Far be it from me to look too critically on another win for the Patriots, especially one that makes them just the second team in NFL history to go 14-0 (the other is the 1972 Miami Dolphins, and we all know what else that team is famous for), and that's not what I'm trying to do here. But this was definitely not the type of game I'd expected the Pats and Jets to play.
Despite the weather, I and my fellow Patriots fans had been anticipating an offensive shootout, a 72-point romp over the green and white just to remind everybody who's who in the AFC East. Maybe because of the weather--or maybe because of the game plan, how can we outside the mind of Bill Belichick be certain?--the punishment served up on the Jets yesterday was not a bevy of points, but rather, a bone-crunching defensive approach.
The prime example of this was Richard Seymour's hit on
Roger Kellen Clemens (as if we needed any more motivation in New England--the starting QB for the Jets yesterday was named Clemens.) in the first quarter. Backed up into his own end zone by stellar special-teams play on the Patriots' side, Clemens was dropping back to pass across his body to a receiver on his left side, and Seymour smashed through the line just as Clemens drew his arm back to release the ball. Clemens got the ball away in time to avoid a sack, but not in time to avoid the Pain Train that Seymour was driving, as New England's monstrous DE lifted Clemens into the air and slammed him back down to the cement-cold turf with 310 pounds of punishing force.
The better to get a good grip on the helpless quarterback, Seymour pinned his left arm down with his shoulder flexed on Clemens' left side; when he landed, it looked like Clemens sustained a separation of the shoulder, but his injury has been listed as his ribs (no further detail has been given). Either way, that one hit on Clemens meant it was time for Chad Pennington to suit up for the hot seat.
I think there was more to that hit than sheer viciousness--I think that hit not only demonstrated loud and clear to the Jets' offensive line that they were not stacking up against their opponents, and it also forced what might have been a totally unprepared bench-riding QB into the fray. It's no secret I'm not much of a Pennington fan, but he did acquit himself well when he was tapped to take over for Clemens. Especially for a guy who could have taken a vacation while sidelined, he was very well prepared and led the team to a respectable point margin against the Patriots.
So it wasn't the blowout we were hoping for, but the hits just kept on coming, until by the third quarter it was clear that defense, and not offense, was the weapon of choice for both parties in this much-hyped tete a tete. The game finally ended with Chad Pennington's face in the dirt not once, but twice, as the Jets made final desperation passing attempts with that tantalizing deficit of 10 points still dangling in front of them on the scoreboard. Maybe not a blowout, but demoralizing nonetheless. Despite the relatively lackluster offensive performance (Tom Brady had his lowest passer rating of the season of 43), after the game, both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were smiling to themselves like cats full to the brim with canary.
And so now we look to *gulp* Miami. Yes, I know, they only managed to pull out their single victory this season just last week, and otherwise have been beaten by every opponent, including the 52-7 shellacking at the hands of the Patriots earlier this season. But the Dolphins late in the season is a notorious trap game for the Patriots. As Kristen put it, "I know I pretend that the Monday night game against Miami where the Dolphins dressed as traffic cones and blinded the Patriots and Brady into a confusion and forced him to throw interceptions from his ass never happened but the truth is, I remember it." I've adopted the same policy of denial, but I, too, will admit the memory of that game is seared deep into my brain stem. It may be tempting, but I won't underestimate the Miami Dolphins, especially not when all-time glory is on the line.