Five Things We Learned from the Pats Close-Call Win in Week 7
It should be a surprise to no one that yesterday’s game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets was a close one. The Patriots came away with the 26-23 victory as they should have; but not without nearly giving the game away on their home turf.
The winning score game on a clutch Stephen Gostkowski 48-yard field goal in overtime; overtime that was forced only when Gostkowski also hit a 43-yarder as time expired in regulation. Sometimes games are just sloppy, and the team that wins is the one that makes the least mistakes. That was the case for the Patriots on Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium.
Even the best teams often cannot avoid messy wins and messy losses over the course of a regular season. So for those Patriots fans that feel like “they should have easily won that game” or “they never should have had to force overtime”, that is something to keep in mind. Obviously their mistakes and issues should carry some concern, but a win is a win and there is something to be said for the psyche of a team that has battled and come out on top of a game that they could have lost.
So here are five things we learned from week 7’s close call against the Jets.
1. The Patriots are the leaders of the AFC East right now. It’s simple and it’s true, and that’s something that seems to be flying a little too far under the radar this Monday. In fact, as of right now they are in third place in the conference, just behind the Baltimore Ravens who were walloped by the first place Texans yesterday and have a remaining schedule that includes two meetings with the Steelers, a road game against a very hot RGIII in Washington, and back-to-back games against Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. If the Patriots can manage to hold rank in their division by winning their final three AFC East games, they are in a great position to lock up a spot in the postseason, even if they can’t secure a top seed for the first round bye.
2. Gostkowski is definitely still clutch. Isn’t everyone a little relieved that when put in two major game-deciding situations yesterday, Gostkowski rose to the occasion both times? After a few shaky moments and disappointments this season from one of the league’s best kickers, fans should be encouraged by the moxie he showed yesterday nailing both of those long field goals; especially considering the high-profile shanks that seem to have become a little bit of an epidemic over the past few years. Plus let’s face it, this team rose to its greatest glory on the back of some pretty incredible kicks, so it never hurts to see something like that from a consistent and talented guy like Gostkowski.
3. The secondary, most especially Devin McCourty, is more frustrating than ever. Alfonzo Dennard’s interception yesterday was great for the Patriots, but was all but handed to him gift-wrapped with a ribbon on it. If that ball had been thrown by anyone with any more gas in their arm than Mark Sanchez, not only would it not have been intercepted but the blown coverage all over the field left three receivers open for an easy touchdown. Later in the game, Sanchez also failed to get the ball off in a crucial-down situation to his wide open tight end in the middle of the field. There wasn’t a defensive back within 10 yards of him. It’s easy to see how even a mediocre quarterback could have shredded up that secondary the same way the Seahawks did in week 6. Devin McCourty also gave Pats fans the “backhanded compliment” of football plays by finally showing his extreme speed and athleticism…on a 104-yard punt return for a touchdown. Really McCourty? Sure the Patriots will take the points, but it would be nice to see him use those impressive physical attributes when in coverage.
4. The success of the front seven is vital to the Patriots’ success. It is obvious that Brady has entered the last quarter of his career, and can no longer carry an offense that has to be the bulk of the team’s success. So far his ability to mix and match the pass and run has been pretty effective, and having stellar league-leading performances from Wes Welker and solidity from Rob Gronkowski has allowed him to still exploit other team’s defense against the pass. But right now the thread the team is hanging onto is their defense against the run and pressure on the quarterback. The MVPs of the 2012-2013 Patriots right now are Vince Wilfork and the boys in the trenches, and it looks like they will have to remain so to keep their team in contention. Rob Ninkovch is tied with Elvis Dumervil with the most forced fumbles so far this year at four, and Chandler Jones and Brandon Spikes have contributed three apiece as well. Jerod Mayo has not only forced two fumbles but is leading the league in tackles, and their ability to help force mistakes on the opposing offense has kept New England’s turnover differential as the best in the AFC. This is the best defense against the run that the Patriots have had in the past few years, and if they can stay healthy they have proven that they can get the job done.
5. The Brandon Lloyd Problem is in full effect. Brandon Lloyd has unquestionably had flashes of brilliance so far this season, but his reliability as a deep threat is questionable at best. On Sunday the Patriot’s offense was in desperate need of some big plays during the game, and though Brady targeted him eight times they only managed to connect once. A couple of well-thrown deep balls from Brady went in and out of his hands, which is frustrating considering the performances he is capable of. (See: the now famous “Smile touchdown” when he laid out for an outstanding touchdown catch against the Buffalo Bills). Currently Lloyd is contributing more to the team in their losses than he is in their wins, which will become a problem down the stretch when Brady and the offense need clutch and consistency. Lloyd has had 12 catches for 159 yards in the Patriots’ wins, and 23 catches for 248 yards in their losses. His talent and ability to understand the offense are encouraging signs and show promise that he may be able to pick up his productivity and become a bigger factor, but he needs a big game in a big win to prove that he can really rise to the occasion; because inevitably they will need him to.