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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

With Tough Stretch Looming, Patriots Defense Proves Putrid Against the Jets


Anyone still think Stevan Ridley is more of a loss than Jerod Mayo?

Especially after that performance?

Oh, the Patriots beat the Jets all right, 27-25, at a Gillette Stadium enveloped in a thick humidity fit for the Bayou. But this was a score that should have been much more lopsided - in favor of New York - thanks to a putrid New England defensive unit that allowed the Jets - the Jets - to run all over them.

Realistically, it shouldn’t even be an either or, as both Ridley and Mayo did as many identical things for the Patriots as the presidents of the country and your local youth soccer league have in common. But seeing as we live in a sports landscape of extremes, the question was posed during a week in which the Patriots lost both their running back and linebacker to season-ending injuries.

The answer, despite a few hands raised for Ridley, is obviously Mayo.

That’s no slight to the running back Ridley, of course, nor does it deny his importance to the way the Patriots run their schizophrenic offense. It’s just that backfield colleagues Shane Vereen (43 yards rushing, 71 receiving, and two touchdowns on Thursday night), Brandon Bolden, and newcomer Jonas Gray, fresh off the practice squad, can probably collectively pick up at least 90 percent of Ridley’s remaining tab.

As for linebacker Mayo, well, look no further than the fiasco in Foxborough Thursday night.

On a night when Darrelle Revis faced his former team for the first time in a New England Patriots' uniform and Brandon Browner was finally added to the active squad, the cornerbacks and their teammates found themselves at the mercy of the hapless Jets, who rushed for 218 total yards, 107 of them from Chris Ivory, who came into the game with only 325 rushing yards on the season, including a brilliant seven last weekend against the Denver Broncos. Chris Johnson came into the game averaging 3.9 yards per carry. He averaged 4.69 yards for his 13 carries on the night.

The Patriots made them look like LaDainian Tomlinson and Priest Holmes.

Good enough? Barely.

“It wasn’t our best,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “It was good enough, but it wasn’t our best.”

It was borderline pathetic.

The Jets held the ball on offense for twice the amount of time as the Patriots, 40:54 to 19:06, a stat certainly more damning of the Patriots’ defensive effort than it is the Jets finding a football Jesus to lead them on their plight. Instead of putting the game away in the first half though, the Jets settled for four field goals, which eventually would be their undoing in classic Jets fashion.

“Luckily we played well in the red area, kept them out of the end zone and kept the points down,” Belichick said. “But didn’t do a good enough job in the running game, didn’t do a good enough job on run force, didn’t do a good enough job on third down obviously. So those are obviously not – and we had some three-and-outs offensively that kept us from keeping the ball, keeping momentum. We just weren’t consistent enough in any phase of the game.”

But the Pats' defense saved its ultimate incompetence for the fourth quarter, when New England allowed Geno Smith (226 yards and a touchdown) and the Jets to march from their own 14-yard-line, all the way down the field for a touchdown that cut the Patriots’ lead to two, where it remained after New York’s failed two-point conversion. After a weird onside kick, followed by a laughable offensive series by the Patriots, the Jets once again moved the ball from their own 12 to the New England 40 in the final seconds, giving Nick Folk a chance at a game-winning 58-yard field goal.

The defense can thank Chris Jones for blocking the kick, and assuring they won't be the story for the 10 days leading up to the Chicago Bears.

“I’m not shellshocked,” a clearly shellshocked Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “I’m a little upset. We controlled the football, we ran the football, we did the things that it takes to win the game. We just made too many mistakes.”

Not as many as the Patriots managed. They’re just far more experienced in knowing how to get away with it.

There was nothing spectacular about the New England defense, and plenty that you might want to consider worrisome with the advent of panic a possibility.

Revis shadowed Eric Decker much of the night, and the Jets wide receiver went on to have a 65-yard game, including a 24-yard catch on which the Patriots' cornerback swung for the fences and came up empty. Browner was called for two holding penalties, one of them legit, and otherwise didn’t exactly cement his name as one to remember.

All the while, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, and the rest of their teammates were on the field more than anyone could have imagined heading into the contest. But the Jets had a game plan that they stuck to successfully. If their Red Zone offense wasn't indeed so “Jetsy,” the Patriots were probably going to be forced to claw back in the second half.

Not that Mayo would have ultimately been the difference in shoring up what can only be considered a failure when it’s assessed by the coaching staff later in this week. He certainly wouldn’t have hurt though.

“We’ve got to help them out by playing a lot better offense,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said.

That’s a start, though Brady and the crew - including Danny Amendola - were efficient when they absolutely needed to be, drowsy otherwise.

The schedule over the next seven weeks includes the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and San Diego Chargers, each team featuring a premium quarterback and a high octane offense. Only the Lions and Bears don’t rank among the top eight NFL teams in terms of points per game (No. 1 Indy, 31.5, No. 2 Denver, 29.4, No. 5 San Diego, 27.3, and No. 8 Green Bay, 26.8).

The Jets came into Thursday ranked 30th in the league, with only 16 points per game.

On Thursday, the Patriots made them look like magicians.

The 5-2 record is all that matters, but if the Patriots don’t change their defensive approach in time for the most difficult stretch of the season, they’re going to find themselves in AFC East purgatory, wearing the emperor’s clothes that they may have grown out of at this point.

They escaped on Thursday. They won't have that luxury too many more times.

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