Big questions remain after Patriots’ win
Before he headed to the podium Sunday, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spritzed himself with cologne. There was a lot of verbal cologne being sprayed and spouted in the Patriots’ locker room after their fingers-crossed 29-26 victory over Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.
This was a malodorous win if there ever was one. You’ve heard the expression putting perfume on a pig. The 4-3 Patriots put perfume on the pigskin Sunday at Gillette Stadium. It was Eau de Victory.
The upshot of the sentiment from the Patriots after they blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead for the second consecutive week and were forced to kick a tying field goal with no time left in regulation was that winning is all that matters. Hand out 20-yard passes like they’re Halloween candy and it doesn’t matter. You won. Fail to execute your four-minute offense and it doesn’t matter. You won. Continue to look shakier than that old wooden roller coaster at Coney Island in the fourth quarter, letting the Jets score every time they touched the ball, and it doesn’t matter. You won.
“At the end of the day we made more plays to win the ballgame. That’s the only thing that matters,” said nose tackle Vince Wilfork, part of a defense that allowed the Jets’ previously 30th-ranked offense to rack up a season-high 403 yards.
That’s a rosy outlook, but it’s not reality.
It doesn’t matter until it does matter. The aforementioned issues are all traits that will get you beat in January because the goal around here isn’t simply to win regular-season games, division games, or rivalry games. It’s to win a Super Bowl.
It may seem unfair to criticize, analyze, and critique a team in victory, but the Patriots are held to a higher standard because for more than a decade they’ve been playing at one. You can’t lower the bar simply because it’s become harder to reach.
The hallmark of a Bill Belichick team was always “situational football.” Now, you have the Patriots struggling to close out games and allowing touchdowns with 10 guys on the field. The latter was the case on New York’s first score, a Shonn Greene 1-yard run with 8:51 left in the first quarter.
The one thing you can usually say about Belichick teams is that the more games they play the better they get. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case with this bunch, especially on defense.
The Patriots allowed (Off the) Mark Sanchez, who came into the game completing an NFL-worst 49.7 percent of his passes, to connect on 68.3 percent (28 of 41) and throw for 328 yards and a touchdown.
Only Sanchez’s own ineptitude prevented him from throwing for more. He grossly underthrew a potential 36-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Hill in the second quarter that was intercepted at the New England 2 by Alfonzo Dennard. The infield fly rule could have been in effect on the throw.
“Certainly, some things were better. Was everything better? Probably not,” said Belichick.
Brady putting on cologne in the Gillette locker room was fitting because he acts as the ultimate masking agent for his team.
This team has worrisome issues, the most salient of which is a secondary that allowed six more pass plays of 20-plus yards, but the quarterback isn’t one of them.
Brady guided the Patriots to a tying Stephen Gostkowski field goal as time expired after the franchise quarterback got the ball back down, 26-23, on his own 21 with 1:37 to play. Then in overtime he put Gostkowski in position to boot the 48-yarder that became the winner when Rob Ninkovich coaxed then recovered a Sanchez fumble with 7:35 left in the extra session.
TB12 was 9 of 13 for 95 yards on the two drives, part of a day in which he didn’t make any poor decisions, when just one would have skunked his team. Brady finished 26 of 42 for 259 yards with two touchdown tosses to Rob Gronkowski.
The myth of Brady being at the center of this team’s issues in the fourth quarter was put to rest.
“I think he put it to rest a long time ago,” said wide receiver Wes Welker. “Nothing has really changed. He’s still Tom. I don’t think anybody needs to waver on whether he’s going to be there or not.”
Brady said while the Patriots got the job done, they have to be better.
“We can’t really put ourselves in that position,” said Brady. “There is no easy way out. There is not like there is a magic, special play you save for those situations. It’s about doing your job, and doing it better.’’
The Patriots led, 23-13, entering the fourth. The score wasn’t the same, but the 10-point differential was identical to the one they possessed last week in Seattle at the start of the final frame. The Jets took their first possession of the fourth and drove 92 yards in 6 minutes and 58 seconds to pull back within 3 points. Sanchez hit Dustin Keller with a 7-yard touchdown pass.
The Patriots had the ball for all of 1:25. Then the Jets got it back and tied the game with 2:06 to go on Nick Folk’s third field goal of the game.
Devin McCourty, who returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and the Jets recovered at the Patriots’ 18. Folk hit his fourth field goal of the game, a 43-yarder, with 1:37 left to give the Jets a 26-23 lead.
The Patriots were staring at their second two-game losing streak of the season, instead they nosed ahead of the Jets to take the top spot in the AFC East.
“You can’t be pissed off at how you won,” said Wilfork.
You can’t be happy about it either, when you know that all you’re doing is masking problems with the scent of victory, instead of cleaning them up.