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Positional Analysis: Week 12 at New York Jets

The Jets were in giving mode on turkey day and the Patriots gladly accepted, running their winning streak to five games in easy, laugh-out-loud fashion.

Rich Schultz

On Thanksgiving, a day for, you know, giving thanks, it's important to remember what we are all truly thankful for, be it family, friends, the health of our loved ones or what have you.

For the Patriots and their fans, it's the New York Jets.

Really, can you think of any other team, with the possible exception of the Cowboys, who could self-destruct so spectacularly on national TV in front of tens of millions of eyeballs as the Jets did in their 49-19 crapfest against the Pats on Thursday night? When your team wins in a blowout, it's always fun. But rarely is it so funny.

At any rate, this was a game that defied most rational, logical patterns. When was the last time you saw a team score 21 points in 52 seconds? For all intents and purposes, when that happened and the Pats were ahead 28 and then 35-0 a few minutes later in the second quarter (despite holding the ball for only 2:46 over that stretch), the game was over as was anyone's ability to provide any traditional analysis. For example, Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez passed for over 300 yards and had a passer rating above 90. But to even think of suggesting he played well would be the height of stupidity.

Or the butt of stupidity. Yuk yuk.

Anyway, the Pats got 475 more yards of offense, another mostly spotless game from Tom Brady complete with three more TD passes against no picks and their second consecutive game with a score from all three phases. The defense, although facing the hapless Jets, forced five more turnovers, giving the Pats a whopping 106 since the start of 2010, and continued to look as though it's making strides. The team as a whole appears to have hit its usual second half of the season rhythm, now on a five-game winning streak and running its record in that time frame to 19-0 since 2010.

So with that, let's get to this week's report card. This should be fun.


Quarterbacks: 4.5

From the nitpicking department, Brady didn't look especially sharp at times during the game, particularly early. He badly missed Wes Welker on on gimme crossing route near the sideline and needed Aaron Hernandez to execute a perfect tip drill to himself on a first quarter throw when Hernandez was wide open by about five yards. That being said, he recovered rather nicely, finishing with a tidy 139.4 passer rating and an even more impressive 11.5 yards per pass attempt. His 56-yard TD pass to Julian Edelman to complete the Pats' 35-point explosion even though Edelman had roasted Jets' loudmouth LaRon Landry on the route, was a perfect throw, feathered right over Edelman's shoulder in stride. He also deserves a ton of credit for the 83-yard TD pass to Shane Vereen, a simple wheel route on which he saw the Jets' defense overloaded to the right side of the formation and 75-year old Bart Scott lined up one-on-one with his turbo-charged back. Once Vereen had the ball, my dad after thanksgiving dinner had as good a chance to stay with him as Scott did. Brady also reminded us how effective he is as a ball carrier on third or fourth-and 1s, converting three of them, including one for a score. Brady continues to hum right along, even without Rob Gronkowski at his disposal or Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer, only his two best O-linemen, to protect him. He's now thrown 12 TDs and zero picks to go with 1,195 yards and a passer rating of 122 over his past four games. Not that any of this is even remotely surprising.

Running Backs: 4.5

Very good games from both Vereen and Stevan Ridley, who each made a couple of questionable decisions with the ball but mostly took advantage of the Jets' weak run defense to roll up 139 yards and a score between the two of them. Add in Vereen's TD catch and run and a couple of timely plays by Danny Woodhead and you have a perfect score for the backs. It helped that the Jets chose to line up in sub looks for most of the game, going nickel and dime and practically daring the Pats to run the ball. As they always do, the Pats took advantage. They've been bringing Vereen along slowly since the injury/suspension for Brandon Bolden in addition to Ridley's emergence as the clear cut, No. 1 back. But each week, he shows a little bit more and in this one, it was his blazing speed in the open field. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Pats' backfield situation this season is how dynamic their backs are. As solid and steady as the law firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis was, he had nowhere near the combo of speed, toughness and athleticism of either Vereen or Ridley, who scored his eighth TD of the season in the fourth quarter and is 61 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. As has been mentioned frequently in this space before, he's the Pats' best running back since Corey Dillon and he and Vereen provide an excellent one-two punch.

Wide Receivers: 4.5

If Wes Welker is really bothered by the ankle/foot issues that have placed him on the injury report the past couple of weeks, you wouldn't know it by his stat line. Seven more catches, 71 more yards and a TD which was so easy, it was like stealing. On the play, with the Pats at the Jets' 3, Welker simply ran an out to the pylon and the Jets' DB in his general vicinity chose to leave him completely alone and lean toward doubling Hernandez in the back corner of the end zone. It's likely that Welker has never scored an easier touchdown and he probably won't ever again, at least until the next time the Pats play the Jets. Welker does appear to be laboring somewhat which makes the extra time off for the Pats after playing on Thursday even more valuable. By the way, he's just 39 yards from another 1,000-yard season. Ho-hum. It was a shame to see Julian Edelman knocked out on a huge hit in the third quarter considering how much he's come on in the past two weeks. He registered a couple more TDs in the game, another one on special teams and his long catch on which he simply ran past Landry on a post with little more than a slight head fake. As for Brandon Lloyd, it was nice to see him actually look to make some yards after the catch, even inviting contact a couple of times. The Pats don't need much on offense beyond better health these days but toughening up Lloyd a little more would be nice.

Tight Ends: 4.5

No Gronk hardly mattered in this one. The Pats plugged Daniel Fells into his spot and played their usual stuff, running 54 of 68 offensive snaps with at least two tight ends on the field. Fells made one grab for 24 yards on one of Gronk's signature post routes and didn't miss a beat as a blocker either. On Ridley's fourth quarter TD run, Fells put on a clinic on how to seal off the edge of the line of scrimmage, springing Ridley for the score along with fill-in right tackle Marcus Cannon. Fells is no Gronk. No one is. But he looked more than capable of being a legit substitute for him. As for Hernandez, he's still not 100 percent and it showed. He made a fairly nice cut on his catch and run in the first quarter but it wasn't nearly as sharp as we've grown used to seeing from him. And his lift isn't all there yet either. The Pats played Hernandez 57 snaps and while he wasn't quite himself, he certainly looked stronger and healthier than he did the last time he tried to come back from his ankle injury, particularly on his blocking assignments. The extra few days off should do him very well also.

Offensive Line: 5

The Jets aren't a very good pass rushing team but with the Pats missing both Mankins and Vollmer, you'd be forgiven if you thought Brady might get his uniform a little dirty. Still, continuing with a trend that's gone on virtually all year, whoever steps in doesn't miss a beat. It's time to start acknowledging Donald Thomas as someone who could consistently start for any team in the league. Thomas has played a bunch this year given Mankins' ongoing injury issues and although he had to block the Jets's best D-lineman (Muhammad Wilkerson) all night, he emerged unscathed once again. Cannon was terrific at right tackle as well, making the absence of Vollmer, who has been this team's best lineman all year, seem inconsequential. He even looked like Vollmer did against the Colts when he got out in front of a screen to Edelman and flattened an oncoming defender. There was plenty of running room for the Pats' backs cleared out by this group as well, with Dan Connolly, back after missing last week's game against the Colts, standing out. The Pats will need both Mankins and Vollmer healthy if they want to truly compete for another championship. But it's comforting to know that the likes of Thomas, Cannon and Nick McDonald can step in and the team will barely miss a beat.


Defensive Line: 4.5

This could be perceived as a total homer comment but who cares? Vince Wilfork is the best defensive tackle in the NFL. And if he isn't, he looked like it in this game. His most visible (and now viral) play was the one on which he shoved left guard Brandon Moore backward and into the blissfully unaware Sanchez, who quite literally wound up kissing Moore's ass. That was a nice play though it was more noteworthy for likely going down in history as the money shot for every NFL blooper reel and football follies show from here to kingdom come. What he should be getting more credit for was dominating the line of scrimmage, routinely taking up two and sometimes three blockers yet not giving up any ground and subsequently either allowing Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes more room to make plays or simply making them himself. He made the initial stop on Jets' running back Shonn Greene's fumble (forced by Spikes) on a 4th-and-1, the play that started the 21 points in 52 seconds onslaught. It was a monstrous performance by Wilfork, who truly deserved that turkey leg he devoured on the field after the game. Elsewhere, the Pats are definitely going to need Chandler Jones, who missed this one with an ankle problem, back in a hurry thanks to Jermaine Cunningham being a knucklehead. As good as Rob Ninkovich, Wilfork and Jones have been this year, having Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick and Justin Francis as your main depth up front isn't a very pleasant situation. Will be interesting to see if third round pick Jake Bequette, a pass rushing demon in college, gets any significant run.

Linebackers: 4

Let's hear it for Jerod Mayo, who had his best game in weeks. Mayo was all over the place, making several plays against the run, where he easily got himself free to make tackles and followed Wilfork properly while almost always taking the right angle. He even had a sack, timing a blitz perfectly and coming in on Sanchez untouched like a guided missile. Again, Mayo is a solid player, not elite, not spectacular, just very good. And he wasn't spectacular on Thursday, he simply did his job very well. He is not Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis in his prime or any other Hall of Fame worthy middle linebacker. The minute those Patriots' fans who believe he is stop doing so, the easier it will be to properly analyze him and his play. Brandon Spikes was alternately great and not so great, forcing another fumble, making a big stop on the Pats' third quarter goal line stand and at times looking dominant at the line of scrimmage, but also overrunning a couple of sure tackles and having some of his usual issues in pass coverage. Spikes is bordering on becoming a complete, all-around linebacker. But he's still not quite there yet. And Dont'a Hightower trick-or-treated a little bit himself, coming up with a sack on a perfect read of Sanchez trying to use play action then bootleg out to his right and getting into the backfield on a couple of other occasions. But he also continues to look lost when in coverage. Tight ends eat him alive, even backups like Jeff Cumberland, who toasted him on a 39-yard gain that looked easy. Hightower has all the tools physically and looks as though he has the right instincts to eventually be a very good, if not great, backer. Given more time to settle into his role and get used tom playing NFL defense, he should be able to fix his flaws.

Defensive Backs: 4

With apologies to Devin McCourty who had a good, mostly nondescript game and has done well to solidify the secondary since moving back, Steve Gregory may be the Pats' best safety. He was playing well when he got hurt against the Bills in Week 4 and even though he looked very rusty in his return in Week 10 (also against the Bills) he's ranged from very good to outstanding in his last two games. He forced a fumble, scored the defense's second TD in two weeks by picking up Sanchez's fumble on the ass run-in play and also recovered the one forced by Wilfork and Spikes on that stand up of Greene that began the second quarter scoring barrage. But his best play was his first quarter interception that set the tone for the rest of the game, a perfectly executed combination coverage with Kyle Arrington that was helped along greatly by the fact that Sanchez doesn't seem to have the capacity to see any more of the field than most high school QBs. Arrington let his man break inside where Gregory was approaching from a couple of steps back and naturally, Sanchez didn't see him. It was a nice example of communication and showed some of the strides this secondary has made over the past couple of weeks. Arrington and Aqib Talib each broke up a pass in or near the end zone on that goal line stand. Alfonzo Dennard played another solid game with a forced fumble and mostly good coverage. And Patrick Chung returned in a limited role, which could be what he's asked to do from here on out if McCourty and Gregory continue to play as adroitly as they have. Overall, while the tackling still could be a bit better, this group has come together very nicely over the past couple games after being the weakest link on the team. It will be interesting to see how far they've come in two weeks when the Houston Texans and their tremendous offense come to town.

Special Teams/Intangibles/Coaching: 4.5

A half a point lopped off for Stephen Gostkowski missing another shortish field goal in the first quarter. Other than that, it was another great one for the special teams with a second consecutive week scoring a TD, this one the third of the three straight in the second quarter. McCourty laid a helmet right into return man Joe McKnight's bread box, popping the ball straight in the air and right into the arms of Edelman who could have walked backwards into the end zone. Edelman also provided another nice punt return, taking one back 30 yards, and the coverage units on both kickoffs and our man Zoltan's three punts were fine.

As for the coaching staff, it's easy to look like a bunch of geniuses when you're facing a team like the Jets, who were lost and unable to make adjustments on defense (according to Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe, the Jets didn't show the Pats a base look on D until over three minutes were gone in the fourth quarter) and are woefully coached on offense. Sanchez is terrible but he hasn't been done any favors by offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's play-calling, schemes or his tutelage in general. If the Jets, who are bereft of talent on offense, want to get better on that side of the ball, they need to bring in some sort of offensive guru who is good with QBs in the off-season, whether they fire Rex Ryan or not.

The gap between coaching staffs was most glaringly apparent in how prepared each team was on a short week. The Jets, inept and predictable on offense, lethargic and slow on defense and responsible for five giveaways, were massively underprepared. The Pats, meanwhile, were slow to get started but were able to make their own breaks and dictate the course of the game.

Of course, another way to look like a bunch of geniuses is to see your team score 21 points in 52 seconds and effectively end the game halfway through the second quarter. Regardless, it was hard to miss the improvements the Pats have made on defense and how well they adjusted to the missing persons on offense and those are testaments to Bill Belichick and his staff.

The Patriots won their fifth straight game, have scored 190 points in their last four and are rounding into form as they reach the most important time of the season.

The Jets had their quarterback go down like he'd been shot and fumble after running face first into one of his linemen's ass, kicked a field goal from the Pats' 15-yard line down by 35 points with two seconds left in the first half then shot off a bunch of fireworks to commemorate the occasion.

And that's pretty much all you need to know about these two teams.