FOXBOROUGH -- Bill Belichick wore a certain sly smile throughout the week, several times asking the media if they were ready for the impending snowfall on the weekend.
Maybe he will never admit it, but as jovial as he seemed to be, he had to know.
This is the Patriots’ time of the year; the Patriots’ type of weather.
Football. Gillette Stadium. Snow. Victory.
The Patriots rolled the New York Jets, 16-3, yesterday, putting in their best defensive effort of the season on a chilly afternoon that began with a steady dusting of snow on another sellout crowd.
While Caesar was warned to beware the Ides of March, NFL teams should beware Snow Days in New England, as the Patriots improved to 9-0 all time in snow games in Foxborough, and 13-0 since 1993 in games in which the temperature is 30 degrees or lower.
“I’ve had some good snow memories here, and that’s the way it should be to me December in Foxborough with snow falling down,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “I think we feel good about walking out on the field and we see the white stuff coming down.”
The Patriots should also feel good about finally playing well defensively, albeit against the woeful Jets, who entered the game ranked 29th in the NFL in total offense and last in points scored. New York did nothing to hurt its bottom standing, as a penalty allowed it to get a Mike Nugent 38-yard field goal late in the second quarter to avoid a shutout.
For the first time this season, the Patriots held a team under 200 yards, as the Jets posted opponent lows in passing yards (123) and rushing yards (41).
“Any time you hold a team to 3 points, you have to feel good about that,” Belichick said. “I thought those guys did a good job in the run game and on third down.”
New England (7-5) bounced back from a disappointing game at Kansas City to win for the third time in four games and maintain its two-game lead in the AFC East.
“We want to win out around here,” nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “We want to make the playoffs and go far. We can’t do that if we don’t make adjustments, or think that we did nothing wrong. That’s not us.
“Tonight we played more focused, everybody on the same level and everybody did their job, and it showed. We just have to continue that.”
Tom Brady responded to his season’s-worst outing a week ago, one in which he threw four interceptions, with an efficient game, completing 27 of 37 passes for 271 yards. He added 19 yards rushing to boot, as the Patriots picked up 146 yards on the ground, their top rushing performance as a team this season.
For the first time since Week 3, the Patriots’ top two tailbacks were both healthy enough to suit up, and it made a difference.
Corey Dillon, out for much of the past three weeks, gained 65 yards on 16 carries, and scored the game’s only touchdown on a 1-yard run. Kevin Faulk, who had not played since breaking his foot Sept. 25, added 35 yards on the ground and 46 on receptions to get the offense going.
“We talked about it the whole week: `Hey, let’s get this offense rolling, me and you, no matter what it takes,’ “ Faulk said.
It took a bit for New England to get going, and the Patriots didn’t capitalize on its dominance, but with the Jets struggling, all the Patriots’ offense had to do was avoid costly turnovers.
Jets quarterback Brooks Bollinger completed only 15 of 37 passes for 135 yards, was sacked twice, hit numerous other times, and picked off by rookie Ellis Hobbs.
“Brooks is playing as good as he can play, that is all you can ask of the guy,” New York coach Herm Edwards said. “He is doing everything he can to move the team. He is doing everything possible to play football at his position.”
It was the wrong day for Bollinger to try to learn on the job. The Patriots, blitzing a little more than they have much of the season, applied too much pressure for him to operate. And the secondary snafus that have been a steady part of Patriots games this season were nowhere to be found with converted cornerback Artrell Hawkins playing well at strong safety.
For the third time this season in a Patriots’ division game, the first quarter ended with neither team putting any points on the board.
New England got a pair of Adam Vinatieri field goals in the second period giving him enough points to pass Gino Cappelletti as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
The Jets mustered just 25 yards of offense before moving it 46 yards on their final possession of the first half. That trip into Patriots territory resulted in a tying field goal, but probably should have ended with a turnover.
The oddest play of the game cost the Patriots a stop, and almost led to the teams going to the locker rooms knotted at 3. New England linebackers were all over the field in a hustle play that proved to be for practice.
Rosevelt Colvin blasted Bollinger, forcing a fumble that Mike Vrabel scooped up and pitched to Willie McGinest, who raced down the left sideline before being pulled down by the facemask by Jets receiver Laveranues Coles.
But it all went for naught because defensive end Richard Seymour was called for a facemask penalty at the line, canceling the play that ended with five penalty flags on the field.
Not looking to take any chances, the Jets ran up the middle on third and 5, and took Nugent’s trey to tie the score with 1:07 left. Just enough time for Brady to engineer a drive to give the Patriots a 6-3 lead at the intermission.
The first time the Patriots touched the ball in the third quarter, they went on a monster 14-play, 85-yard march (their second drive that ate more than eight minutes off the clock) to Dillon’s game-clinching touchdown.
Yes, the score was only 13-3, but the Jets average only 12 points a game.
“You have to score points to win,” Edwards said. “It’s tough in this league for a team to have a two-score lead; it is tough to come back.”
The Patriots weren’t about to allow that to happen. New England held the Jets to just 22 yards in the third period and forced them to turn the ball over on downs the only time they threatened to score in the fourth.
By then the snow had stopped falling, and the Patriots had wrapped up another cold-weather victory.
“We’re just approaching games now, just to win,” Bruschi said. “Just win any way we can, get the `W’ any way we can.
“Sometimes you win ugly, you win pretty. It doesn’t really matter this time of year. Especially when the snow starts falling in Foxborough, it’s just get the `W’ and move on.”