All day it's been the same around the water cooler. Randy Moss this, and Randy Moss that. Did you see Randy Moss? That one long pass from Brady? Did you see his touchdown celebration? Did you see Randy Moss yesterday? Holy Cow!
I'm the last person who'll deny that Moss was impressive. He appears to have hands of flypaper and feet like winged Mercury. Like the best athletes and dancers, he seems most comfortable in the air, and so light on his feet that it's as if with each step he comes down to touch the ground, rather than pushing himself up against the Earth's gravity.
Never let anyone tell you I am not impressed by Randy Moss.
But the real key to the victory over the Jets actually wasn't Randy Moss. It wasn't Tom Brady, either, though both of them were, of course, necessary. It wasn't Adalius Thomas or Wes Welker or Lawrence Maroney, though all of the above also looked polished and impressive.
The reasons we won that game yesterday, and won it so decisively, were in the details, below the surface glitz of the marquee names on the roster.
As every position of the game gets filled with faster, more talented, better prepared young prospects year after year, the little things come to mean much more, and chief among the "little things" of football is special teams.
In contrast to a bumbling Jets team that continually drew penalty markers on kicks and often looked, to a man, as if they were lost on the field, the Patriots special teams looked mentally sharp. The standout play from them, of course, was the points put on the board directly by the kickoff return unit via Ellis Hobbs' run back for a touchdown to open the second half.
The exception was the failed field goal attempt in the second quarter, in which Matt Cassell bumbled a perfect snap from Lonie Paxton and had to fall on the ball, putting the Jets at the 35 yard line--a drive on which they scored.
The coaching, too, seemed to have more of an eye for the little things in this game, particularly on offense. There, the play-calling was genius for the way the offensive "looks" at the line would so consistently belie a run or pass play. Hefty tight ends were called in, for example, on several plays that turned out to be long throws to Moss. Several perfectly executed play-action fakes on the other side of the ball kept the run game established. This allowed the Patriots to totally dominate in total yards (431-227), and best the Jets in time of possession (33:09 to 26:51).
But that last stat points to another strange fact about that game--it really wasn't as much of a blowout as it may appear from the score. The Jets actually started their drives with as good or better field position than the Patriots, with the exception of the thwarted field goal. The time of possession is not as lopsided as the score would seem to indicate. They had 20 penalty yards to the Patriots 16. No quarterback on either team threw an interception--in fact, neither team had a single turnover of any kind.
But this is where the Patriots offensive line comes into the picture.
I can remember a time in training camp when offensive line was a concern for this team rather than their standout strength. But I'm here to tell you that whatever the problem was, it's in the past. This offensive line is probably the best I've ever seen on the Patriots, and yes, I'm confident in that declaration after only one game.
In addition to the different "looks" at the line of scrimmage establishing both run and pass in equal measure, it was the execution by the offensive line that allowed both phases of the offensive game to run smoothly. They opened holes for Maroney and Morris, kept the pass rush all but nonexistent and most of all, played a tough, physical, relentless 60 minutes.
The offensive line met the defense at every turn like a wall of stone, creating a pocket it seemed Brady could've comfortably rented as a studio apartment for a while. Probably their best play of the entire game came late in the first quarter, and while it wasn't part of a scoring drive, it illustrates my point just the same. During this play, as Brady dropped back to throw, 6' 4", 266 lb. Jets defensive end Bryan Thomas was double-teamed by an utterly unbending Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur, while at the same moment, on Brady's other side, Matt Light stayed with an onrushing 312-lb. defensive tackle, CJ Mosley. Mosley actually got around Light, but at the last second Light caught up to him again and pushed him harmlessly around to Brady's back side.
With as heavy a rush as the increasingly frustrated Jets defense was mounting, this very well could have been a disastrous play for the Patriots. Almost any other quarterback--including the Tom Brady of 2006--would more than likely have been sacked, and at the very least would almost definitely have been flushed for the pocket, forced to scramble either physically or mentally to avoid negative yards. From there, it's anyone's guess, but it would have done nothing to make a 91-yard scoring drive more likely.
But with Neal, Kaczur and Light keeping him untouched, Brady had time to check down the field and finally find Welker in the right flat for a positive gain.
That was the difference in this game.