarnecchia's unit was up to the task. Shaq Mason (one sack, two pressures) had some difficulty in pass protection, but for the most part, this group was stout. The tackles have remained pillars on the edge. Nate Solder has not given up a sack since Week 10 (he had one sack against the Jets wiped out due to a Darrelle Revis penalty), and Marcus Cannon has given up just one quarterback hit since Week 7.
Ask Bill Belichick about the most important stat in football, he'll answer with the obvious: points. The Patriots have been the best in the league in that regard through 16 weeks. Second-most important stat? That would be turnovers, Belichick will quickly tell you, and the Patriots have been racking them up as well as anyone over the course of the last month. Since Week 12, they've forced 12 after recording just two between Weeks 4 and 11. The four the Patriots caused against the Jets on Saturday were due in large part to the Jets employing quarterbacks who aren't particularly discerning about which team ends up catching the football after it leaves their hands, but Matt Patricia and his players deserve a lot of credit for capitalizing on the opportunities they've been given.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
The Patriots didn't need much in the way of pressure up front to force Bryce Petty and Ryan Fitzpatrick into mistakes, but they got contributions from Alan Branch (half-sack), Jabaal Sheard (half-sack, quarterback hit) and Chris Long (sack, pressure) in that regard. Branch, who Belichick called "by far" the team's most consistent defensive tackle on Tuesday, also chipped in with three run-stuffs. Jets running back Bilal Powell averaged four yards a carry, but as a team the Jets were held to 3.8 yards per attempt due in large part to the work done up front.
Even without Dont'a Hightower (knee), this group did more than enough. Elandon Roberts played in 28 snaps and helped bury the Jets early in the second quarter when he read motion, understood from film study that the play would be a run, and shot the open gap before he could be blocked. He got his facemask right on the football and forced Khiry Robinson to spill it. Shea McClellin saw 35 snaps and looked comfortable both rushing the passer and dropping into coverage. He picked up a quarterback hit and two pressures on the day. Kyle Van Noy was beaten for 17 yards in coverage on a pass to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and had some difficulty tackling, bumping this groups grade down a hair.
Not the best tackling day from this group -- typically one of their strong suits -- as there was one drive in the second quarter when Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon all were on the wrong ends of hits from Powell and Robinson. McCourty quickly recovered, though, and stopped Robinson for a one-yard gain later during the same drive. Aside from that stretch? Couldn't ask for much more from this group. The corners were excellent. Malcolm Butler picked off two passes to go along with his fumble-recovery, showing good concentration on both; Eric Rowe read Brandon Marshall's break off the line of scrimmage, knowing he'd be streaking down the sideline, and made an athletic pick; and Logan Ryan had an impressive pass-breakup, not allowing a catch on two targets. Chung also broke up a pass to Seferian-Jenkins at the goal line. In all, including garbage-time, the Jets completed just eight passes on 24 attempts for 128 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Stephen Gostkowski continued his streak without a miss, and has now made 24 consecutive kicks -- field goals and extra points -- dating back to a Week 12 win over the Jets. He often says he doesn't like to ride the highs and lows of his performances, but his confidence has to be peaking headed into Week 17 and the playoffs. Nate Ebner, who had an argument for the Pro Bowl this season, made two more special teams tackles as the Patriots were once again strong on kick and punt coverage. Gostkowski booted four kicks for touchbacks and had one kick return stopped at the Jets 14. The longest punt return allowed on Ryan Allen's four boots was four yards. Cyrus Jones was back on the field in a punt-return role after losing that job to Edelman in recent weeks. Perhaps his one return (four yards) will help with his confidence and get him on track for whenever the Patriots decide to use him next in a critical spot. Brandon King picked up two penalties -- one of which led to a re-kick and somehow better coverage from what should have been a relatively gassed kickoff unit -- hurting this unit's grade slightly.