The New England Patriots have not had a three-game losing streak since the 2002 season, and thanks largely to Rob Gronkowski, Andre Carter and Rob Ninkovich, they still don’t. The importance of this past Sunday’s game can’t be overstated. This was definitely the most important game of the season to date and probably the most important regular season game the Pats have played since week 17 of the 2007 season, when perfection was on the line at the old Meadowlands. With the huge victory, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have officially won more games (117) than any other coach-quarterback tandem in NFL history, passing the great Miami combo of Shula and Marino.
The New York Jets now know what it feels like to get “Gronked.” The biggest question regarding Gronk is how long it took Bibi Jones to pick up the phone after he dominated with eight catches for 113 yards and two TDs, matching his season high in catches. He now has 12 TD catches this season, two more than his season total last year as a rookie. Tom Brady cruised to 329 yards, a personal best against the Jets, and three TDs largely thanks to the unstoppable force that was Gronk.
Chad Ochocinco had two catches for 65 yards. Deion Branch caught Brady’s other TD and finished with 58 yards on five catches. Wes Welker was largely absent as he was blanketed all night by Darrelle Revis; he finished with six catches for 46 yards. Welker made one big catch on a third down that led to Branch’s TD. The running game was underwhelming at best, finishing with 60 yards on 28 carries total, but this was Brady and Gronk’s show.
Actually, as spectacular as Gronk and Brady were together, the much-maligned Pats defense was equally impressive. On paper, the Jets have a good offense, but the defense smothered the Jets’ offense, allowing only 268 yards passing to Sanchez while Rob Ninkovich picked off the Jets’ QB twice, returning one for a TD in old-school Patriots’ linebacker fashion. The Jets ran pretty well for 110 yards, but really nothing in their offense seemed to click. Mistakes were New York’s downfall. Penalties (five for 56) and turnovers (three that resulted in 17 points for the Pats) were the cause of the second-half collapse. Andre Carter had a Patriots single-game record 4.5 sacks.
Last week, I said that this was very close to a must-win for the Pats, coming off of a two-game losing streak facing a hot NY team on the road with the division lead on the line. The Pats shined in the spotlight of primetime football while their opponents, especially Sanchez, looked flustered.
With the win, the Patriots have taken a prohibitive lead in the AFC East, holding a one-game lead and the tie-breaker over the Jets with seven games to play. The Pats have the NFL’s easiest schedule over the remainder of the season, and the only team with a winning record left on the docket is the Buffalo Bills, who are fading fast.
The only bad news for the Patriots is that they could win out and still have to play a home game on Wild Card Weekend. At 13-3, both the Houston Texans (who would have a better division record) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (who hold the head-to-head against the Pats) are in position to finish at 13-3 as well. But as Master Belichick would say, “We’re just focused on next week.”