FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Maybe Bill Belichick has never for a second pondered that one day he could be fired as Patriots coach. But the way the guy peeks under every stone, it is a good bet that is ground he has covered, too. Remember, he was axed in Cleveland 15 years ago. No matter the time or distance of the act, it is a piercing, everlasting wound for a coach.
So, on this night where Belichick once again flashed his grit, it was revealed before kickoff that his youngest pupil, Josh McDaniels, had been fired as Denver Broncos coach. It was also clear this week that the Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, had said this clash against the Jets was the biggest regular-season game in his 17-year ownership.
The Belichick way is to treat every game as equal. His team is taught to simply practice, play, execute.
But if the owner says he really wants it, it is a good idea to give it. Give it all.
I think 45-3 will do.
This is how, on a day when one of your own is fired, you answer, in specific terms, that some things will stand. That some things will last.
That no matter how much the Jets reveal their "Patriots complex" that the new Patriots can find a way to dominate like the old Patriots. Like a bonafide Belichick team.
And that is my question. Did the Jets help create a monster here on Monday night? And, in turn, did the Jets just sap too much of their overflowing confidence?
Both teams have four regular-season games left to answer that. New England (10-2) moved into first place in the AFC East. The Jets (9-3) slipped into second. New England finishes with these games: at Chicago, Green Bay, at Buffalo and Miami. The Jets: Miami, at Pittsburgh, at Chicago, Buffalo. I don't see either the Patriots or Jets winning them all. And both teams would face stiff hurdles to force a third meeting this year, a playoff hello.
So much more to shake and rattle in all things playoffs.
But if you're the Jets, you can understand how things steamroll to 45 points. The other guys, an avalanche.
It is the offense scoring three points that is the killer.
Tom Brady throws four touchdown passes.
Mark Sanchez throws three interceptions.
"This was a good old-fashioned butt kicking," Sanchez said. "I need to play better."
He needs to get a grip. He was thoroughly overwhelmed in this big game for big stakes and it really made you wonder how he will handle bigger stakes and bigger games this season. The Jets thought he was beyond being blinded by the fanfare, the bright lights. Sure, a struggle here and there, but this? Just too many mistakes and too much poor play from Sanchez.
The Patriots put him on an island and he looked lost.
This was a recurring theme in this game. It was the Patriots who created these islands, these matchups all over the field where their guy kept winning. And funny how the Patriots kept finding the places where injured Jets safety Jim Leonhard was supposed to be. The first quarter, a torrid Patriots start, sort of sealed everything.
It went this way: Patriots drive for opening field goal. Jets get the ball, convert a fourth-and-inches play near midfield, drive on but miss a 53-yard field goal in howling wind and bitter cold. Patriots take that great field position and win another matchup -- tight end Rob Gronkowski over safety Eric Smith -- gaining a pass interference that puts the ball at the Jets 1-yard line. Touchdown follows, 10-0, Patriots. Jets three-and-out. Jets (punter stagefright!) shank a punt for all of 12 yards, with Steve Weatherford giving the Patriots the ball at the Jets 32. Patriots drive it and go for it on 4th-and-2 from the Jets 25. Touchdown. Brady to receiver Deion Branch. It's 17-0, Patriots, and, essentially, it's over.
"They gave us a coverage we were expecting right there and that play is designed for that coverage," Branch explained of his hard cut inside and catch-and-go through the Jets' defense. "The ball has to be exact there for you to catch it and run. It was. We knew this game brought some big pressure. We just tried to turn that pressure around."
Accomplished. The Jets' defense remained unsettled. The offense moved the ball here and there but basically floundered. Ryan kept looking at his defensive play sheet, kept looking around for answers. There were none on that chart, on that list, on his sideline.
It was 38-3, late in the game, and the Patriots and Brady were in full drop-back passing mode, looking for more.
"It was a good night for us," Belichick said. "We'll take it."
Indeed. Especially on such a horrible night for one of his young coaches. Especially on a night his owner wanted to own.
"We have a coach who demands team ball," Patriots tight end Algie Crumpler said. "This was a night of big plays by us."
Defensive end Gerard Warren added: "Every day you come into this building, it is clear what is expected and what you are doing. But this week, you could sense it, from the very top on down. There was a little extra edge in the building. I think if we all think long and hard enough, we can put our finger on it."
Yes, we can. The Patriots despise the Jets. The Jets despise the Patriots. Top down on both sides. The competition is fierce. The desire to be better than the other franchise, immense. The coaching somewhat personal. The players familiar and intense.
How much will the Patriots' confidence rise from this?
How much will the Jets' sink?
"Let's just call it what it is, they kicked our butts, one game, one loss, that's all," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "Can we fix it? Yes. Are we going to flinch? No. This happens in football. I'll take 9-3 and I don't need any sympathy cards. This team knows how to respond. I believe that's something both of these teams know how to do."
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