Thirty-eight thoughts on the Patriots’ 38-3 victory over the Jets . . .
1. There was no suspense in the Patriots’ regular-season-closing victory, which assured them of a first-round bye for the ninth straight season. They scored a touchdown on their second drive, another on their third, and by then the Jets were mentally cleaning out their lockers. No, there was no suspense. But there was an awful lot of reassurance.
2. Yeah, the Jets weren’t much of an opponent, with coach Todd Bowles the lamest of ducks and Sam Darnold trying with little hope to become the first rookie quarterback ever to beat Bill Belichick at Gillette Stadium. But the reason for the reassurance is obvious: Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady again.
3. Brady finished 24 of 33 for 250 yards and four touchdowns, without an interception. It was a very good day statistically, though he has certainly finished with flashier yardage totals before. But the stats confirmed what our eyes told us: He was playing as well as he had in weeks.
4. Brady moved well in the pocket, making a number of nice throws on the move. He took hits when he had to, feeling the Jets rush, but only when it actually existed. He was sacked just once. He looked like what he usually looks like this time of year, and that’s the best development that could have come out of this game.
5. His most impressive throw came on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett in the second quarter, putting the Patriots up, 21-3. He threw on the move, rolling right, and delivered a strike that Dorsett plucked out of the air. Brady couldn’t have put it in a better spot, and it was a heck of a catch, too.
6. I do still believe there’s something wrong with Brady’s knee. I now believe he can play through it at his usual high level.
7. Perhaps the degree of difficulty wasn’t as high as it was, say, two weeks ago in the loss to the Steelers. But Brady didn’t look quite right last week against the Bills, throwing for 126 yards. Sunday’s performance is what Patriots fans needed to see.
8. Brady also utilized receivers that have often been an afterthought. Some of that was due to attrition — Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t play, and Josh Gordon is no longer here — but it was encouraging to see Chris Hogan and Dorsett combine for 11 catches on 16 targets for 98 yards and a touchdown.
9. Hogan didn’t have a target last week against the Bills, while Dorsett hadn’t had one since the last time the Patriots played the Jets in Week 12. Brady is going to need both of these guys in the playoffs.
10. Hogan in particular needs to be a weapon going forward. He had 180 yards in the AFC Championship game two seasons ago. This is someone who has been through the January battles.
11. If you’ve ever wondered whether Belichick’s loathing of the Jets has faded over the years, the end of this one stands as a reminder that it will never end.
12. The Patriots rammed it down the Jets’ throats late in the fourth quarter, putting together a 10-play, 64-yard drive that was punctuated with a Brady-to-Julian Edelman 5-yard touchdown pass. That boosted the Patriots’ lead from insurmountable to really, really insurmountable, putting them up, 38-3, with 3 minutes and 30 seconds left.
13. Obviously any drive that ends in a touchdown by definition must be considered a successful one. Even Shannon Sharpe would know that. But the Patriots’ methodical first scoring drive, which came on their second possession and covered 59 yards on nine plays, had more positive developments than even the standard march to 6 points.
14. Start with Brady, since everything starts with Brady. He was 6 for 6 on the drive, completing sharp passes to five different receivers, culminating with White’s 17-yard catch and run for the score.
15. The touchdown pass was Brady’s 26th of the season, the second-most by a quarterback older than 40 — he had 30 last year. He finished the season with 29.
16. The five receivers to catch passes on the drive: Dorsett (2), Hogan, James Develin, Gronk, and White. At one point, Brady found Dorsett for 8 yards to pick up a first down on third and 3, then went to Hogan for 9 yards on the next play.
17. But the most encouraging play of the drive was Gronkowski’s 14-yard grab on second down. He had to lunge and bend to catch Brady’s low throw over the middle. It’s as pliable as he’s looked in a while.
18. Gronkowski finished with two catches for 24 yards, but make no mistake, it was a good day. He had a quintessentially Gronkish horse-escaping-the-barn 30-yard catch-and-run that was called back because of a cheap holding penalty on Dwayne Allen.
19. This is my way of saying, yet again, that it’s foolish to eulogize his career just yet. This may be his final season, and almost certainly is his last one as a Patriot, but the highlight film isn’t finished yet.
20. Brady was 13 of 15 for 131 yards and a pair of touchdowns after the Patriots’ first three possessions. His second touchdown was a perfectly lofted 18-yard pass to Rex Burkhead in the end zone.
21. I’m on record as not being a huge proponent of giving Burkhead roughly the same run in the backfield as Sony Michel and especially White get, but his versatility — especially as a pass catcher — should make him a secondary weapon worth watching in the playoffs.
22. Among the many things the Jets need for whomever their coach happens to be next year is a competent running back. Elijah McGuire isn’t the answer, unless the question is, “Which current Jet reminds you most of Blair Thomas?”
23. McGuire came in averaging 3.2 yards per carry, coughed up a fumble deep in Jets territory, and picked up just 41 yards on 18 carries.
24. Chances are Curtis Martin could have put up the same line Sunday, and he’s 45 years old.
25. Trey Flowers pounded the ball loose from McGuire’s grasp, the third fumble he has forced this season. I could see him having one of those McGinest-against-the-Jaguars in January 2006 kind of games this postseason, where he emerges as a one-man wrecking crew.
26. Flowers nearly forced another fumble when he almost ripped the ball from Darnold’s grasp on a third-quarter sack. The sack gave him 7.5 on the season, a career-high. Feels like he’s had a double-digit season before, though, doesn’t it?
27. Flowers also was part of the swarm when Adam Butler drilled Darnold to force a fumble, which Kyle Van Noy recovered and took 46 yards for a touchdown and a 28-3 lead.
28. The Patriots’ third touchdown drive of the first half was extended when Jets defensive end Henry Anderson did a very Jets thing and hit Brady after he’d gotten rid of the ball. As CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle put it, “And there’s a reason why the Jets are 4-11.”
29. I still have no idea why Dan Fouts yelled “Touchdown!” when Jets receiver Robby Anderson caught a deflected pass on an obvious bounce off the ground in the second quarter. Replay wasn’t even necessary to confirm that the ball had hit the ground, and Anderson didn’t attempt to sell it.
30. I wonder if Fouts did the same thing every time John Jefferson or Charlie Joiner dropped a pass. Might have worked once in a while in the days before replay.
31. Brady did miss a couple of throws in an odd way, sailing one Grogan-style over a wide-open Hogan in the second quarter that would have put the Patriots up, 21-3. He also didn’t see a wide-open Gronkowski in the end zone on the previous play.
32. That concludes the nitpicking portion of the program regarding Brady’s performance.
33. Sony Michel (50 yards) reminds me a little bit of another former Georgia runner and Patriots first-round pick, Robert Edwards. Shifty and clever runner, but too often looks like he’s one cut or broken tackle from going much farther.
34. Michel is faster than Edwards. Edwards was a much better receiver. And no, neither should ever play beach football, then or now.
35. By the way, the Patriots drafted Edwards 20 years ago. Can you believe it’s been that long?
36. Michel needs to be much better in short-yardage situations. He got trucked by the Jets’ Avery Williamson in the third quarter on what looked like a convertible 3rd and 1. This is a minor issue going into the playoffs.
37. White had just eight touches — four catches, and four carries, for a total of 69 yards. Those should be his halftime totals in the games to come.
38. Ten straight AFC East titles, nine straight first-round byes, and now they begin the quest to reach an eighth straight AFC Championship game and a third straight Super Bowl. I know it’s hard to avoid taking it for granted in the moment, but someday we’re going to look back on all of this and wonder how even half of it was ever possible.