FOXBORO — Simply put, they have now earned the right to put up their own pictures.
Much was made at the start of the preseason about the fact that all the old images were taken down around Gillette Stadium. The shots of great moments from players like Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel and Corey Dillon and Troy Brown and Rodney Harrison — which included indelible portraits of the Patriots’ dominance from the early days of the 21st century — were all removed. Wipe the memories of the old days clean, and make some new ones in 2010.
But with Monday’s 45-3 blast job on the Jets (click here for the complete recap), this new generation of Patriots has built up enough goodwill to finally have some of their own images plastered to the walls of Gillette Stadium. Choose any one from Monday’s game: Devin McCourty mocking the Jets with his own “Jet Plane” celebration after his interception, his sixth of the season? The celebration shared by McCourty and rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes after Spikes had a key red-zone interception? A Danny Woodhead flourish after another touchdown like the one he performed up Monday night? How about a first-down fist pump from rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez, a duo that combined for 63 receiving yards? Or maybe just a simple image of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis bowling over a hapless defender at the goal line on the way to another touchdown … like the two he had Monday?
Whichever one you might choose, it’s clear they have earned it. New England simply crushed New York. The Patriots never trailed, registered 405 yards of total offense, averaged 7 yards per play and forced three turnovers in a game that was never in doubt after the early moments. And while Tom Brady was his usual otherworldly self — more on him in a minute — this was a win that came in large part because of the work of the kids, the new generation of Patriots who have earned the respect of veterans like nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
“A lot of young guys in here are showing a maturity level of a veteran. And that’s pretty good to see,” Wilfork said after Monday night’s win. “I think there’s one thing, you know they listen. They observe. They look at all the guys who have been around this league for a while and they take it in. They don’t do their own thing. They really want to get better. Any time you can have people like that, they’re easy to work with.
“They want the same thing I want — to win and be the best you can be. That’s easy to work with. That’s what we have here. A bunch of guys that want to learn, that want to win, that want to know what it takes to be great. “
McCourty set a rookie record with his sixth interception of the season, while Woodhead registered his first career 100-yard game, coming away with a team-high 104 yards in receptions. Spikes had his first NFL interception, and Green-Ellis had 72 yards against one of the toughest run defenses in the league.
It all added up to one of the most dominant wins this franchise has enjoyed in several seasons, a beatdown comparable to any the 2007 Patriots doled out over and every bit as impressive as the 59-0 crush job the Patriots put on the Titans in the snow last October. In the end, it moved New England to 10-2, and put them in first place in the division and gave them the inside track when it came to the race for the No. 1 seed — and homefield advantage — in the AFC.
“I thought that this was the best 60 minutes of football we played all year,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It was a good night for us. We’ll take it.”
Here are nine other things we learned on Monday night at Gillette Stadium:
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL, TOM BRADY MIGHT BE HAVING THE BEST SEASON OF HIS CAREER
Brady entered the Monday night game having gone through one of the finest three-game stretches of his career — in his three previous games, the quarterback was a combined 70-for-95 for 877 yards, 10 touchdowns (nine passing, one rushing) and zero interceptions.
On Monday, facing a pass defense that had shut him down in Week 2, Brady was brutally efficient, going 21-for-29 for 326 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 148.9. It adds up to a four-week stretch of 91-for-124 for 1,203 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. (According to Bert Breer of the NFL Network, that four-game stretch includes a 138.6 passer rating.)
On Monday against the Jets, time and again Brady was able to exploit the mismatches in the New York secondary. Whenever one of the Patriots’ skill position players were open — whether it was Woodhead, Hernandez, Wes Welker or Deion Branch that was matched up on a linebacker or backup defensive back like Eric Smith, filling in for an injured Jim Leonhard, Brady found the mismatch and exploited it. For the Jets, it was death by a thousand cuts.
“We made mistakes, and you can’t make mistakes on Tom Brady,” said Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. “That’s just one thing you can’t do. He’s a great quarterback and you can’t do it. When you do, he’s going to find mistakes and exploit you.”
“That’s why Tom is such a great quarterback,” Belichick said of Brady, who threw one touchdown pass every quarter. “He does a good job of — depending on what the pattern is and where the receivers are deployed and what the matchups are, what the coverages are — of getting the ball to guys that have a good chance to get open. Tom does a great job of that; nobody is better than him. I think that’s just part of what makes Tom Brady the quarterback he is.”
“Tom’s going to find you if you get open and you have a mismatch and he knows it’s a mismatch. He expects you to get open and he’s going to hit you in the right space,” said Hernandez, who had three catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. “He’s a great quarterback.”
In the end, Brady set numerous personal marks, including his second consecutive four-touchdown game. He also became the 14th quarterback in NFL history to reach the 250-touchdown plateau (he finished the game with 252 career touchdown passes, moving into 13th place on the all-time list past Drew Bledsoe), and Monday marked his 12th consecutive game with at least one touchdown pass.
In addition, he extended his streak to 228 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, extending his team record. Brady’s steak stretches from the overtime period vs. Baltimore on Oct. 17 through tonight’s win over the Jets. In all, he has now gone seven straight starts without an interception, setting a franchise record for most consecutive starts without an interception.
“We made some important plays out there,” Brady said. “I think we made a couple fourth downs that were really important. We got some big third downs that were important. We got some situational plays that came up that we did a good job taking advantage of. But it wasn’t perfect out there. I think there were a few plays we can definitely do better on. Communication within the whole offense needs to continue to improve, but all in all, it was a fun night.”
ON MONDAY, THERE WAS NO ADDED JOY FOR DANNY WOODHEAD BECAUSE HE HELPED BEAT HIS OLD TEAM
They are becoming a regular part of the Patriots’ experience — Danny Woodhead will inevitably rip off a run of 30-plus yards on the way to a New England victory, and the diminutive running back will make an appearance at the postgame podium, joining more well-known names like Tom Brady and Wes Welker. After Monday’s game he was at the podium again in the wake of another stellar on-field performance.
On Monday night against his old team, Woodhead registered his first career 100-yard game after finishing with four receptions for 104 yards, and became the first New England running back to have a 100-yard receiving game since Kevin Faulk finished with eight receptions for 108 yards on Nov. 23, 2003 at Houston. In addition, Woodhead had the two longest pass receptions of his career, a 35-yard reception in the second quarter and a 50-yard reception in the third quarter.
The 50-yarder came on a shovel pass from Brady, and it looked for all the word like something that was drawn up in the dirt: On a third-and-4 at the New England 38-yard line, the quarterback simply flipped the ball to the running back, and he took off on a run that was textbook Woodhead, weaving in and out of traffic down the New England sideline. It was the next-to-last play of the third quarter, and set up a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the fourth quarter (a one-yard pass from Brady to Hernandez) that made it 38-3.
“It was just something that we obviously ended up falling into and it ended up working,” Woodhead said. “Obviously, we are happy when something like that happens. It was a play where my linemen made a couple of great blocks, the receiver made a great block. All I really needed to do was run the ball.”
It was a career day for the Chadron State product against his old team, but he said afterward he took no particular glee in the fact that it came against the team that cut him to keep David Clowney and Joe McKnight.
“We won the game, and anytime you win the game, that is the most important thing. I’m not too worried about who it’s against, but it’s a big win,” he said. “This is where I am. I am a New England Patriot. Was I over there at one time? Yeah, but that isn’t something that I dwell on or ever want to dwell on, because that’s not who I am now. I am a New England Patriot, and that’s the most important thing.”
FOR A GUY WHO TALKED A LOT ABOUT KICKING BILL BELICHICK’S ASS, REX RYAN WAS PRETTY MUCH OUTCOACHED
It started early, when Ryan burned a challenge midway through the first quarter after taking issue with a third-down spot. He lost the challenge — the Jets did pick up the first down on the following play — but that left him hamstrung the rest of the night. And when Brady found Brandon Tate in the end zone to make it 24-3 midway through the second quarter and there was a question as to whether or not Tate got both feet in, the Jets were hamstrung.
So it went for much of the night — when the Patriots made a move, Ryan and the Jets were unable to counter on both sides of the ball. Most notably on defense, Ryan made the puzzling choice to put Drew Coleman on Welker on a third-down pass play late in the third quarter. Result? An 18-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Welker. Some of the confusion may have come as the result of not having safety Jim Leonhard back there. Leonhard broke his leg this week, and as a result, New York looked unsure of itself on defense for much of the night.
But it was the same thing on offense, as the Jets looked out of sync — one of the best running teams in the league, New York passed the ball more than they ran it in the first half for some reason, getting away from the ground-and-pound approach that helped them get to 9-2 entering the contest.
After the game, Ryan wasn’t backing off from his signature bravado.
“Shoot, I’ll fight tomorrow. I’ll guarantee you that,” Ryan said. “Humiliating? You know, it’s the biggest butt whipping I’ve taken as a coach, in my career. But, I can promise you one thing. I’ll be ready to play ‘em. I’ll play them right now if they’ll go out and do it again. You know, so that’s the only way I know how to respond. I’ll sit back out there and stick my chin out again.
“We got our butts kicked. And like I said, we got outcoached, and we got outplayed.”
One thing that may stick in the craw of the Jets was the fact that, despite the fact the Patriots were holding a 31-3 lead entering the final quarter, Brady remained in the game and they did throw the ball. Granted, the Patriots only put the ball in the air four times in the fourth quarter (not sure how that might be construed as rubbing it in) and ended up scoring a pair of touchdowns, but the Jets still took notice.
“I don’t think he was necessarily trying to rub it in, but this is the same team that took a bunch of shots on us and they had paybacks,” Ryan said. “I mean, let’s face it, we kicked their butt at our place. So you know, they are trying to come back. So, trust me, we will remember this. There is no question about that.”
BILL BELICHICK DOESN’T LISTEN TO SANTONIO HOLMES
Holmes preached a cautionary tale earlier in the week, telling reporters that if he was the Patriots, it would be a bad idea if they put a rookie — like Devin McCourty, for example — on him. “That was proven in the Super Bowl two years ago when they had a rookie follow me around the whole game,” he said. “I wouldn’t do it if I was them.”
While McCourty wasn’t matched up on Holmes throughout the night, it was clear that the rookie out of Rutgers more than held his own against the Jets’ wide receivers like Holmes and Braylon Edwards. McCourty had another interception on Monday (his sixth of the season) going up and taking a ball away from Braylon Edwards late in the third quarter. It was the third straight game where McCourty intercepted a pass — he became the first Patriots player to intercept a pass in three straight games since Asante Samuel did it during a three-game stretch in 2007.
“They did a helluva job playing defense,” Holmes said after the game.
McCourty now has the record books in his sights: The Patriots record for most consecutive games with an interception is four by Mike Haynes, who did it in 1976. And with four games left, his six picks are within striking distance of Haynes’ rookie record of eight, a mark the future Hall of Famer set that same season.
“He’s doing an excellent job,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said of McCourty. “He’s always here early in the morning and he stays late, and it’s really showing on the field. Since he came in as a rookie, he has really put in the extra time, and that hard work is really paying off for him now.”
While it’s pretty much acknowledged that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will be named defensive rookie of the year, it’s becoming clearer with each game that McCourty will receive more than his share of votes when things are settled following the season.
“I think McCourty as a rookie, he’s probably playing the best in the league at his position. Hands down,” Wilfork said. “I put him up against any corner you throw at me. He is a helluva football player, and he’s going to get better and better. He worked his tail off. I’m just saying him as the plays he’s been making. He’s been making some great plays for us.”
NOT SINCE 2003 HAVE WE SEEN A NEW ENGLAND DEFENSE THAT CAN FORCE TURNOVERS LIKE THIS ONE
It’s not just McCourty and his six interceptions. With their three interceptions on Monday — and zero fumbles — New England is now plus-14 in takeaways, the best ratio in the AFC and second in the league behind Philadelphia’s plus-15. Despite the fact that they still lag behind the leaders in most other defensive categories (including total yards allowed and third-down defense), it’s one of the most important reasons they have been able to be as successful as they have through 12 games.
“There’s a mindset,” Wilfork said. “We’ve been able to make some plays.”
The 2003 Patriots were a remarkable plus-17 when it came to takeaways, which is the gold standard of the great New England defenses of the early 21st century. But this team isn’t that far off. On offense, much of that falls to Brady, who hasn’t thrown a pick since mid-October. And on defense, it’s been McCourty’s six interceptions, which have sparked the turnaround from last year’s squad, which was just plus-six.
While Wilfork singled out McCourty’s effort, he added quickly that it’s a combination of players who are contributing to the success.
“James [Sanders], [Brandon] Meriweather. Everybody defensively has been doing their part,” he added. “I think sometimes people look at it and say, ‘You don’t have any great players on defense. You have good players and you have average players.’ I tell you what — if all of us just make one play, that’s a bunch of big plays. We don’t need one great guy on our team or our defense. We need a bunch of good guys who are willing to come out and do what it takes to win and know what they’re doing. I’ll take that any time.”
McCourty’s combination of ball skills and physicality are unique among New England defensive backs. He said he didn’t really understand the mentality until he saw veteran safety Brandon McGowan in minicamp this past spring.
“McGowan was the guy running around all over the field,” McCourty recalled, “and sometimes guys would act like the play is over — and maybe it would be — but he was always running you down and punching at the ball. And I think that’s where it started. [It’s] just having an awareness of always attacking the ball so when it’s in the air, guys are running and you’re trying to get it off them. That’s what we’re preaching in practice, and that’s what we’re doing.”
CRIS CARTER MIGHT NEED TO RE-THINK SOME THINGS
On Friday’s edition of “The Big Show,” ESPN analyst Cris Carter delivered a verbal smackdown on Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, saying that Branch was “just a guy” while publicly questioning Branch’s bonafides as a wide receiver.
“Deion disappears too much against regular corners. He disappears in the game. He’s made, like, three guest appearances since the Super Bowl,” Carter said. “Look at his stats. Look at his game. … He’s just a guy. You guys have to be real about it. Great players, they don’t get hurt as much as the other players. There’s a difference between great ones and good ones and average ones.”
On Monday, Branch responded with three catches for 64 yards and a touchdown. His score came on a key fourth-and-3 with 1:07 left in the first quarter — with the game still in doubt, the Patriots decided to go for it on the Jets’ 25-yard line. Branch, who was lined up opposite Antonio Cromartie, caught a quick pass off the line from Brady and raced for the goal line. Branch, who was sprung on a block from Woodhead, made the end zone to make it 17-0.
Branch has 36 catches for 497 yards (both third on the team, despite missing the first four games) and four touchdowns. Not bad numbers for a JAG.
“I’ve been doubted all my life,” said Branch. “Ever since I was a little kid, I've been doubted, saying I'd never make it, that I was too short, this and that. So I mean, hearing it from Cris [Carter], I didn't hear it, but that's his opinion. He's just like the next man. Somebody else will probably say something tomorrow.â¨â¨“That’s their opinion,” added Branch. “I can't worry about the next man. I’ve got to do what I can do to help provide and take care of my family, and I'm going to keep doing that. I never look to [Carter] for advice . . . That’s his opinion.”
SPECIAL TEAMS CAN LOSE YOU A GAME
In warmups, it appeared as though the wind was going to make some decisions tough for both sides when it came to calculating the odds for a field goal. While things appeared relatively stable at the closed end of the stadium, there was a strong breeze blowing through the lighthouse end, playing havoc with field goal attempts and kickoffs, at least in the early going. That was certainly proven to be the case in the early going, where a pair of special teams’ decisions ended up giving New England a short field on two different occasions, costing the Jets dearly and contributing to a sizable first-quarter deficit.
With the Patriots holding a 3-0 lead on New York’s first series of the night, the Jets were able to get to the New England 35-yard line, but kicker Nick Folk (who was five for his last 10 coming into the game) saw his 53-yard field goal attempt fall short. New England cashed in on its next drive, going 57 yards on six plays to push out to a 10-0 lead. On the next series for New York, punter Steve Weatherford just barely got his foot on a punt attempt, and it went flying out of bounds. It ended up going just 12 yards and gave the Patriots another short field — Brady and New England went 32 yards on four plays to make it 17-0. In less than six minutes, the game went from manageable to downright miserable for the Jets, thanks in large part to special teams’ misfires.
On the other side, the Patriots were able to push all the right buttons — Shayne Graham hit a difficult 43-yarder toward the open end of the stadium to open the scoring — but maybe the best decision of the night involved keeping the field goal unit on the sidelines. New England was looking at a fourth-and-3 with just over a minute left in the first quarter when the Patriots decided to go for it. Brady found Branch for a 25-yard touchdown strike on a play New England might not have tried if it wasn’t so windy.
“Fourth-and-[three] just kind of felt like it was fourth-and-short and we’d have a pretty good chance to [convert], instead of the long field goal. It was a tough kick. That was a heck of a kick by Shayne [Graham], the first one,” Belichick said. “It was a tough kick, but he hooked it right in perfectly, just the way I would like to hit a golf shot but never can. But that was really a big part of the decision. If it had been fourth-and-nine, we would have kicked it again.”
TEDY BRUSCHI CAN STILL MOVE THE CROWD
As a player, no one relished silencing a mouthy or overconfident opponent more than linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Whether it was the Colts, Steelers or Jets, Bruschi took great delight in “I-told-you-so” victories, like the postseason wins over Pittsburgh in 2001 or Indianapolis in 2003 and 2004. And in that same vein, on Tedy Bruschi Night, the Patriots were able to vanquish New York, a team that came into Gillette Stadium full of swagger but left on the losing end of one of the most lopsided scores in New England franchise history.
At halftime, Bruschi delivered an emotional address to the sold-out Gillette Stadium crowd, saying that even though he wasn’t raised in New England, “after playing here for 13 years, I call myself a New Englander.” The crowd responded with a very vocal chant of “Te-dy! Te-dy! Te-dy!” which created one of the more emotional moments of the season at Gillette Stadium.
“When I look at those banners I will remember all of you,” Bruschi added, pointing to the three Super Bowl banners in the corner of the stadium. “We needed your support, we felt your passion; you are the best fans in the world. My family is here tonight, and we would like to thank you together for all of the support you gave me through the good times and bad throughout my entire career. I wasn’t raised here but after playing here for 13 years, I call myself a New Englander. Thank you very much. I love you.”
“I’m glad [this win] could be on Tedy Bruschi night,” Belichick said. “I’m sure this is a game that Tedy is proud of and he was a part of many like this, so I think we got a little inspiration from him tonight.”
“He's a great friend,” Brady added. “Tedy and I have had a lot of conversations over the years, and he's someone I’ve always looked up to and admired, not only for who he is as a player, but who he is as a person, as a father, as a husband. He’s a great friend. He’s just a great person. He's got a lot of heart. You know, I think when you look around the locker room and you talk about being a New England Patriot, I think that’s one thing that you better have: a big heart. And no one had a bigger one than Tedy.”
NOW, IT’S ON TO CHICAGO … AND GREEN BAY
While Monday’s win was huge when it came to creating some separation between themselves and the Jets in the race for the division title — as well as the chase for that No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the postseason — to paraphrase the great Jimmy Cliff, there are still many rivers to cross before the regular season is complete for the Patriots. They will still face a substantial challenge from the two best teams in the NFC North, Chicago and Green Bay (the latter at home) over the next two weeks, two teams who are a combined 10 games over .500.
While the Jets still have a pair of sizable challenges of their own in a road game against the Steelers and a home game against the Bears, the Patriots cannot afford a letdown the rest of the way, especially in the wake of an emotional victory like they enjoyed Monday night at Gillette.
“We just wanted to come in tonight and play well and beat the Jets. That was our goal tonight,” Belichick said. “At the end of the year, after the standings are in I’m sure we’ll know what the situation is, but right now we don’t really care about that. We’re just on to Chicago and try to do a good job up there against the Bears. It’s nice to win. That’s great, but there’s another quarter of the season left to be played, so there’s a lot of football left.”