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Dan Shaughnessy

Another close victory, but with reasons to be worried

Yes, Bill Belichick’s Patriots won Sunday, but there are reasons to worry.Michael Reaves/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — You have seen this game one million times. Maybe two million.

The Patriots struggle. The other team plays over its head. It looks like we might witness an upset loss for the team from Fort Foxborough. And then all the usual elements emerge and the Patriots cut out the hearts of their rivals. Tom Brady plays cool, flawless football down the stretch, the Patriots wait for the other guys to step on banana peels, and New England walks out of another enemy stadium with a hard-fought victory.

“It says a lot about our team,’’ Bill Belichick said Sunday night after the Patriots trumped the Jets, 22-17, at MetLife Stadium. “Their resiliency and mental toughness. How they execute under pressure. A lot of games in this league come down to the last series or the last plays or whatever it is. You battle it out for 59 mintues and it comes down to one or two plays . . . We’ve had a lot of those come up.’’

And they have produced the best result almost every time, it seems. For 16 amazing years.


The Patriots beat you because they are smarter and tougher. They never take the apple. If you are from Buffalo, Miami, or the Meadowlands, they take away your will to live. They make the plays when the plays need to be made and they wait for you to tie your shoelaces together. Which you inevitably will do. It is all so predictable.

“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to,’’ Brady said after connecting with Malcolm Mitchell for the winning touchdown pass (in front of Darrelle Revis, of course) with less than two minutes left. “We made the plays when we needed to.’’

This is a year in which there are no great NFL teams, and in that spirit the Patriots are certainly in the Super Bowl hunt . . . but the Patriots hardly looked championship-driven for most of Sunday afternoon/evening in the Meadowlands. Those of us who trade in analysis and negativity will have much to chew on this week. It would be easy to come away from Sunday’s victory with many concerns about the long-term health of the Patriots.


Rob Gronkowski, who already has a chest injury, suffered a back injury and left in the first quarter. Stephen Gostkowski missed a 39-yard field goal attempt. Malcolm Butler was beaten on a pair of touchdown passes. The Patriots did not take their first lead against the last-place Jets (3-8) until the middle of the third quarter. With seven minutes to play, the Patriots trailed, 17-16, and the Jets had the football.

That’s when the Patriots became the Patriots and the Jets became the Jets. Nobody steps on banana peels like the New York Jets. They had a block in the back on the kickoff. Their Harvard quarterback was tagged with a dumbbell intentional grounding. They took no time off the clock, punted away the ball, and played coverage, allowing Brady to surgically dissect them. It was only a matter of time. The team with the lead was bound for certain defeat and everybody in the stadium knew it.

The Patriots had to convert a fourth-and-4 from the Jets’ 37 to keep their hopes alive. No problem. Brady connected with James White in the right flat and White got the nose of the football to the Jets’ 33.


“If we don’t make that play, it’s hard to win the game,’’ said Brady.

That’s why winners win and why Jets lose. And if you are a New England Patriots fan, it’s always a good day when the Jets lose.

The football world is simply a better place when there is hatred and competition involving the Patriots and Jets. It’s never been Red Sox-Yankees, but it’s been pretty darn interesting.

The teams were founding franchises of the upstart AFL and played their first game a month and a half before John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960. The Boston Patriots beat the New York Titans, 28-24, in the first of their 115 contests (New England leads, 60-54-1).

Belichick still hates the Jets. Remember the Border War at the end of the 20th century? It started when the Jets lured Bill Parcells from Foxborough. Curtis Martin was next to defect and then came the skull-imploding battle for Belichick, which peaked in 2000 when the Hoodie resigned as “HC of the NYJ” on a cocktail napkin and had his emotional stability questioned by Jets president Steve Gutman.

Soon after that, we saw Jets linebacker Mo Lewis forever change NFL history by almost killing Drew Bledsoe with a sideline hit that begat four Super Bowl championships and the greatest coach and quarterback of all time. While all that great stuff was unfolding we had the little nuisance of Spygate, which happened only because Belichick was ratted out (“I know it was you, Fredo, you broke my heart”) by former Patriots assistant-turned Jets coach Eric Mangini.


The latest chapter in the 56-year feud featured Revis trading places, winning a ring with the Patriots, becoming the subject of tampering charges by the Patriots, then returning to New York and ripping New England after Deflategate, saying, “[The Patriots] have a history of doing stuff. You can’t hide that.’’

This made Revis persona non grata in New England and Mom Revis was refused admission to Bob Kraft’s house to collect Darrelle’s ring (the Patriots claimed the invite was “nontransferable”).

On Sunday, Brady took out his revenge on the field, twice throwing touchdown passes in front of Revis while the fat-cat corner played back on Mitchell.

Seen it a million times.

Maybe two million.

Video: Ben Volin and Jim McBride on Patriots-Jets

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.