FOXBORO Explaining away the Patriots three losses this season was, in a way, easier than making sense of Sundays win over the Jets.
Coulda won against the Cardinals. Shoulda won against the Ravens. Died by their own hand against Seattle.
But this win against the Jets a bad team that owned a 3-3 record thanks to wins over three teams even worse than them shined a light on the Patriots flaws that, until now, seemed ones theyd be able to move past if they just played a bad team they could beat up on.
It was odd to hear Patriots defenders asked about closing out a game they led by 10 points with 17:39 remaining yet needed a game-tying field goal at regulation.
It was bizarre to hear people ask Tom Brady whether he silenced critics with two drives for field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime when, time after time, the New England offense bogged down.
The Jets were that team the Patriots should have pole-axed. Bad quarterback. A team bereft of potent offensive threats and without its best defender. A team that seemed tender mentally and disorganized on its sideline.
And the result? The Patriots powerful offense continually breathed life into New York by failing to finish drives. The Patriots defense flawed as it was made the same mistakes at the same rate against the worst offense its faced. The Patriots coaching staff couldnt effectively communicate who needed to be on the field and when (10 men on the field for the Jets first touchdown) and apparently didnt do enough during the week to drill the secondary on who should cover who on the most basic routes.
The result? A win on the scoreboard but a defeat for anyone under the impression that this team was just a few plays from being elite.
The players werent geared up for introspection. Not after dodging the big green bullet that whizzed past their collective heads.
Our main job was to get out of this game with a W, said defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who played a mammoth role in wrecking a few plays for the Patriots that helped secure that W. I dont care how we get it: get a W. Like I said, division game, you cant be pissed off with how you won or the things youve done. I think it was a great team win. It showed a lot from these New England Patriots, just fighting in overtime. Guys banged up, guys tired, offense going out, putting the drive together, defense taking the field and ending the game on a sack fumble. That was good football. I think we played better situational football this week, unlike last week when we just fell down a crack. I think we were prepared, I think we practiced well and I think the guys understood how we wanted to play this game and we played it the way we wanted to.
The Patriots outplayed the Jets in the first half, yet went into the break with just a 16-10 lead. Of the 16 points, only seven came from the Patriots offense.
Patriots drives stalled at their own 45 (a big drop by Brandon Lloyd waylaid that one), the 50 and the Jets 48, their own 45 and the Jets 45 in the first half. Sacks, drops, stuffed runs and penalties were the culprits.
The second half featured more of the same. With a 23-13 lead, another drive stalled at midfield early in the fourth. The Jets then went 92 yards to make it 23-20. And the Patriots whove been plagued by an inability to close out games and drop the lid on an opponents coffin shot themselves in the foot again when a drive began with 5:44 left and the Patriots at their own 21.
A Brandon Lloyd push off made it first-and-20. Then came a near pick and two failed plays and a punt.
The Jets got 21 easy yards on the first play of that drive and settled for a tying field goal after their rookie receiver Stephen Hill dropped an easy pass that would have gone for a first down.
And then, with the score locked at 23, enter Devin McCourty, a player who somehow can play well for the first 45 minutes yet when the time to make game-sealing plays arrives, has an uncanny ability to give aid and comfort to the enemy.
McCourty fumbled the kickoff. The Jets led 26-23 with 1:42 remaining.
Then finally Brady was allowed to be Brady and threw darts that gained 15, 12 and 20 on consecutive plays. Another drop by Lloyd on a ball that hit his body with 22 seconds left forced an overtime-forcing field goal instead of a signature win.
The Patriots had to settle for three again in overtime when the best option on third-and-6 from the Jets 30 was a tough, back shoulder-throw to Aaron Hernandez fell incomplete.
It seemed a low percentage throw.
At some point, it's going to be tight coverage and you've got to make a tough play and they're close and weve got to hit it, Brady explained when asked about that throw. I think thats what it comes down to. I mean, its not like guys are going to be open by five yards with that kind of time left on the clock, that important part of the game. Its close. They either make it or they dont or we either make it or we dont, and we didn't.
Which meant the Patriots had to hang on until someone in the front-seven made a play to save the game. Which Rob Ninkovich did, pouncing on a fumble he and Jermaine Cunningham forced.
If it isnt the front-seven making plays in crunch time, it seems, nobodys going to do it. Certainly not the secondary.
Defensively? The Jets had five pass plays of more than 20 yards against the Patriots defense.
They went 8-for-15 on third down and Mark Sanchez completed 68 percent of his passes when he came into the game as a sub-50 percent passer.
But the win made it possible for Wilfork to apply lipstick to the pig that is the Patriots pass defense.
I think our guys came to work, praised Wilfork. They understood. We got a lot of holding penalties, but what that tells me is they were getting their hands on the receivers; they were trying to be physical with the receivers. You can always look at film and play better technique, but I was proud to actually see these guys get their hands on balls, get their hands on the receivers, make a few plays in a critical situations. It never was perfect; you never play a perfect football game, but at the end of the day, we made more plays to win the ball game and thats the only thing that matters right now.
Right now was about 8 p.m. Sunday night. And the Patriots are entitled to feel relieved and happy that their week of work ended with a win. And that they are 2-0 in the division.
But to hear Bill Belichick say, I think weve improved every week after a performance like that against a team that was totally outgunned? It didnt seem rooted in reality.
The Patriots figure to improve at the things they are bad at. Turns out, they are a lot worse at those things than we gave them credit for. And the excellence expected from this team seems a lot further away after this win than it did after any of their losses.