By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) -- Over the past half-dozen or so years, I've been in a number of losing locker rooms at Gillette Stadium. By far, the team that generally never seemed to take a loss too seriously was the Jets.
I was in there after the 45-3 embarrassment on Monday Night Football. I was in there in 2011, after a pregame report surfaced of the receiving corps meeting with Rex Ryan to complain about Brian Schottenheimer's offensive system. Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason were all goofing around at their lockers after the loss, which was the team's third straight. I was in there after their big playoff win in 2010, too, and I listened to LaDainian Tomlinson talk about how the Super Bowl was going to be in Dallas, and how great it be for him to play in the Super Bowl near his hometown. (The Jets would, of course, go on to lose the following week in Pittsburgh.)
Point is, under Rex Ryan, the Jets never seemed to have their heads on straight. They never seemed to have a direct goal or a sharp teamwide focus. They always seemed like a collection of individual players of varying talent who were interested most in themselves, and if winning came as a side effect, then all the better. But if a loss sprung up along the way, it was, "Oh well, no big deal." In many respects, the Jets were a joke.
But just halfway through the first season of Todd Bowles' tenure, it's fair to say that these Jets are very different.
The Jets didn't come to Foxboro on Sunday to play a close game, to show they could hang with the Patriots, or anything of the sort. They came to win the game. And when they fell short of that goal, they were dejected. When the locker room opened to the media, just about every member of that Jets team was sitting at his locker, head down, thinking about the missed opportunities. The picture inside that locker room was a stark contrast to the days of Rex, to say the least.
"I'm pissed off," said veteran guard Willie Colon. "I feel like we had 'em. I feel like we were the better team, but we obviously weren't. ... They beat us fair and square. That is the bottom line. We've got to do better, we've got to execute better, we've got to make more plays. And that's what pisses me off the most."
Another distinct difference in these Jets? Accountability.
In the past, accountability was sorely lacking, save for maybe Mark Sanchez taking some blame for a mistake or two while talking at the podium. But on Sunday, after a dropped touchdown and a penalty to end the game, receiver Brandon Marshall took several minutes to gather his thoughts before speaking with the media swarm.
Marshall admitted that he screwed up on the final play of the game, and he said the dropped pass is going to make it hard to sleep. But he said the Jets will get better from their experience on Sunday. And he made a pretty compelling case.
"Games like this, situations like this creates championship teams. Or, it creates teams that fold," Marshall said. "I'm willing to lean on the positive with this team, high-character guys. I think you guys [the media] see the mood in the locker room. That's special. Guys care. We'll take a day to get this nasty taste out of our mouth and come tomorrow and move on."
It was the same thing across the board. Bowles took blame for his mistakes in a no-nonsense press conference. Ryan Fitzpatrick lamented the two or three plays he could have made that would have turned the game. Collectively, the Jets were angry, and it wasn't solely because they lost. It was because they believed they should have won.
They may not be the world's most talented team, but with that defense and that mind-set, there's good reason to believe they'll be around come January. They may just find themselves in that very same room, looking for a different result.
As to what took place on the field, well, there are quite a few leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 30-23 victory. So let's get right to it.
--I love football because the expressions that have become cliché in other sports like baseball and hockey can still apply. Football is a game predicated on emotion, and there's been no statistical revolution that downplays the impact of the human aspect. So I found it noteworthy that on the Jets' first play from scrimmage, running back Chris Ivory was swallowed up by Jamie Collins and Patrick Chung for a loss of four yards. And on the next play, Chandler Jones caught Fitzpatrick from behind and forced a fumble, which Dont'a Hightower recovered.
That was three of the Patriots' most gifted athletes on defense coming out and trying to make a statement. And they delivered.
Ivory entered the game averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and he had rushed for 146 yards and 166 yards in his previous two games. On this day, he averaged 2.4 yards per carry and accumulated just 41 yards. His longest run was 7 yards.
The Jets' defense got all the attention heading into the game, and to be sure, they deserved it. But we might have overlooked what the Patriots can do up front.
--Now, on the back end, things weren't quite so pretty. Malcolm Butler had his first real 60-minute struggle of the season, as he just could not handle Eric Decker 1-on-1. Unlike previous games, where Butler was in position to make a play but just missed the football, or when he could be excused for getting beat by Antonio Brown, there was no excusing this one. It was a rough day.
--I have to write a Four Ups, Four Downs story after games, and frankly, it's difficult sometimes. There are wins where you really have to pick the tiniest of nits in order to come up with four downs, and there are losses where it's hard to spotlight four "ups." But I think it's pretty telling that yesterday afternoon, Rob Gronkowski didn't even cross my mind as an "up." I'm not sure anybody in the history of the sport has ever made an 11-catch, 108-yard day (with a receiving touchdown) look easier.
And in addition just the numbers, there was the fact that Gronkowski dragged a whole host of fully grown, adult, human bodies around the field as if they were small children. Whether it was the first minute of the game ...
... or whether it's the fourth quarter and he's dragging Poor Marcus Gilchrist from the 20-yard line ...
... to the 12-yard line ...
Gronkowski is just a ridiculous "human."
--Gronkowski also inspired Brady to bust out some crazy eyes that would even impress the Internet's favorite Crazy Girlfriend:
--Ryan Fitzpatrick often gets mocked for being, well, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He's basically the most mediocre NFL quarterback of all time, which is nothing to sneeze at, really. It's a tough league, and Fitzpatrick was reminded of that on two occasions on Sunday.
The first came early in the first quarter, when Alan Branch shot unblocked through the A gap and played the roll of steamroller in flattening the quarterback.
(Friendly reminder: Branch weighs 350 pounds. Fitzpatrick completed a 24-yard strike to Decker on the following play and ended up leading a 5:19 scoring drive.)
The second came early in the second quarter, when Fitzpatrick opted to fight for an extra yard near the goal line instead of protecting himself. For his efforts, he was rewarded with Devin McCourty diving directly into his spine.
I probably would have retired right there on the spot. Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown two plays later.
--Elsewhere in the "Holy Hell, Football Hurts A Lot" department, Julian Edelman was on the receiving end of the hit of the year by Buster Skrine.
And it didn't even count, thanks to offensive holding on Cameron Fleming. Pretty sure Fleming owes Edelman a steak dinner or two after that one.
--I tweeted a joke during the game. Seemed harmless enough.
I think most people got it. But some people are more gullible for conspiracies than others. And so many people freaked out and immediately sent this photo to Roger Goodell and every NFL reporter they could think of. They believed the Patriots had a crew holding microphones above the opposing coach's face.
I now understand how Michael Rosenberg can write about top-secret televisions and get away with it. People love to believe the ridiculous.
--The drops by Brandon LaFell and other Patriots receivers have been well-documented, but what's up with the defense dropping picks, too? Rob Ninkovich had his hands on three potential INTs, and he really should have caught this bouncing ball in the end zone:
And Malcolm Butler probably wishes he held on to this one:
Add in Brandon Marshall's dropped touchdown, and it was a tough day overall for hands.
(Insert lame, corny joke about the PSI in the footballs.)
--Non-Patriots Thought Of The Week: The Baha Men played halftime at the Cowboys-Giants game.
Obviously, the home team won after that inspiring performance. It's part of The Smash Mouth Corollary, which I created last year. It is simple:
Step 1: Have amazing, talented, current, hip, all-time great band perform at halftime.
Step 2: Win the game.
I don't know why more teams don't believe in the Smash Mouth Corollary. The Texans are 10-12 since saying farewell to The Mouth last year. Bunch of dummies, if you ask me. It's time that teams scan their Rolodexes for O-Town, BBMak, S Club 7 and maybe even Crazy Town if they want to pick up some guaranteed wins.
--Danny Amendola ranks third on the team with 289 receiving yards this year. Last year, Amendola ranked fifth on the team with ... 200 yards. Total. In the whole season. Two-hundred yards. He did have 137 receiving yards in three playoff games, bringing his 2014 total to 337 yards in 19 games. In six games this year, he's almost to that total.
He also put the okey-doke on Poor Marcus Gilchrist:
And he also made that incredible leaping catch on that ball over his head. It was quite the day for Deathwish Danny.
--Of course, it always helps when the defense completely forgets you exist. Amendola was the beneficiary of such a lapse:
And Mr. Gronkowski was also forgotten about by the entire Jets defense for the back-breaking score in the fourth quarter:
The "Completely Forget About Rob Gronkowski" defense has shown up with alarming frequency this season, and upon seeing this, I'm almost tempted to go back and erase all of those nice things I said about the Jets earlier.
--Gronkowski played a key role in pass protection, as he motioned in to the line and stayed in to block on a number of plays. It proved doubly effective, as he not only helped keep Brady clean but he also lulled the Jets into forgetting that he could release as a receiver. In the fourth quarter with the Patriots trailing by four, Gronkowski squared up with Muhammad Wilkerson. As Brady rolled right, Gronkowski actually chased Wilkerson for a second ...
before Brady said, "Hey, go that way." Gronkowski let Wilkerson go and took a few steps forward. Brady casually lofted a pass to the tight end for a gain of 11 yards.
--I don't think the TV broadcast showed it, but late in the second quarter, Tom Brady got so mad at Quinton Coples that it looked like the quarterback was ready to throw fists. The in-stadium video board showed the replay, and it was hard to tell what precipitated it. Coples might have gotten a hand near Brady's face after a pass. Whatever it was, Brady was miffed and got right in Coples' face.
Granted, that's a fight that Brady prrrrrobably doesn't win. But I would have watched. It would've been better than Mayweather-Pacquiao.
--I'm still perplexed as to what the Patriots were doing before halftime. They chose to not call a timeout after a New York run on second down, allowing the clock to tick down from 1:07 to :30. On that third down, Hightower absolutely dominated Nick Mangold, allowing Jamie Collins to sack the QB for a loss of 12 yards. The Patriots did call timeout at that point, but just 24 seconds were left. After Edelman's punt return, just 12 seconds were left on the clock.
Instead of having 50 seconds to drive 15-20 yards to get into field goal range, they only had a dozen seconds. LaFell dropped a pass right on the edge of that range, and at that point, a 64-yard field-goal attempt from Stephen Gostkowski probably would have been a better option than the "Hail Mary/Give Up A Sack Despite Just A Three-Man Rush" play that the Patriots chose.
For a team that loves the "Double Score," it was weird and out of character.
--I can't imagine what it's like to A) burn Darrelle Revis, and B) drop a surefire touchdown after burning Darrelle Revis.
Of course, Edelman didn't let that one drop lead to him dropping five more passes, and he ended up making the game-changing reception on a third-and-17. But still. That's two bad drops in two weeks, meaning JE11 owes TB12 a free hat.
--Speaking of drops, remember the game vs. the Jets at Gillette in 2013? AKA this one? Good times, good times.
--What I find most incredible is that the Patriots essentially went into this game and said, "Against the NFL's best defense, we're going with Tom Brady vs. The Jets." That's really what the game was: Brady vs. the Jets. Obviously that's not to discount the performances of Gronkowski, Amendola and Edelman. But they ran the ball five times. For one yard.
The strategy was simply to put the ball in the hands of Brady and trust him to win the game. And despite double-digit drops, Brady did just that.
--In terms of rankings, here's where Brady sits after Week 7 (Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer haven't played yet, but, uhh, they don't really factor in to these):
Touchdowns: 1st, 16
Interceptions: 1st, 1
Yards/game: 2nd, 342.3
Yards/attempt: T-3rd, 8.2
Completion perentage (Min. 150 attempts): 3rd, 68.9
Interception percentage: 1st, 0.4%
Not bad for a guy who was washed up last September.
--How many teams in NFL history, while holding a three-point lead coming out of the two-minute warning, waltz out there with a five-wide, shotgun formation?
The Patriots are fun to watch. And Tom Brady is a badass.
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