EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here's a question that seems heretical but now has to be asked about the Jets-Patriots rivalry: Do the Patriots still enjoy a coaching advantage in this series?
It's ridiculous to suggest that the resume of Jets coach Rex Ryan matches up to Bill Belichick's illustrious body of work. But it's just as absurd to believe Ryan's self-effacing proclamation that anytime the Patriots and Jets play Gang Green is at a gross coaching disadvantage. That clearly wasn't the case yesterday in the Patriots' 28-14 loss to the Jets, and it hasn't been since the blabbermouth joined the Border War.
Face it Patriots fans, like him or not, Vociferous Rex is not just an empty sweater vest. The man can coach his snack-eating butt off, and he's now beaten His Hoodiness two out of three times while blanking one of the five greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in the second half two consecutive seasons to do it.
Suddenly, the two greatest advantages the Patriots have enjoyed during their remarkable reign over the AFC East, Belichick's coaching brilliance and Tom Brady's passing prowess, appear dulled against Ryan, whose big mouth is matched only by his defensive ingenuity and intellect.
Belichick and Brady are now 2-2 against Ryan-coached defenses, including the miracle Monday night win against the Ravens in 2007.
The defensive genius yesterday wasn't the guy on the New England sideline.
While Belichick's defense made (Off The) Mark Sanchez look like the second coming of Joe Namath with a career-high three touchdown tosses, Ryan stifled Brady and the Patriots' prolific offense to the point that the usually unflappable Brady proclaimed postgame the offense took in air profusely during the second half.
Ryan's defense held the Patriots to 80 yards of total offense in the second half yesterday, and limited Brady to 7 of 16 for 69 yards with a fumble and two interceptions. The Patriots were held to 1 of 4 on third-down conversions.
A trend is starting to develop when it comes to the critical halftime adjustments in the Jets-Patriots series -- the Jets are getting the better of the in-game tweaks. As another outspoken, opinionated gabber that Patriots fans like to pick on would say, that's fact, not opinion. Thanks, Felger.
Belichick was always lauded as being the master of halftime adaptations, but since Ryan has been the Jets coach the Patriots have been outscored after halftime by the J-E-T-S, 38-7.
When the Jets beat the Patriots last year at the Old Meadowlands, they shut them out in the second half and held them to 102 yards of total offense post-break. Brady was 8 of 20 for 66 yards, and the Patriots were 1 of 4 on third-down conversions in the second half.
Sounds eerily familiar.
Even when the Patriots pounded the Jets, 31-14, last season in Foxborough, they got a defensive touchdown on an interception in the first half and only scored seven points after halftime. Laurence Maroney (remember him?) scored on a 1-yard touchdown run after Brandon Meriweather (remember him?) intercepted Sanchez to give the Patriots the ball at the Jets 25. In that game, the Patriots amassed 138 yards in the second half. Brady completed 10 of 15 passes after the half, but only gained 83 yards through the air.
Belichick downplayed the idea of a lot of Jets' adjustments affecting yesterday's game, saying there were no tricks. Ryan had a slightly different take on the post-halftime tactics.
"As far as you [the media] know there weren’t a whole lot of adjustments going on, but that’s not true," said Ryan. "There were a few, there’s no question about it. [Defensive coordinator] Mike Pettine and company did a great job and had to make some adjustments on the fly."
The amazing corollary to what Ryan's defense did to the Patriots is that they did it without their best player, Darrelle Revis, who left the game at halftime after surrendering a 34-yard touchdown to Randy Moss late in the second quarter. Methinks Revis's injury was just as much wounded pride as it was a balky hamstring.
In addition to Revis, Ryan was without two other starters, outside linebacker Calvin Pace (broken foot) and nose tackle Kris Jenkins (torn ACL). It didn't matter. The Jets still found a way to win.
When Belichick was winning without his stars and starters it was held up as a testament to the system, a synonym for coaching acumen and scheme. If you're being consistent you have to afford the same praise to Ryan.
Former Patriots center Damien Woody, who played for Belichick, knows what coaching genius looks like.
"Rex is a mastermind on defense. We bring all types of stuff from everywhere," said Woody. "Tom is a great quarterback, no question about it. We got a heck of a defense. We got a lot of speed and a lot of very good athletes on defense. You know I thought the Patriots starting off they were driving the ball and moving the ball. It doesn't take Rex long to get into a groove and figure things out."
One player Ryan has figured out is Moss, who didn't catch a single ball after Revis retired to the locker room. In four games as a Patriot against Ryan defenses, including Baltimore, Moss has a total of 15 catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Meanwhile Jets tight end Dustin Keller (seven catches for 115 yards and the game-sealing TD), who is to the Patriots what Andrew Toney was to the Celtics, said every time the Patriots made adjustments, the Jets made adjustments to counteract the New England adjustments.
And he didn't make it sound hard.
Nobody is suggesting the game has passed Belichick by, but it's hard not to think that Ryan has caught up.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.