BOSTON (CBS) -- In a victorious if not euphoric winning locker room, Brandon Browner spoke the truth.
"That team right there, their record, if you're on the outside looking in, we should have rolled those guys," the veteran cornerback said. "But we knew going in that this was going to be a tough battle regardless. And it came down to exactly what we thought it would be -- a tight football game."
That it did. Some would argue that the one-point margin of victory -- which required a tipped field goal and a favorable spot, among other happenings -- was too close. And they may be right. But the elements were in place for this one to be a tightly contested affair from the get-go. It was, by all accounts, to be Rex Ryan's final home game as coach. With his most-hated rival in town, against the head coach he regards as the best in the business, against the quarterback that's given him fits, you knew that he wanted this badly. And given his rapport with his players, you knew they'd be giving their best efforts in an attempt to get it for him.
So it was obvious that the Jets were going to give it everything they had when the Patriots came to town. It was just a question of how far that would go. As it turned out, it went all the way until the final drive of the game.
It was a close shave, definitely too close for comfort. But despite the uphill struggle the Patriots endured against the clearly inferior Jets, New England is still a Super Bowl-caliber team. A perfect, unbeatable powerhouse? No, of course not. But any grand conclusions coming out of this game should not be taken too seriously. It was a game that lacked four regular contributors (Julian Edelman, Dan Connolly, Kyle Arrington, LeGarrette Blount) and involved the aforementioned "Win It For Rex" factor. It was the Jets' Super Bowl.
A win was no sure thing, despite the records, and though the Patriots played with fire a little more than they would have liked, the bottom line is that they got the job done with a 17-16 win.
With that said, we've got plenty to talk about. On to the leftover thoughts!
--Firsts, some bookkeeping. The Patriots won their 12th game of the year, giving them a 12-win season for the ninth time in team history and fifth time in as many years. The Colts' streak of seven straight seasons with 12 wins or more is the only better stretch in NFL history.
The Patriots also earned a first-round bye for the 10th time in team history, which is the most byes earned since the current playoff format was instituted in 1990. And since 2001, the Patriots have earned a first-round bye nine times. No other team has earned more than four first-round byes in that same span.
So -- and this is old hat by now, I know -- what I'm trying to say is that the Patriots are very successful. With that established, we can move on.
--The one area that was just undeniably putrid in this game was on the offensive line. Just like Ryan Wendell earlier in the year, Dan Connolly's absence on Sunday single-handedly turned a unit of strength into a sad, porous group of men who couldn't protect Tom Brady for his life. Josh Kline, in relief duty for Connolly, was bad on his own, but it really spread across the board. Brady was sacked four times, all in the first half, and he was hit 11 times. The Jets simply ate the offensive line alive.
So what does that mean going forward? Well, nothing, so long as Connolly is OK for January. But I think by now it's obvious that aside from Brady, the players the Patriots can least afford to lose are the men closest to him on every snap.
--The offensive line was just one reason why the Patriots' offense got off to such a slow start, but surely they were not the only culprits. Look at the Patriots' second drive of the game.
Rob Gronkowski didn't finish his block on Damon Harrison, who was able to stop Jonas Gray for a short gain.
On the next play, Nate Solder dropped his head while trying to put a block on Calvin Pace. He whiffed. Pace broke into the backfield and stopped Gray for a two-yard loss.
And on the next play, Gronkowski dropped this pass that hit him in the hands:
That right there is how a 12-3 team can easily look like the 3-12 team.
And after looking at sequences like that, it's hard to believe the Patriots don't look down or look past lesser opponents.
--Josh McDaniels always takes a lot of criticism, some fair, some not so much. I know myself, I might be responsible for some of that. OK, I'm responsible for a lot of that. But can you blame me? He called for play-action on a third-and-14, asking Brady to sell an inside handoff to Jonas Gray. You'll never believe this, but the defense didn't bite on it, and Brady had to absorb a sack for an 8-yard loss.
Play calls like that one are the reason the McDaniels criticism will never go away.
--A win is a win, and they call count in the standings ... even when they come against quarterbacks who throw passes like this one:
--I get that the Jets are bad. I do. But when you go against the Patriots twice a year, and when they're your biggest rival, how are you not prepared for a Tom Brady quarterback sneak on third-and-1? How?
--Good for Danny Amendola for having a good game. The guy's making millions of dollars, he might as well contribute once in a 16-game season. Good for him.
So don't take it the wrong way when I point out that the officials missed the most blatant of blatant blocks in the back by Darius Fleming, which helped spring Amendola for a 39-yard return that set up the Patriots to score their first points of the game.
--He also got a new nickname: "Deathwish" Danny.
When you jump into mid-air, knowing you're about to get your world rocked ...
... and when you run around an NFL field without a helmet on ...
... there's only one nickname that will work for you. Death. Wish. Danny.
--During Rob Gronkowski's ceremonial spike celebration, he talked so much crap that the nearest official called a penalty on him. When it was determined that Gronk had merely been swearing profusely at his own teammate, the flag was picked up.
It's a sticky business, trying to decipher what Gronkowski is talking about at any given point in time. I don't blame that official one bit for getting confused.
--Yo! Mr. Jon Bon Jovi! JoBoJo! Dude! My man! Look, I'm not a famous person or anything, but I'm pretty sure you don't need to wear your special pass so that it's blowing in your face all game.
You're John Francis Bongiovi, Jr. The Jove! You're in New Jersey. You're also with Robert Kraft. I think you can get through any doorway you want, bro. Throw the pass in the garbage can. Act like you're somebody.
--Julian Edelman didn't play, so I can't share a weekly photo of the poor guy getting his body ripped into pieces and bent in ways it should not bend.
But Gronk did play, so here's the weekly shot of him carrying multiple adult men on his back during the course of play:
This one was even more impressive than normal because he was fighting for the ball at the same time. The guy is incredible.
--I don't have the energy to dig into the stats on the Jets' use of the Wildcat, because I'm just a guy and the Jets don't mean much to me and I don't need to know every single thing about their offensive strategies, successes and failures. I can just assume that they average about 0.5 yards per play when they try it.
But that's me. Based on their insistence on continuing to run into a brick wall out of the wildcat formation, apparently the Jets coaches feel the same way.
Marty Mornhinweg, ladies and gentlemen! Marty Mornhinweg!
--This isn't really related to anything in this game, but it's on my mind. What's always driven me nuts about the NFL's fake interest in protecting players' brains is the new rule that teams can't use different helmets for throwbacks. The idea is that if you use a new helmet, your head is exposed to new dangers? Because wearing the same helmet all year gives you super protection against head injuries, I guess.
I do understand the real reasons for the rule, but considering there are 9,000 other areas the league could look to protect brains before this one, I find it laughable.
Anyway, if the league wants to show it is really serious about this silly concept, I contend that any player who gets traded during the season must keep wearing the helmet of his old team for the rest of the year. After all, I mean, that helmet is much safer than a new helmet from his new team, so it's only right. That would look pretty wild. And safe. Most of all, it would look very safe.
Of all things the league could have outlawed … it outlawed teams from wearing different helmets during a season. Man ...
--Sometimes NFL officials get calls wrong even after video replay review. But not often.
Alas, this was Rex Ryan's reaction after Jonas Gray's touchdown was upheld via replay review.
"I'm Rex Ryan and I have better vision than a high-definition television camera in slow motion."
--Remember when the NFL, in its infinite wisdom, decided not to punish Dominic Raiola for his dirtbag dive at the knees of Zach Moore in the final minute of a loss to the Patriots? The league looks even worse now that Raiola has continued on his Parade of Shade, this time cleating a defenseless Ego Ferguson.
That's what happens when you let dirty players carry on with their dirty play. Ego Ferguson should write Roger Goodell a letter. A mean one.
--If nobody is even in the same zip code as John Conner, would that count as a defensive breakdown?
--Does anybody keep track of things like the "greatest field goal blocking unit of all time"? Because I have a suggestion for a prime candidate.
Granted, it wasn't a full-on "block" in this one, but Vince Wilfork's big mitt certainly got enough of the ball to prevent it from ever having a chance of getting to the uprights. That joins a list of plays that is getting kind of ridiculous.
Week 2: Chandler Jones blocked a Minnesota field goal and then returned it himself 58 yards for a touchdown.
Week 7: Chris Jones blocked Nick Folk's would-be game-winner in the final seconds to secure a Patriots win.
Week 15: Jamie Collins blocks a Dolphins field goal attempt on the opening drive of the game, and Kyle Arrington scoops it and returns it 62 yards for a touchdown.
Week 16: Wilfork got his hand on a go-ahead field goal attempt in the fourth quarter to preserve a one-point lead against the Jets.
That's a prolific season.
Opposing kickers are successful just 78.1 percent of the time against the Patriots, which is pretty absurd. (The Patriots are 93.9 percent successful on their own field goals, by contrast.)
--OK, so the mess that ensued after the bad spot and the bad communication was a debacle. I know that I saw referee Brad Allen signal for a first down, and I saw a Jets player argue with him that the ball was short of the sticks, but this was all apparently not in the line of sight for the broadcast crew.
Regardless, it all got sorted out, but I'm left with this burning question: In this critical moment of the game, where the spot of the football really could change the outcome of the game, why is this man in charge of making the call?
How can he be expected to get that spot right from that location?
Now, this might be a silly thing to argue, considering they ruled this to be a first down:
But it's a question worth asking.
--"Hey. Hey bro, listen, don't tell anyone I said this but like. How do you get yourself traded from the Jets?!"
--That postgame handshake between Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan was rather brief. I think Belichick got Belichick'd.
Imagine if it was Bill who acted all salty just after a loss and didn't give the opposing coach the appropriate level of attention to satisfy the voices in the sports world who for some reason care about such things? There would be much ballyhooing on the airwaves!
--The fact that Rex Ryan is going to get canned is kind of a bummer. He proved to be a worthy adversary to the Patriots for a little while, but frankly I've never much enjoyed the toned-down and slimmed-down version of Rex. The big, fat, foul-mouthed, unapologetic Rex who burst into the AFC East like the Kool-Aid Man at an unsuspecting birthday party was a more entertaining Rex.
And to drive home just how much he's changed, here's a look at Rex Ryan in his first home game as Jets head coach and his final game as Jets head coach:
--A relieved Tom Brady stepped to the podium after he absorbed 11 hits over the course of a very tough game.
"I'm glad it came out the way that it did," he said. "It makes for a better Christmas."
Well that's good. I wouldn't have been able to sleep this week, knowing Tom Brady might not have a great Christmas. I'm glad things are finally turning in that kid's favor.
Screen shots from NFL.com/GameRewind.
MORE PATRIOTS COVERAGE FROM CBS BOSTON
for more features.