EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The screaming was long and loud and steady.
The visiting team's locker room is almost adjacent to the holding area for the rowdies who get hauled into custody at MetLife Stadium, and in the waning moments of Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Jets, several of those rowdies were wearing Patriots gear. And when quarterback Tom Brady emerged from his postgame press conference into the shared hallway, the rowdies saw the man wearing the gray suit and started screaming. And screaming. Loudly.
“Brady! BRADY! BRAAADY! YEAHHHHH!!!!”
Those fans were paying tribute to the quarterback who had just led his team to a win straight out of the pages of his past. In truth, it was something out of a previous age when the Patriots would plug a relatively anonymous player into a key spot -- think Earthwind Moreland, Hank Poteat or Randall Gay, just to name a few -- and the whole machine would just keep moving forward. In that context, Sunday night’s affair was a throwback victory that was just as impressive as any unlikely road win Brady and coach Bill Belichick had enjoyed over the course of their long career together -- a 37-16 upset win over the Jets (click here for the complete recap) that will send Rex Ryan and company back to the film muttering to themselves about being beaten by the likes of Sterling Moore and Jeff Tarpinian.
“We had so many guys step up today,” Belichick said. “Really, everybody that dressed played a huge role in the victory.”
Over the years, Brady had been a part of several unlikely road victories, guiding teams that, for one reason or another, were given zero chance to win. Such was the case on Sunday, as the Patriots, coming off back-to-back losses, started two undrafted rookies on defense (Moore at safety and Tarpinian at linebacker) and leaned on countless other spare parts (Tracy White, Phillip Adams and Antwaun Molden) throughout the night.
“Some of the guys in there you don’t really know,” Brady said with a smile. “We say we know who the guys are, but we’ve never really seen them perform under pressure. Some of the guys come off the practice squad and play scout team defense this week, and now I see them on our defense.”
But in the end, it all worked, as they scored 24 second-half points on the way to the win. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski and Deion Branch on touchdown passes, and the Patriots shook off an occasionally sluggish first half and dominated the third and fourth quarter on their way to their first win over the Jets in New Jersey since September 2008.
“It feels pretty good to win this one,” said Brady, who finished 26-for-39 for 329 yards, three touchdowns and zero picks.
As Sunday night gave way to early Monday morning, the rowdies in Patriots jerseys underneath MetLife Stadium continued to howl, celebrating the end of New England’s two-game losing streak and a win over the Jets. While New England moves to 6-3 and takes sole possession of first place in the division with the win, the Jets now sit at 5-4 and are seeing their chances of winning the AFC East starting to slip away ever so slowly.
“What am I going to say?” shrugged Ryan, whose team allowed 37 points, the most the Jets have given up at home during his tenure with the team. “Maybe I should guarantee the fact that we’re out of it. The last time I did that, we made the playoffs.”
Here are nine other things we learned Sunday night in New Jersey.
CHAD OCHOCINCO DESERVES TO FEEL BETTER ABOUT HIMSELF TODAY
It was the unquestioned high point of the season for the occasionally embattled wide receiver. On New England’s second series of the night, the Patriots were in a third-and-8 at their own 29-yard line. Ochocinco, who already had one catch for 12 yards on New England’s first series of the evening, was lined up wide right. The ball was snapped, and Brady took a deep drop as Ochocinco trucked down the Patriots’ sideline. Brady hit him in stride -- the receiver was so wide open, he could have called for a fair catch -- and after hauling in the grab, he cut back toward the middle of the field before being taken down at the Jets’ 18-yard line. Ochocinco didn’t catch another ball all night, but in the end, he finished with more receiving yards than Plaxico Burress, Dustin Keller or Aaron Hernandez.
Money quote: “I’ve been saying that he’s going to have to make some plays for us at some point, and he really got us going and made some great plays for us. He had one comeback where I looked over there and it looked like the guy was 20 yards away from him, he ran such a great route. We have to continue to use him and let him make plays for us, because he’s an exceptional player.” -- Wes Welker on Ochocinco.
By the numbers: For Ochocinco, it is his 21st reception of 50 or more yards and his first since a 50-yard reception vs. Houston while a member of Cincinnati on Oct. 18, 2009.
ROB GRONKOWSKI HAS BECOME JASON WITTEN, VERSION 2.0
While they came into the league as a complementary duo, it’s clear that Rob Gronkowski has evolved faster than fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez. That’s no disrespect intended to Hernandez, but simply put, Gronkowski has now become one of the game’s truly elite tight ends, a faster, stronger version of the Dallas tight end who set the standard for so many years. Gronkowski finished Sunday night with eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and now has 52 catches for 709 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. He was immense all night, but he was at his best at the end of the first half when he accounted for 55 of the 80 yards on a scoring drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown catch from Brady to give New England a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the evening.
Money quote: “He was outstanding. Him and Tom [Brady], they were connecting every chance they got.” -- Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis on Gronkowski (the two were matched up for several snaps on the evening)
By the numbers: (tie) Gronkowski has 18 touchdowns since the start of the 2010 season, the most among all NFL tight ends. In addition, Gronkowski is on pace to finish with 92 receptions for 1,260 yards. The Patriots record for most receiving yards by a tight end is Ben Coates with 1,174 in 1994. The Patriots record for most receptions by a tight end is 96 by Coates in 1994.
THE PATRIOTS CAN WIN A GAME WHEN TOM BRADY IS AT LESS THAN HIS BEST
The quarterback was not himself over the first two-plus quarters, throwing plenty of bad balls. He started 7-for-16 and looked wildly out of sorts, misfiring all over the place. (If it weren’t for the 53-yarder to Ochocinco in the first quarter, the Patriots offense wouldn’t have been all that offensive before its final drive of the first half.) But Brady and the Patriots righted themselves on the final drive of the half where he went 5-for-7 for 80 yards, with the series culminating on an 18-yard pass play to Gronkowski. It was part of a stretch when the quarterback turned things around, going 11-for-15 with two touchdowns at one point (that stat courtesy of our own Lou Merloni). In the end, he was 26-for-39 for 329 yards and three touchdowns with zero picks, finishing very strong after a rocky start.
Money quote: “Just indecision. Sometimes the ball’s just starting to get released and then you see something and then you just don’t put everything on it. So, I’ve got to try and eliminate those.” -- Brady talking about his bad throws early on Sunday
By the numbers: Brady entered the game with 2,703 yards and added 329 to set the NFL record for most yards through a team’s first nine games with 3,032 yards. Brady joins Drew Brees (2011) as the only players to reach 3,000 yards passing in the first nine games of a season. It is Brady’s ninth career 3,000-yard season.
THERE ARE THINGS WRONG WITH THE NEW ENGLAND DEFENSE, BUT ANDRE CARTER ISN’T ONE OF THEM
For all the talk of the free agent busts the Patriots signed this season, attention must be paid to the fact that they were able to get two of the best under-the-radar acquisitions in Andre Carter and Brian Waters. While Waters has shown his worth with steady and consistent play across his first nine games at right guard, Carter has emerged as the most consistent pass rusher the Patriots have had since Mike Vrabel departed following the 2008 season. On Sunday, Carter was in command from start to finish -- most of the Jets' early drives over the first half ended because of Carter. He recorded two sacks in the first quarter -- one after a Jerod Mayo blitz that altered the Jets’ protection and allowed him to get into the backfield unblocked – and two more in garbage time. (He also shared a half-sack with teammate Mark Anderson.) He ended up with 4.5 sacks, a franchise record. It was Carter’s third game with two more sacks in 2011, and he now has a team-leading nine on the season.
Money quote: “Andre, he’s a great leader. We all feed off each other. That’s what we did tonight. Everybody executed the game plan, and it was a hell of a performance.” -- Mark Anderson on Carter
By the numbers: Carter, who led the Patriots in quarterback hits entering Sunday’s game with eight, doubled his total with eight against the Jets.
STERLING MOORE WILL BUY DEVIN McCOURTY DINNER
The SMU product with the funky earrings made the first start of his professional career Sunday night against the Jets and finished the game with one tackle. It was an inauspicious beginning for the former Oakland practice squadder, whose biggest moment came when he collided with fellow defensive back Devin McCourty in the second half, knocking the Rutgers product out of the game. (WBZ reported after the game that McCourty has a separated shoulder and will undergo further tests on Monday.) Moore, who was told to prepare all week like he was going to start, got the call after it was clear that Patrick Chung wasn’t going to be able to go because of a foot injury he suffered last week against the Giants. Moore played deep into the contest and certainly didn’t appear to be overwhelmed by the New York passing attack.
Money quote: “I apologized. That’s my fault. I probably owe him a dinner or something for that.” -- Moore on his collision with McCourty
By the numbers: Sunday night marked the first start for Moore in the NFL and his first extended stretch at the safety position.
THE NO-HUDDLE REMAINS ONE OF THE SNEAKIEST OPTIONS IN NEW ENGLAND’S ARSENAL
The Patriots were hesitant to go no-huddle too early against the Jets -- they didn’t run it at all in the first half -- but they busted it out in the third and fourth quarters. The quick tempo caught the Jets unaware on a number of occasions, including one 14-yard pass play to Deion Branch in the third quarter when New England caught the Jets completely unprepared and set the stage for a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski that gave the Patriots their first two-touchdown lead of the night.
Money quote: “We took advantage of some opportunities there where we went fast, we made some pretty easy plays with them not being lined up. Sometimes they got us, [but] it’s part of going fast because they’re not all lined up. So there’s really no blocking assignments. You’re just trying to get an edge and take advantage of them. We did a pretty good job of that tonight.” -- Brady on how much the no-huddle helped against the Jets
By the numbers: The Patriots were in the no-huddle for 12 plays of the 67 from scrimmage on Sunday. Their season high for total no-huddle plays came against the Cowboys, when they were in no-huddle on 36 plays from scrimmage.
DEION BRANCH JUST LETS IT FLOW
The wide receiver, who caught five passes for 58 yards, busted out a unique touchdown celebration after his 8-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. After his score helped give the Patriots a 30-16 lead with 8:04 remaining in regulation, Branch made like New York superfan Fireman Ed and appeared to pantomime the “J-E-T-S!” routine that made Ed famous, pulling it off right in front of him. Branch, who has been written off several times over the course of the season, now has 37 catches (tied for third on the team), 484 yards and three touchdowns. And while he doesn’t have the quicks he had 10 years ago, he remains one of Brady’s most reliable targets, seemingly pulling up five-catch games every week for the Patriots.
Money quote: “It just happened. It just flowed out. ... I had the opportunity to meet him, way back, a long time ago. Hopefully with that, with me trying to imitate him, I’ll get the opportunity to meet him now. There won’t be [any] bad blood. ... [I was just] having fun.” -- Branch on his touchdown tribute to Fireman Ed
By the numbers: Branch entered the Jets game with 3,876 yards and moved past Randy Moss (3,904) into ninth place on the Patriots' all-time receiving list with a 14-yard reception in the third quarter. He finished with 58 yards against the Jets and now has 3,934 yards with the Patriots. Gino Cappelletti is in eighth place with 4,589 yards.
THE PATRIOTS RUNNING GAME IS IN A BIT OF A SLUMP
For the second time in three games, the New England running game hit a bump in the road. On Sunday, the Patriots were unable to sustain any sort of ground attack, as the combination of five players rushed for a total of 60 yards, and only Danny Woodhead (seven carries, 38 yards) finished with more than nine yards on the night. As a team against the Jets, New England averaged 2.1 yards per carry, the second time in three games they were unable to break the magic 4.0 YPC average (it was at 3.6 two weeks ago against the Steelers). BenJarvus Green-Ellis likely is still fighting the effects of a toe injury (he’s been on the injury report most of the last two weeks as a result), but the rest of the backs (with the occasional exception of Woodhead) were equally ineffective against the New York run defense, which entered the game 23rd in the league, having allowed an average of 123 yards a game.
Money quote: “They did a nice job. They’re a great football team. When you have No. 12 back there, I don’t care who else you've got. You see the difference a great quarterback makes in this league.” -- Rex Ryan on the New England offense
By the numbers: The eight yards from Green-Ellis marked his lowest overall output since he rushed for two yards in a November 2009 loss to the Saints in New Orleans.
ROB NINKOVICH WAS ABLE TO GET SOME REDEMPTION
It has not been a great year for Ninkovich, who has struggled against both the run and the pass over the course of the 2011 season (he was one of the players most affected by the decision to switch from a four-man defensive front to a three-man). But the Purdue product had his best game of the season Sunday against the Jets, finishing with five tackles (four solo) and a pair of interceptions. The first pick came midway through the third. With the Jets at the New England 37-yard line and driving for what would have been a tying touchdown, Ninkovich came away with a tipped ball that bounced off the hands of New York running back Shonn Greene and away from linebacker Jerod Mayo before he was able to corral it. (The Patriots later turned that into a touchdown.) The second interception came with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter, when Ninkovich picked off a short pass intended for LaDainian Tomlinson deep in New York territory and took it 12 yards for the touchdown, the final score of the night.
Money quote: “Yeah, I haven’t seen it on tape yet, but I think I was just dropping back in coverage. And I think the receiver missed it, and then [Jerod] Mayo tipped it, and then it came my way. So that was just one of those lucky tips, you know? It came right to me. Opportunity came, and I caught it. ... [The second one] was a nice one right there. I haven’t seen that either, so I’ll be interested to see that on tape. But again, the second one, it was nice because it was the icing on the cake. So, it was nice.” -- Ninkovich on his two interceptions
By the numbers: Sunday marked Ninkovich’s second two-interception game. He had his first two NFL interceptions last season at Miami on Oct. 4, 2010, on Monday Night Football. It was the Patriots' first defensive touchdown since Kyle Arrington returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown in a win vs. Green Bay on Dec. 19, 2010, in a Sunday Night Football game.