So, yes, the Patriots survived with a divisional road win against the Jets 24-17 on Sunday.
A viewing of the film only reinforced what I felt leaving MetLife Stadium that evening: this defense is nowhere near where it should be, and the members of that unit should not have been happy with themselves with just the victory.
They can thank Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the Jets for that. Outside of Malcolm Butler’s two turnovers and good run defense, the Patriots were largely inept against the toothless Jets. Yes, even in the second half.
If you thought the Patriots defense stiffened up in the second half as evidenced by the three points allowed in the final two-plus quarters, then we weren't watching the same game.
That stretch was among the worst the unit has played this season, and they only survived because it was Josh McCown and the Jets.
Let us count the ways:
Opening drive of second half
Second-and-10: No one helps Malcolm Butler as Robby Anderson sprints in motion, leading to an easy 16-yard gain. (Cassius Marsh probably should have been there to help.)
Third-and-2: McCown scrambles for 6 yards when he had three receivers deep on the play.
Third-and-10: McCown couldn’t have had an easier 13-yard completion to Travaris Cadet against soft zone coverage.
Fourth-and-1: No one is within 5 yards of Eric Tomlinson for the first down, but McCown throws behind the tight end and is intercepted by Devin McCourty.
Self-inflicted wound by the Jets, not the Patriots making a play. (Remember, we don't talk about #BSJFightClub ... FELGER & MAZZ)
Fourth quarter, first possession
Second-and-7: Patriots come on a blitz that barely threatens McCown, and Duron Harmon is so afraid to get beaten by a slower tight end that he bails in coverage to allow Austin Seferian-Jenkins an easy 12-yard reception.
First-and-10: Trey Flowers is stuck alone in coverage against Matt Forte and has no chance on the 9-yard gain to the New England 12-yard line.
Second-and-goal: McCown throws inside to Seferian-Jenkins instead of leading him to the outside, which sets up the touchdown that was reversed on replay as fumble. If McCown throws to the outside, there is no fumble and the Jets score rather easily because Harmon was so late in coverage.
Self-inflicted wound by the Jets, not the Patriots making a play.
First-and-10: Not sure I’ve ever seen a player as open as Jermaine Kearse on a non-broken play. This looked to be mostly Harmon’s fault. Patriots appeared to be in Cover 3 (dividing the deep thirds of the field between the corners and deep safety), but when Butler went to pass off his receiver to Harmon, the safety was turned around to the other side of the field where there were no vertical threats. Instead of passing off his receiver and dropping to Kearse, Butler wasn’t going to give up a touchdown so he kept running with vertical. The result: 44 freaking yards. Unreal.
Jets failed to score on this possession because they missed a field goal. Another self-inflicted wound the Patriots had little to do with.
Fourth-and-12: Patriots send Butler on a corner blitz to force McCown to get rid of the ball early, and New England will catch the receivers short of the first-down marker. Instead, McCourty has his eyes on the quarterback, offers no resistance and the Jets are in business with an easy peasy 32-yard slant.
Fourth-and-16: Instead of flipping the ball to Cadet (sorry, thought it was Matt Forte in the video) who has no one within 15 yards of him and could score on the play, McCown throws incomplete into coverage.
The game ends on another Jets' self-inflicted wound.
This unit is so much better than this, in talent and experience. I don't want to hear any excuses about the number of practices and blah blah blah. The Patriots should not be this bad. It should be embarrassing. Instead, the defense was pretty fat and happy with itself in the locker room after that game.
Here are the positional ratings against the Jets:
Quarterback (2.5 out of 5)
This was probably Tom Brady's worst game of the season to this point, and he didn't even have that much pressure (season-low 25.6 percent). Don't think it was anything physical — I would give most of the credit to a Jets defense that is young, but very fast and physical. Nothing came easy for the Patriots' offense. Brady had six "plus" plays in this game, and four of them were to Rob Gronkowski. The 42-yard pass to Brandin Cooks was just a tremendous got-to-have-it play from both players. Had Brady for nine "minus" plays, including the interception. Brady wasn't seeing this game clearly, which will happen from time to time. Plus, he seemed to be on a clock to get rid of the ball more quickly (probably for his health), which sped up his delivery and affected his overall game. If you win, it's a tradeoff you have to make with a 40-year-old quarterback.
Running backs (3.5 out of 5)
On the whole, the group did a nice job helping out in pass protection. But it wasn't perfect, as they all had at least one issue in blocking. Dion Lewis was a breath of fresh in the running game, and James White was his usual steady self. Mike Gillislee could have busted a big one if it was blocked differently, or he made a different cut.
Receivers (3 out of 5)
Given his opportunities, Gronkowski was phenomenal in this game. Bottom line? They don't win this game without him. Cooks had the 42-yarder and another good catch, but he also had a drop, a bad pick penalty and appeared to run a wrong route to mess up a Brady pass intended for someone else. Chris Hogan had two penalties. Not good enough.
Offensive line (4 out of 5)
By far the best game of the season for this group. The left side was a little leaky, but they were largely solid all the way around against good competition. Maybe they turned a corner in this game? In order of effectiveness: Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Nate Solder, Joe Thuney.
Defensive line (4 out of 5)
This group was really good in this game. As a group, there were 24 plus-plays, and only five minus-plays (two on the legit defensive holding calls). The only complaint: you'd like to see them generate more pressure (28.8 percent). Some of it can be pinned on the coverage, because there were so many easy throws for McCown (the Patriots played a lot of zone), but a little bit more consistency would be nice. Both rookies, Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler, have slowed down their pace to the season. ... Malcom Brown was awesome in this game as he completely controlled the middle of the line. Another subtle standout game, outside of the Butler play we mentioned before: Cassius Marsh, who is getting better and better with each passing week. He does a little bit of everything and shows surprising instincts against the run (he's not afraid to knife in and make a play, and he doesn't get burned).
Linebackers (3 out of 5)
Can't find much fault in Kyle Van Noy's game in this one. They turned him loose as a pass rusher (something he showed a flair for in college), and they may have found something to work with. Dont'a Hightower was good. Elandon Roberts was invisible outside of getting sucked in (again) on play-action for the touchdown. Jordan Richards was again a waste as a linebacker.
Secondary (1 out of 5)
Outside of Butler's interception, fumble, and his pressures coming off the edge on blitzes, you'd be hard pressed to remember any plays this unit made. Not as bad as Carolina, but not a whole lot better. And Butler was far from immune: he largely struggled in this game from start to finish but made a few plays. This unit has serious issues and they have little to do with the few new players involved in coverage. Way too many open receivers.
RT Marcus Cannon: Outside of a run hold, he had a clean sheet. This was the Cannon from last year. Hopefully, he's here to stay.
TE Rob Gronkowski: Most of his six receptions were contested and they all seemed to be big for this offense, which largely struggled.
NT Malcom Brown: Dominated the game from the middle against a weak Jets interior line and showed more in the pass rush than he has. Also subtlely becoming one of the quiet leaders of the unit. It seems he's stepping up because no one else will
LB Elandon Roberts: Recorded no tackles in 23 snaps and gifted a touchdown to the Jets.
Duron Harmon/Devin McCourty: The safety play has not been up to par this season. They are playing afraid and that's not good for anyone.
K Stephen Gostkowski: Make your field goals inside 50 yards.
LATE VIDEO ADD ON PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE LINE HOLDING
By special request, from PatsFanKen.