FOXBORO — The meeting, by all accounts, was an informal one.
But in the wake of last Sunday’s collapse, it was something that needed to take place if the Patriots were going to truly move on from the dramatic loss to the Colts.
Several of the Patriots gathered at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday — technically, their off-day — to talk about the loss to Indianapolis and what they needed to do to put that game in the rear-view mirror and focus their attention on the job at hand. Namely, beating the Jets and getting on with the business of winning the division.
By all accounts, there was no head coach present. There was no angry shouting or assigning of blame or finger-pointing. Instead, it was just a group of players making the collective decision to turn the page. According to many players, the seeds for Sunday’s 31-14 win over the Jets were planted at that meeting.
“A lot of us came up here Tuesday,” safety Brandon Meriweather said. “We met together and we decided that we were going to go ahead and put that game behind us and go ahead and move on.”
“We just talked a little about what we should have done and what we could have done to better ourselves in winning that game,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said. “That was pretty much it — and then it was on to the Jets.”
“Sometimes when you’re the head coach and you’re in front of the team you can kind of feel it and sometimes you can’t,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “But I definitely felt it Wednesday. I thought that whatever happened over the weekend was gone, we were on to the Jets.”
Many of the younger players were part of the get-together, and the leadership displayed by many of those players is one of the things that impressed quarterback Tom Brady.
“We came into this year and didn’t really know what kind of team we’d have, and I’m really proud of the way that we work, the way that we practice,” said Brady, who ended up going 28-for-41 for 310 yards with one touchdown pass in the win. “There’s been some really good leadership for a pretty young team, and it’s been a fun 10 weeks.
“I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.”
Here are nine other things we learned Sunday:
SOMETIMES, WES WELKER MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE
The first indication that Sunday’s Patriots-Jets game was going to have little resemblance to the Week 2 matchup came with just over four minutes left in the first quarter.
New England held a 7-0 lead and was on the move for another score. On a nine-play scoring drive, the Patriots went to Welker four times (three receptions, one run), and the slot receiver — who did not play in the first meeting of the season between the two teams — ended up accounting for 62 of the 76 yards on the sequence, which ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Randy Moss.
On the day, Welker accounted for 203 yards from scrimmage and had career bests in receptions (15) and receiving yards (192). The 5-foot-9 receiver was a big reason the New England offense was able to operate with impunity for most of the afternoon — Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis compared him to the Energizer Bunny, and Belichick was again effusive in his praise for Welker after New England’s win.
“Wes is probably the best slot receiver in the league,” he said. “You always want to have all your players. Wes has done a great job for us, so it’s always good to have him.”
After watching film on the Jets and believing New York would focus much of its attention on stopping Moss, Welker had a notion he would see a lot of action on Sunday. That supposition was proven right — while Moss was shut down for much of the afternoon (five catches, 34 yards, one touchdown) by Revis and the rest of the New York secondary, Welker was able to run free much of the day, working a variety of areas on the field and catching 15 of the 17 balls thrown to him by Brady.
“I knew there were probably going to be a lot of balls coming my way,” Welker said. “Not to that extent. But the guys did a great job around me of playing really well, and blocking up front, and everybody just doing their jobs.”
“He played big — he always does. He’s a great player,” Brady said of Welker. “He’s working the middle of that field. When the coverage goes to Randy, Wes has some opportunities. He played a great game. What a performance.”
The New England passing game was at its best early in the second quarter. With the Patriots facing a third-and-7 at the New York 46, Brady had Moss and Welker split wide to the right. Both took off down the field, but Moss stopped 10 or so yards in, drawing three defensive backs toward him.
Meanwhile, Welker kept going down the seam, where he was relatively unchecked. Brady recognized what was happening and delivered a strike to Welker in stride, and the receiver took the ball down to the Jets’ 3-yard line.
It was the sort of play the New England offense — without Welker in the Week 2 loss at the Meadowlands — struggled to make against the Jets in September.
“I think they got confused on how they wanted to play,” Welker said. “I noticed it and Tom saw it, too, and so I just took off down the field and we were able to make a big play out of it.”
“It looked like they were trying to blitz us, and I think they bailed out at the last second,” Brady said of the longest pass play of the game for the Patriots. “But at that point, Wes was already running up the field.
“He made a great play, a great catch. That was a big play for us. We really needed it.”
EVEN AFTER LEIGH BODDEN'S BIG DAY, HIS TEAMMATES DON’T TAKE IT EASY ON HIM
As he strolled through the locker room after Sunday’s game on the way to the podium to address the media, Bodden — who picked off three passes from Mark Sanchez — was hearing it from his teammates. Bodden, wearing a Michael Jordan throwback jersey, got some good-natured grief from Brandon Meriweather for talking from the podium instead of his locker. And Meriweather had plenty of company.
“I didn’t know it was December 25,” linebacker Adalius Thomas joked when asked about Bodden. “I mean, three fair catches.”
“I think it was a conspiracy or something,” added linebacker Pierre Woods with a small smile, “with three wide-open fair catches, two were on a knee, one was right there to him and he ran it in for a touchdown.”
Bodden’s first (a ball intended for Jerricho Cotchery) ended up as a pick-six when he ran it back 53 yards midway through the first quarter for New England’s first score of the afternoon. The second came midway through the second quarter, when he intercepted a ball meant for Braylon Edwards — the Patriots ended up turning that one into a field goal to make it 24-0. And the third came early in the fourth when he picked off another ball meant for Edwards.
The three interceptions tied the franchise record for picks in a game, a feat accomplished nine times in team history and last achieved by Asante Samuel in a 17-13 win over Chicago at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 26, 2006.
They weren’t highlight-reel interceptions, but Bodden — and the rest of the Patriots defense — will take them any way he can get them. Since Samuel left after the 2007 season, the New England secondary has been seeking a playmaking defensive back, a corner with ball skills that’s feared by opposing quarterbacks. It remains to be seen if Bodden is that guy, but his five interceptions on the season (with six games to go) certainly make him a possibility.
Like Welker’s premonition that he would have a big day on offense, Bodden had a feeling the Patriots would be able to get his chances on defense.
“We actually look at turnovers every week. He’s thrown some balls to guys and we definitely knew we could probably get some of those today,” Bodden said of Sanchez. “We just had to catch them. That’s what one of my old coaches said: ‘You've just got to catch the ones they throw to you,’ and we did today.”
THE PATRIOTS DIDN’T WIN ALL THE BATTLES ON SUNDAY
The battle between Randy Moss and Darrelle Revis ended up going to Revis again. Regardless of how the Jets covered him this time around (the two appeared to match up in single coverage most of the afternoon), Moss had five catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. In two games this season against Revis, Moss ended up with nine catches for 58 yards, great numbers for any pass defense.
The one touchdown Moss did score was a 4-yard reception at the goal line, a quirky little pitch-and-catch where Brady and Moss were able to pick up on something that no one else had. On the play, Revis gave Moss a slight cushion and the receiver ran right up to him and appeared to start a fade route to the corner of the end zone. But he simply stopped and Brady fired a dart to Moss, catching Revis off-guard.
“It was planned between he and I, not planned between anybody else,” Brady said. “Randy saw something and I saw the same thing, and he made a nice adjustment for the touchdown.”
“I did the best I could. I knew I was going to be matched up on him like I was in the first game,” Revis said of his battle with Moss on Sunday. “And he did score a touchdown, but that was a play that was right there, where it was a timing pattern. … They got one on us, but I did the best I could against Randy, whatever the stats say.”
THE PATRIOTS WERE ABLE TO GET ENOUGH PROTECTION FOR BRADY
The Jets were able to get some good licks on Brady again — they had five quarterback hits and a pair of sacks on the Patriots quarterback. Shaun Ellis had both sacks, and Bart Scott had a pair of nasty hits. But the New York pressure didn’t rattle Brady and the New England offense like it did in Week 2.
According to Brady, it was a case of the Patriots handling the pressure early. Once they proved to the Jets they were up to the task this time around, they decided to shift their approach.
“I don’t think we handled it as well when they blitzed it early in the last game, so when you don’t handle it well, they just typically keep bringing it,” Brady said. “When you handle it, that settles it down a little bit. They’re a blitz team — they blitz 40, 50 percent of the time, so they were blitzing quite a bit. We just, I thought, did a pretty good job of sorting it all out.”
New England was trying to mix and match with a patchwork offensive line much of the afternoon. Right guard Stephen Neal was inactive for the game because of a head injury, forcing the Patriots to go with Dan Connolly. In addition, New England was starting backup left tackle Sebastian Vollmer because starter Matt Light was still out with a knee injury he incurred against the Broncos last month. And Vollmer was out for a quarter because of a head injury of his own.
All that being said, the Jets still weren’t able to get sustained pressure on Brady.
“Early, I wanted to bluff them and let them think we were coming, and all that kind of stuff,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “And we bluffed ourselves into a 60-yard pass one time, that was a blown coverage. But again, sometimes the matchup, you can go zero coverage all you want, but someone has to cover Moss, someone has to cover Welker, someone has to cover [Kevin] Faulk, and they had some pretty good matchups out there. Believe me, this is a heck of a football team, and it's a hard team to defend.”
THE NEW ENGLAND SPECIAL TEAMS UNIT SUBMITTED A SUBPAR EFFORT
Maybe it’s something about the Jets that brings out the worst in the 2009 Patriots, but on the heels of a lousy performance in the Week 2 loss in the Meadowlands, the New England special teamers had some issues on Sunday.
The play that was really damaging was a blocked punt on New England’s Chris Hanson. With less than a minute to go in the first half and Hanson punting from the shadow of his own end zone, Eric Smith slipped through a line of blockers and knocked down Hanson’s punt, the first time Hanson has had a punt blocked all season. Brad Smith scooped up the ball and scooted into the end zone for New York’s first score of the afternoon.
It was the sort of fluky play that could be a game-changer — especially when Stephen Gostkowski went wide right on a field goal attempt immediately after that at the end of the first half — but that didn’t happen.
“We had enough to block it — obviously, we just didn’t get it done,” Belichick said of the blocked punt. “[Eric] Smith’s a good rusher. He’s gotten them before. He’s one of the best rush guys, but we just didn’t … We’ve got to coach it better. I have to do a better job. We’ve got to coach it better, we’ve got to block it better. But it was a good play on their part.”
It’s worth mentioning that even though he did miss the 40-yarder, Gostkowski had one touchback today to push his season total to 19 touchbacks. His 19 touchbacks are a career high and are the most for a Patriots player since at least 1990. (Gostkowski’s touchback totals have improved every year. He had 12 as a rookie in 2006, 15 in 2007 and 17 in 2008.)
VINCE WILFORK REMAINS ONE OF THE MOST VERSATILE DEFENSIVE LINEMEN IN THE LEAGUE
Wilfork played some end and some nose tackle Sunday against the Jets, marking the third consecutive week that Wilfork bounced back and forth between the two spots. The defensive lineman is having the finest season of his career, and Sunday was certainly no exception — he had five tackles, including a couple on which he helped take down a ball-carrier behind the line of scrimmage. (On a first-quarter stop, he dropped Thomas Jones three yards behind the line of scrimmage. In the second, he did the same to Shonn Greene.)
He’s routinely taking on two blockers, doing his level best to gum up the works and make it impossible for opposing ball-carriers to gain any traction. He stays healthy, and he has to be considered a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl.
“We put him where we felt like we needed him on a game-by-game basis. How that will be going forward? We’ll figure that out week to week. Vince, he does a good job for us every week,” Belichick said. “His intelligence, his preparation, his natural instinctiveness in playing on the defensive line are all things that are positives in his favor. He’s able to make it happen.”
THE JETS REMAIN INCURABLE FRAUDS
No franchise has won more Super Bowl titles in September and October, and this year’s edition is no exception. Backed by Sanchez, they were the NFL darlings the first month of the season, jumping to a 3-0 start that left football fans in the tri-state area dreaming about an all-New York Super Bowl.
Now? With Sunday’s loss, their playoff hopes are almost completely out the window. And even though they’ll likely to be favored in their next three games (home against Carolina, and then road games at Tampa Bay and Buffalo), they’ll be lucky to finish above .500, as they close out the season at Indy and home against Cincinnati. Smells like 8-8 to me.
“We are a desperate football team now,” acknowledged New York linebacker Bart Scott. “Our backs are against the wall right now. There is no magic remedy. The only way out of a hole is to dig your way out. We have to keep playing and trust and believe in the scheme. You have to study harder and try and do everything a little better and hopefully it’s enough to win.”
Much of the blame for Sunday’s loss goes to Mark Sanchez. The quarterback turned the ball over five times — four interceptions and one fumble — and three times in the fourth quarter. The three interceptions by Bodden were bad, but the fourth was awful, a pick by Meriweather that came with roughly 10 minutes remaining. Sanchez was flushed out of the pocket and should have tossed the ball away, but he flung it down the sideline into dangerous territory, only to see Meriweather haul it in.
“It’s never a great feeling after you look at the stats, but this is something that you definitely need to learn from, keep working and improving,” said Sanchez, who finished 8-for-21 for 136 yards with two sacks and four interceptions. “You can’t let it get to you, and work for next week and just work for next week and try to get a win here. Take it one game at a time and study this tape and learn, because you can’t afford to have turnovers like that and win games in the NFL.”
LAURENCE MARONEY IS SUPERSTITIOUS
After the game, Maroney waved off reporters, explaining good-naturedly that he has talked for five straight weeks on Friday and has ended up with “a good or decent game” as a result.
“Why mess that up?” asked the running back who has now scored a touchdown in five consecutive games, just two shy of the franchise mark set by Curtis Martin in 1996.
He had good reason to feel that way, even without Voltron. (Sammy Morris was still sidelined with a knee injury.) Even though he fumbled for the second straight game, he was able to redeem himself with a pair of rushing touchdowns, as well as 77 rushing yards and a 3.5 yards per carry average on the afternoon. Maroney reached the end zone twice in a game for the third time in his career, having also achieved the feat at the Giants on Dec. 27, 2007, and at Cincinnati on Oct. 1, 2006. Sunday’s game marked the first time Maroney had reached the end zone twice in a home game.
On the season, he now has 116 carries for 455 yards and six touchdowns, as well as a 3.92 yards per carry.
“Laurence is a competitor, he’s a great player,” offensive tackle Mark LeVoir said. “As you saw today, he ran hard, as all of our running backs did.”
FOR THE PATRIOTS, THE REAL SEASON STARTS THIS WEEK
Belichick has long maintained that the season begins in earnest after Thanksgiving. If that’s the case, the Patriots will kick things off in style next Monday when they travel to New Orleans for a date with the unbeaten Saints, the sixth team they will face this year that enters its game against New England without a loss.
“Coach always says the season starts after Thanksgiving,” Brady said. “The Saints are going to be … coach said probably the toughest opponent we face this year, right there with the Colts. So I’m glad we’re playing this kind of football. The defense is getting a lot of turnovers for us. We’re getting the ball in in the red area. We’re just still doing a few things that are hurting us, but even with those things, we’ve made some improvements there.”