There was no greater indignity for the Jets in their loss to the Patriots on Monday Night Football than the defeat itself.
The Patriots are now 10-2, the Jets 9-3, and New England leads the division, all of which is plenty enough to digest during what will be an especially chilly week in New York.
So, we can forget about the trash talking, Bill Belichick’s history with Gang Green and Rex Ryan’s refusal to kiss Belichick’s rings. The loss is more significant than all those underlying things that make this rivalry the twice-yearly event that it is.
But there was some extra salt in the wound for the Jets and their fans in the form of the diminutive Danny Woodhead, and I say that not because the Jets unconditionally released the all-purpose back earlier this season but because the Patriots have culled his obvious (if curious) talents and integrated them seamlessly into their offensive scheme.
It speaks very much to Belichick’s greatness as a talent evaluator and an architect who positions his players so that they can succeed, as the coaching cliché goes. And that — flexibility – is what the Jets lacked so sorely in their embarrassing performance.
The Jets planned for this game similarly to the way they had for each of their previous 11 games, an egregious mistake against the shrewd Belichick. From the opening kick (which was theirs after they deferred the coin toss and the Patriots elected to receive), they wanted to play the field-position game and pound the ball on the ground, but all of that quickly eroded when it was clear that the Pats were not going to have trouble moving the ball.
It’s no secret that the Patriots’ defense is vulnerable, especially through the air. During the game, ESPN flashed a graphic, showing that the Pats were literally ranked dead-last in the NFL in a handful of defensive categories. It was depressing, yes, because the Jets were so inept offensively, but it was also eye-opening to the lack of understanding of context on the part of the Jets coaches.
Mark Sanchez’s reads and accuracy remained dubious, as did the Jets’ receivers’ hands. Whether by design or Sanchez’s volition, he again was too reliant upon check-downs and dumpoffs. The ground attack was good as far as yards per attempt (4.9), but it lacked a big-run threat — it’s pretty clear now that neither LaDainian Tomlinson nor Shonn Greene will be breaking off 60-yard gainers — and generally was non-threatening once New England nabbed its huge early lead. Not to mention, it couldn’t net the big yard or two when it needed them most.
Then, of course, Ryan did his troops no favors with his bizarre game management, which I derided awhile back. He challenged the spot of Sanchez’s third-down sneak on the Jets’ opening drive, only to have the short-of-first-down ruling upheld. He proceeded to go for it on fourth and one, anyway, getting the first down. But, why challenge if you were willing to go for it, anyway?
To boot, the drive concluded with a 53-yard field attempt by the less-than-automatic Nick Folk into the freezing New England sky. If you didn’t watch the carnage, I’ll let you guess how that one ended. But, again, there’s a logical disconnect there. I’d rather have seen the Jets go for the first down (it was fourth and seven at New England’s 35) or pin the Pats deep into their own territory with a punt rather than attempt a low-percentage field goal.
The way to coach and play this game was aggressively, to understand that the Patriots have a defense as shaky as their offense is terrific. Sanchez is no Tom Brady, that much is certain (forget his three interceptions on Monday; his woeful 55% completion percentage for the season tells that tale). But to win this game, Gang Green was going to have to take its chances with Sanchez airing it out, attacking New England’s weak secondary, and showing some flexibility and an understanding of how to put themselves in a position to win against a good but flawed opponent.
On this night, it didn’t happen. Whether the Jets and Ryan learn from this and improve their odds of advancing once in the playoffs remains to be seen.