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Randy Moss was no slouch Sunday, but neither was the home team. In a much-anticipated AFC East clash that lived up to its massive anticipation, Mark Sanchez and the Jets answered plenty of questions about their season while Tom Brady and the Patriots lumbered off the field with freshly raised ones.
The frustration didn’t quite last all day, as fans throughout New England had a fleeting moment of joy after Moss’s touchdown in the second quarter. The play, with its perfect pass protection, smooth and accurate throw by Tom Brady, and inexplicably effortless-looking one-handed grab by Moss was almost poetic in its execution.
The catch was simply euphoric, a permanent staple in Moss’s career highlight reel. He answered all the pressure placed on him- and practically earned himself a contract meeting with the Krafts- on one beautifully perfect play.
But as the rest of the game wore on and the Jets tightened their vice on defense, that catch turned out to be the highest point of the game for the Patriots and their final points in a 28-14 loss. The Jets eventually silenced Brady and the Patriots offense while making several big plays of their own, both of which needed to happen to end up on top.
The Jets’ pressure to win Sunday reverberated throughout the organization. Anything less than a great all-around performance was unacceptable for them to make themselves, the fans and city feel any good about their season.
The Jets so desperately needed this win, a loss would have had them feeling like the AFC East race was already over after week 2. Now, after such a powerful performance on both sides of the ball, they made the battle for the division crown the season-long war it’s truly meant to be.
Mark Sanchez entered Sunday’s game under the biggest microscope. Had he crumbled against the Patriots, the Jets may have begun fearing their big investment was on its way to a slow and painful implosion.
But Sanchez showed resolve in making many crucial second-half throws. He practically tap-danced as the Jets’ offensive rhythm moved up and down the field with startling ease, and in the end improbably out-performed Brady en route to victory.
LaDainian Tomlinson looked a little like his old self in this one with a vintage 100-plus yard performance, leading the Jets in their dominance on the ground.
The Patriots’ loss resurrected concerns about their defense in a game where the singularly inspiring plays so abundant in week 1 were largely missing. What actually resembled consistent pressure on Sanchez ended up having little impact as he consistently found the right receivers.
No Patriots defender was more relentlessly exploited than cornerback Darius Butler, who for the second straight week received a thrashing by the opposing receiver, this time the notoriously hard-handed Braylon Edwards. And of course he had to sprinkle in a couple of penalties.
Butler’s exposure is just one example of what the Patriots will likely deal with all season. He’s quite clearly been directly targeted by opposing coaches a lot so far, so he and the coaching staff need to quickly find out what to do about it before others start getting picked apart.
A defense as young and raw as that of the Patriots does have to make mistakes. It’s a natural part of their inevitable growth process. It’s an experience the Patriots will have throughout 2010.
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Still, Brady and the offense aren’t excused. As dominant as the Jets’ defense clearly is, this is supposed to be a team with a quarterback capable of beating any unit on any day.
But they dropped completely off the map in the second half, a stunningly inept offensive performance that for a while had them looking almost like the Jets did against Baltimore.
Brady had three simple words for it: “We just sucked.”
And so here the Patriots are, downed on the road wondering if they can win when the offense doesn‘t deliver. They won’t face many defenses as great as the Jets, if any at all. But when points are scant for the Pats, they don’t look to have a defense worthy of their trust.
The Jets presented a clear case to be the AFC East favorites Sunday. Their offensive production and efficiency was a complete turn-around from Week 1’s disaster and the defense performed like they should. Brady acknowledged the Patriots, not the Jets, are suddenly the team in need of a turn-around.
“We’ve got to go out and play tougher…I have to do a better job leading this team,” Brady told reporters.
It starts with him. Because it certainly can’t start on the other side of the ball.