EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Just when it seemed the blend of Thanksgiving dinner Tryptophan and a boring opening 15 minutes of football in the Patriots-Jets rematch would lull even the most diehard fan into an early slumber, one team at MetLife Stadium decided to inject a little excitement into the proceedings.
Unfortunately for most of the assembled fans, it wasn’t the Jets. Though by halftime the team and its fans probably wished what they’d experienced during the second quarter was a nightmare and not reality.
After holding the Patriots scoreless in the first quarter — the first time that’s happened this season to New England — the Jets then saw the game, and their season, implode.
Embarrassed at home, 49-19, New York fell to 4-7 while New England is now 8-3, 4-0 in the AFC East.
It was Bill Belichick’s 200th career win, just the eight coach in league history to hit that number, and though he would never say it, it was likely a bit sweeter that it came against the Jets given all the history he has with the organization.
The game fell into a now-familiar pattern since Rex Ryan took over in New York: The Jets play the Patriots close in their first regular-season meeting — this year, it took overtime for New England to claim a 29-26 win — and then Belichick’s squad wins the rematch handily.
The Patriots scored 35 second-quarter points, on a series of plays that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.
“It was crazy,” Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said of the New England scoring outburst. “I’ve never seen anything like that. This is a team you can’t turn the ball over against because they make you pay and it was a great display of that today. Hats off to them for taking advantage of opportunities that we missed and things that we screwed up — they make you pay.”
It was so embarrassing for Jets fans that some began heading home before intermission. Those who remained began chanting for quarterback Tim Tebow to get into the game.
Even Fireman Ed, who has made being a fan into a cottage industry, left at the half.
“Yeah, definitely, of course,” Rob Ninkovich said about whether it feels better to win like this against the Jets.
The Patriots have scored 190 points during its four-game win streak, an average of 47.5 points.
“The preparations that we had this week was just really, I thought, outstanding by the players,” Belichick said. “They were very attentive in meetings, our walkthroughs, our film studies, even the walkthrough we had this morning. It was just some of the best sessions we’ve had all year and time was really short.
“They put a lot into it and it showed up out there today. It was an awesome job by the players.”
To say the second quarter was a stunning turn of events is an understatement.
The Patriots had a chance to score in the first quarter but Stephen Gostkowski missed a 39-yard field goal wide left.
On the Jets’ possession following the miss, Steve Gregory intercepted Sanchez when the Jets quarterback threw into double coverage.
New England started well inside its territory, but Tom Brady methodically led the offense on a six-minute scoring drive. Three Jets penalties aided the cause, including a 15-yard facemask at the end of a 13-yard Shane Vereen run that gave the Patriots first and goal.
New England’s TD came on the first play of the second quarter, when Brady found a wide-open Wes Welker in the front right corner of the end zone.
Brady had all sorts of time, a credit to an offensive line that was without Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. Donald Thomas was at left guard again, as he has been since Mankins has been out with several injuries, and Marcus Cannon started for Vollmer at right tackle.
The defense stuffed running back Shonn Greene on fourth and 1; Brandon Spikes stripped the ball at the end of the play, and Gregory recovered it.
One play led to New England going up, 14-0. Brady hit Vereen, all alone to his left, and the second-year running back was off to the races, an 83-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
“I was a little surprised [to be so open]. I thought the cornerback was still sitting there,” Vereen said. “Tom put it right on me.”
That was a crack in the dam.
In less than 60 seconds of game time, it burst open.
On the second play of the Jets’ ensuing possession, there was a botched play — it looked as if Sanchez wanted to hand off to Lex Hilliard but Hilliard ran right past him.
Rather than try to look for a receiver, Sanchez tucked the ball and promptly ran smack into the ample behind of right guard Brandon Moore, fumbling the ball.
Again it was Gregory who was in the right place. He scooped up the loose ball and ran it back 32 yards to give New England a 21-0 lead.
“He made big plays,” Devin McCourty said of his safety partner. “That’s a dream game.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Joe McKnight got out to the 25, but McCourty popped the ball out.
Julian Edelman plucked the ball out of the air and ran it back into the end zone. Patriots, 28-0.
And they weren’t done.
After the defense forced a punt, Brady and Edelman turned a third-and-5 play into a 56-yard TD catch.
The 35 tied the team record for points in a quarter.
Scoring three touchdowns in 52 seconds doesn’t happen often, but Belichick, as only he could, remembered that he was on the wrong side of a similar situation — at the Pro Bowl.
“It doesn’t take a lot to score a lot of points in this league quickly,” he said. “Turnovers, defensive returns, special teams returns, it can add up in a hurry both ways: getting ahead or also coming back. Nothing surprises me in the NFL. That’s why it’s a great game.”
The boos from Jets fans only intensified when they kicked a 32-yard field goal just before halftime instead of trying for the end zone.
The Jets score 9 points in unconventional fashion in the third quarter, getting a safety and a touchdown, and got another touchdown in the fourth, while the Patriots scored twice in the fourth quarter.