Antonio Brown has no defense, but the Patriots do. Brown lost his cool on Wednesday with ill-advised text messages to a whistleblower, lost his job on Friday, and then lost his mind on Twitter on Sunday. But none of it mattered because no one has found a way to score a touchdown on the Patriots defense. Unlike Brown, it combines enviable talent with discipline and Swiss watch-worthy reliability.
Through three games, the Patriots are revisiting the roots of their dynasty with a smart, tough, talented, stingy, and dominant defense serving as the Foxborough fulcrum. They’re no longer backup singers for Tom Brady and the offense. They’re the Hoodie’s headliners and headbangers. The highest compliment you can pay this indomitable defense is that on a team with Brady orchestrating the offense they stand head and shoulders as the best unit on the team. They were unequivocally the best unit on the field on Sunday in the Patriots’ preordained 30-14 victory over the New York Jets.
None of those 14 points were surrendered by the Patriots defense, which has yielded only a field goal to opposing offenses in 37 drives this season. Forget the Monsters of the Midway. We have the Ruffians of Route 1. Even adjusting for level of competition — or lack thereof — the last two weeks in the AFC Least, the performance of the Patriots defense is astounding. Not only are they not giving up any points, they’re not giving opponents any hope. It’s steamroller meet macadam every time the Patriots defense takes the field.
“Yeah, it’s pretty damn good,” said linebacker Jamie Collins, who collected two of New England’s five sacks on the day. “We just go out there, man. We’re playing for keeps. We’re trying to play to win. Whatever comes with it we’ll take it.”
What has come with it is statistical dominance. This defense is special, folks. It’s going to have to be if Brady’s pass-catchers keep getting injured or excommunicated like Brown. The offensive options dwindled on Sunday with running back James White attending to the birth of his child, Julian Edelman leaving the game in the first half with what the club called a chest injury, and Josh Gordon getting banged up twice, toughing it out with taped-up fingers and a noticeable locker room limp.
Aesthetically, the J-E-T-S looked like they had been replaced by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL with their odious redesigned ensemble. Offensively, the Patriots defense made them resemble a CFL outfit too.
New York accumulated just 105 yards of offense. The Jets had 13 offensive possessions and punted 10 times. Gang Green penetrated Patriots territory just twice. Those visits felt almost accidental, like a tourist looking for directions who wanders into an unfamiliar part of town and then quickly turns back around. The Patriots limited the Jets to 0 for 12 on third down and 0 for 1 on fourth down. Opponents are an anemic 5 for 39 (12.8 percent) this season on third-down against the Patriots.
“Anytime on third down we get them off the field it’s technically a turnover,” said safety Duron Harmon. “We’re getting the ball back to our offense. We just got to keep doing that. The good thing that we’re doing on third downs is that we’re being multiple. You really don’t know where anybody is going to be. We got a great disguise package that is causing some problems for some people. We’re going to just keep working it, and just keep trying to get better at it.”
Granted, the Jets offense — if you can call it such — was compromised from the start. New York entered the game with just one offensive touchdown. That was one fewer TD produced than the Patriots defense, which boasted a pair of pick-sixes in Miami in Week 2.
The Jets represented a fairly easy mark with Sam Darnold out with mononucleosis and backup Trevor Siemian suffering a season-ending ankle injury last Monday. The Jets were down to third-string QB Luke Falk, the 199th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. Going in spot No. 199 in the draft was about all that Falk, a huge Brady admirer, shares with his quarterbacking idol when it comes to plying his trade.
The Patriots made mincemeat out of Falk and a feckless Jets “attack,” limiting him to 12 of 22 for 98 yards and a horrific third-quarter interception that looked like a football flare thrown up into the sky to signal for help. Running back Le’Veon Bell fared no better. He must have felt like he was running on a treadmill because all his steps took him nowhere, rushing 18 times for 35 yards.
The Patriots have yet to allow a single rush of 10 yards or longer in 12 quarters and 48 rushing attempts.
Up 30-0, the only thing that prevented the Patriots from pitching a deserved shutout was a pair of rookie mistakes. New England lost the shutout when rookie punt returner Gunner Olszewski lost a punt with 21 seconds left in the third quarter and the Jets recovered the muffed boot in the end zone. The Patriots literally handing them a touchdown was about the only way the Jets were going to breach the Patriots end zone.
The Jets scored their only other points when Brady’s latest heir apparent, Jarrett Stidham, threw an interception that Jamal Adams returned 61 yards for a score with 6:23 left in the game on a toss intended for Brandon Bolden. This prompted coach Bill Belichick to re-insert Brady into the game with 6:22 to go.
“We’ve all got to go in there and play it out. It’s the NFL, so anything happens. I’m glad we won, and the defense played great again,” said Brady. “I keep saying that, which I’m very happy about, and it’s great to see them play that way.”
Yes, it is. It takes the pressure off Brady. At age 42, it allows Brady to come full circle back to the days when the team relied on the defense as much as it relied on his gilded arm. The Patriots’ pendulum swinging back toward the defense is beneficial. That balance won three Super Bowls in the early and mid-aughts. It won the Patriots a Super Bowl last season.
The defense was a lot more forgiving of the two rookies messing up their second consecutive shutout than they’ve been with opposing offenses. Dating to Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots’ defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in four straight games. Harmon laughed off losing the shutout to miscues by New England newbies and preached empathy. “We’ve all been rookies. We’ve all made mistakes, but the good thing is they can learn from the winning perspective,” said Harmon.
The scary part for opposing offenses is that the Patriots defenders feel like they’re still learning too. Harmon reminded media members that the defense is not as in synch as it should be in Week 9 or Week 10.
“We’re still working through disguises, and we’re still working through the coverages that we’re really, really good at it,” he said. “We’re still learning so much about ourselves. So, we’re getting there, though. We’re definitely further ahead than we have been. That’s a plus.”
Three games is a small sample size, but three points allowed defensively in that span raises eyebrows and expectations.
This Patriots defense is making a point by not allowing very many.