On the first two drives of the game against the Jets, the Patriots were able to drive down the field. Needless to say, they didn't come up with a touch down either time. This, I believe, led to the loss. Had Crumper caught his touchdown, we would be looking at a very different game that would almost certainly have been a win.
On the previous Patriot drive, we drove down deep into Jets territory, before throwing a pick. The Jets got the ball on our 12 yard line, the best field position any team could hope for. However, they were unable to score a touch down. Their strength going into the game was expected to be their ability to run, but doing that drive it had been their weakness. Our defense looked elite. Everything was going perfectly, aside from the interception.
On the next drive, we again drove down the field with ease. However, we were again unable to score. This was a turning point, and the Jets forced a punt.
All at once the teams flipped rolls. Brady became sloppy, Sanchez became accurate. Our defense gave up big plays, theirs held. Each time things got close, they managed to increase their lead. Most importantly, they gained confidence. We lost it.
Had we scored instead of dropping the pass and throwing the interception, it would have been 14-0 by the second quarter, a score similar to the first Jets-Pats. The Jets would have been afraid that this was going to be another game like the first, and played with fear rather then confidence. Sanchez would have been forced to pass often, likely throwing interceptions along the way. Our offense would have had confidence, leading to far fewer miscues.
Now onto some bigger picture analysis about early leads:
Against the Lions, we didn't have the lead at half time. However, momentum was shifted by the pick early in the third quarter. Just like against the Jets, the two teams switched rolls almost instantly. The Pats were able to score often for the remainder of that game, while the Lions made costly mistakes. In the first half, it had been the opposite.
In the second Jets game, we led 17-3 at halftime. Sanchez came out in the second half needing to pass, and threw multiple interceptions.
At halftime against the bears, we led 33-0. The game might as well have been over, as the Bears didn't bother trying for the rest of the game.
The Packers game was the first game since the Lions game when we didn't lead at half. The score in the final minutes of the second quarter was 17-7, similar to the score in the playoff game against the Jets. At no point had we had the lead, and nothing seemed to be working. Without the kick return from Dan Connolly, the game would have been lost. Similarly, had Chung's 4th down conversion worked, the Jets game may have been won.
The Packers game remained close to the very end, and nearly ended badly.
In week 15 against the Bills, we led 24-3 at half. We won in a blowout.
In week 16 against the 'Phins, we led 24-0 at half. Another blowout.
Combined score of games in which we led at the half (Bills, Dolphins, Jets 1st, Steelers, Bears): 220-74
Combined score of games in which we didn't (Packers, Lions, Jets 2nd): 103-83
Combined score of games when there when we didn't lead at halftime and there was no major change in momentum (Packers, Jets 2nd): 52-51
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the game was over with Crumpler's dropped pass, simply that it was guaranteed to at least be competitive. All but one of the games where we led at half were blowouts, all but one of the games where we didn't were close.
What made it a loss, rather then a competitive win, was the failure to regain momentum. Against the Lions the pick gave us the momentum. Against the Packers, Connolly at the very least made the momentum even, if not giving us a slight advantage.
Based on this information, I would say its absolutely key to get off to a good start. If we hadn't gotten off to a good start in all those blowout games, they would never have happened. The outcome of our games is often clear by the end of the first or second quarter, whether it be a loss, blowout, or competitive win.
Note: Games against the Bengals, first Jets game, Vikings, Ravens, Chargers, first Dolphins game, first Bills game, and Browns are not factored in due to the fact that our offense was different during those games- either we had Moss, didn't have Deion, or hadn't seemed to have adjusted to our new style yet.