Thirty-three thoughts on the Patriots’ 33-0 win over the Jets . . .
1. The Patriots offense was perfectly fine Monday night, scoring on a methodical first drive, using a new cast of temporary fullbacks (Elandon Roberts! James Ferentz!) to plow the way for three Sony Michel touchdowns, and Tom Brady played with an edge, performing even better than his numbers (31 of 45, 249 yards, one touchdown) indicated. Too bad they can’t clone that guy.
2. But this is about the defense. It has to be about the defense, because this season so far is about this extraordinary, ferocious, relentless defense. And that’s never been clearer than it was Monday night, when the Patriots tormented young quarterback Sam Darnold and refused to allow a defensive touchdown for the fourth time this season.
3. I’ll believe it now, as this season approaches the midpoint and the Patriots remain unbeaten: This defense is playing at a level we’ve seen only a few times in NFL history. The 1985 Chicago Bears, for sure. Maybe the 1990 New York Giants. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Maybe Pete Carroll’s Super Bowl-winning Seahawks. Elite company. Vicious, stingy company.
4. After shutting out the Jets, forcing six turnovers and a safety, and tormenting Darnold into one of the worst quarterback performances we’ve seen by someone who had previously proven competent, the Patriots have allowed 48 points in seven games. That’s great . . . but the full story is better. Only 27 of those points have been allowed by the defense, an average of 3.9 per game. Take that, Buddy Ryan.
5. The Patriots had enough highlights to fill a season’s highlight reel, and that is only slightly hyperbolic. The most impressive to me? Dont’a Hightower blowing up Le’Veon Bell on an incomplete pass in a third quarter just because he could. But the quintessential scene? Belichick – the ultimate defensive coordinator — coaching up the defense with a 24-0 lead in the third quarter. No plays off. No mercy.
6. It was reassuring to see Devin McCourty end his prolonged and troubling drought of games without an interception at . . . [checks notes] . . . two. We kid, we kid. McCourty’s first-quarter pick of Darnold was his fifth of the season after picking off a pass in each of the Patriots’ first four games.
7. I’ve been a believer that Darnold, just 22, has a chance to end up being the second-best quarterback in the AFC East during Tom Brady’s two-decade tenure, save for perhaps a season and a half of Drew Bledsoe with the 2002-03 Bills and whatever you want to say was the peak of Chad Pennington’s career. I don’t know how anyone can believe that after this.
8. But the McCourty pick, in which Darnold chucked the ball hurriedly into the flat, right into the Patriot ballhawk’s hands, was so bad it might as well have been a tribute to Luke Falk. Or Mark Sanchez. Or Kellen Clemens. Or Bryce Petty. Or Geno Smith. Or (going old school here) Browning Nagle. You get the gist.
9. And Darnold did the same thing over and over again. The McCourty pick was just the beginning of a horrific night for the second-year quarterback, one that makes a believer in the kid wonder if we’ve been misguided. At halftime, he had 34 yards passing — 64 fewer yards than Falk had over the full game in Week 3 against the Patriots — and three interceptions.
10. ESPN got a piece of audio gold from Darnold, who was miked up. During a second-quarter “highlight” package of his two interceptions, off-target throws, and various hopeless scrambles under pressure, Darnold was heard to mutter, “I’m seeing ghosts.” Can’t recall ever hearing a quarterback acknowledge during a game that he was bewildered by what the defense was throwing at him.
11. He finished 11 of 32 for 86 yards with four picks, all on poor heaves off his back foot. It got so bad that early in the fourth quarter, Monday Night Football broadcasters Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland were all but pleading with Jets coach Adam Gase to take him out of the game. I suspect he’ll be repairable, but for now the Patriots defense has broken him.
12. The four interceptions gave the Patriots 18 on the season. That’s as many as they had all of last season, and six more than they had in 2017 (12). The team record is 31 set in 1964. The most in the Bill Belichick era is 29, set in 2003.
13. I would have guessed one of those late-’70s defensive backfields with Mike Haynes and Raymond Clayborn might have had more. This crew might set a new record by December.
14. The second interception — and 16th of the season — came when Duron Harmon plucked a lofted Darnold throw to . . . actually, I have no idea who his intended receiver was. You could tell me he was looking for Keyshawn Johnson there on a fade route and I’d believe you.
15. That pass, which Harmon picked off at the Patriots 1, killed the best Jets drive of the night, a drive aided if not outright spurred by three Patriots penalties that ranged from curious to downright dubious.
16. The worst was Danny Shelton getting flagged for roughing the passer on a clean, well-timed, but spleen-rattling hit on Darnold. I’m curious what Belichick will say about those calls in the film room.
17. I’m not a conspiracy theorist — there’s too much of that nonsense affecting the world in real ways — but if I were one, I might have my suspicions about what happens when there is desperation to add some suspense to a prime-time game.
18. Ben Watson’s last game as a Patriot before last night occurred on January 1, 2010, a memorable one for all the wrong reasons: It was the 33-14 loss to the Ravens in the divisional round. That was the end for those 2009 “I Just Can’t Get This Team To Play The Way We Need To Play” Patriots. If that feels like a generation ago, that’s because it practically was.
19. It did not take long to get the full Watson experience in his season debut last night. He wasn’t ready for a Brady pass on the first drive that ricocheted off his pads, reminiscent of something that might have happened in 2006.
20. But later in the half he made a superb diving catch — one no other tight end on the current roster could make — to pick up 7 yards on fourth down and 6 to prolong what ended up being a touchdown drive for a 17-0 lead.
21. Honest, I searched for a way to talk about the Patriots’ first drive without spewing that color-analyst cliché about how they “set the tone.” But . . . well, friends, it’s just that they really did set the tone, and in a couple of different ways.
22. The drive took 16 plays, covered 78 yards, and chewed 8 minutes and 47 seconds off the clock as they methodically established their dominance. And they converted four third downs, including a 14-yarder to Julian Edelman on third and 10 in which the Jets appeared to play a zone defense for some inexplicable reason.
23. That first drive — you know, the tone-setter — culminated when Sony Michel scored from 3 yards out, also on third down, to pick up his fourth rushing touchdown of the season. (He’d add his fifth later in the first half).
24. Michel had just 14 yards in five carries on the drive, but he ran hard, and it was good to see him do the honors (at least if you spent a high draft pick on him in fantasy football). He finished with just 42 yards on 19 carries, but the three TDs look awfully nice.
25. Jakobi Meyers converted a third down with a 10-yard catch on the first drive, setting up what would be another encouraging night for the rookie receiver. Meyers had five catches on five targets for 47 yards. He now has caught 13 of the 15 passes Brady has aimed his way. If he’s not in the quarterback’s circle of trust fraternity yet, he’s at least a favored pledge.
26. Phillip Dorsett returned after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury, and contributed one of his David Patten-type plays, a 26-yard TD catch in the second quarter to put the Patriots up, 17-0, at that point.
27. Agree with me that Booger McFarland has made huge improvements in his second season in the Monday Night Football booth? Getting off the contraption on the sideline and no longer having to share space on the broadcast with Jason Witten (so wooden it’s a surprise he didn’t get termites) has done wonders.
28. Did have to laugh when McFarland said in the third quarter, “In the AFC, I think it’s going to come down to the Patriots, Chiefs, Texans, Colts, and Ravens. Way to narrow it down, Boogah.
29. If Demaryius Thomas (3 catches on 9 targets) thought his stint with the Patriots was a waste of time, can’t imagine what he thought of this debacle.
30. The most fitting final scene would have been one more Darnold pick. But Matthew Slater recovering a botched Braxton Berrios punt return was rather fitting, too.
31. Third-round pick Damien Harris made his debut in the fourth quarter, breaking off a 13-yard run. Wonder if we’ll see more of him since Rex Burkhead is injured again.
32. Hope Michael Bennett wants to be a part of this. It would say a lot about him if he doesn’t.
33. After watching the Patriots do this to Darnold, can’t wait to see what they have in store for Baker Mayfield.