EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - For all the talk about today's season opener being a chess match, it turned out to be anything but. This wasn't about mind games. It was about one team imposing its will on the other.
The Patriots' approach was rather simple: Pound the ball right at the Jets, then suck them in and take shots down the field.
Balance, it can be a beautiful thing.
It was an attack the Patriots weren't as qualified to pull off last year, a result of not having enough playmaking receivers on the outer edges of the field. But what a difference a year - and a player such as Randy Moss - makes.
In fact, it was Moss's 51-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter that reflected how the Patriots' balance between the run and pass completely had the Jets befuddled. How so? Consider that the long bomb came when the Patriots had three tight ends on the field, and included a play-action fake.
"Teams expect that when you have that personnel group on the field, your intention is to pound and run," said mammoth tight end Kyle Brady, who was a workhorse in playing 52 of 64 snaps (not including the game-ending kneel-down). "But obviously when you have that guy on the field, it creates mismatches no matter where he is. That was a nice little mix-up."
The Patriots had the Jets all mixed up, and the key was getting the ground game going.
Brady explained that the Jets like to keep their safeties in the box to support the run, so the question was how the Patriots could counter that. It was a similar defensive strategy that the Colts employed last year in the AFC Championship game with safety Bob Sanders.
From the start, the Patriots decided to match power with power.
The team's first play from scrimmage came with two tight ends and a fullback, which is a power set. Running back Laurence Maroney rumbled off right tackle for 11 yards. Two plays later, 6-foot-6-inch, 330-pound offensive tackle Ryan O'Callaghan entered the game as a third tight end, and Maroney was grinding out a 6-yard gain over the right side.
Of the team's 64 offensive snaps (not including a game-ending kneel-down), 12 came out of that three tight end set. The Patriots also used two-tight end sets 38 times, electing to limit their usage of personnel groupings with three or more receivers.
It was power football, and it was so effective that O'Callaghan recalled the Patriots ran the same play out of the three-tight end package - an inside zone run - three straight times on their impressive 17-play scoring drive in the second half.
"We got into a rhythm and kept going with it because they couldn't answer it," O'Callaghan said.
The Jets didn't have the answers, which wasn't what they envisioned when they gathered in the days leading up to the game to watch a tape of a 2006 boxing match between Oscar De La Hoya and Ricardo Mayorga. Jets coach Eric Mangini has regularly used boxing matches to motivate his club, and De La Hoya's sixth-round knockout was supposed to be inspiring because it showed how he bounced back after a knockout loss to Bernard Hopkins.
Instead, the Jets played the role of Mayorga.
"New England did a good job of mixing the run and the pass," Mangini said. "We had to commit a lot of guys to stopping the run, and that gave them the opportunity to make deep plays."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick saw things the same way.
"Our thing today wasn't so much to try to have any big mismatch substitutions, we were just trying to utilize all of our skill players offensively, including Ryan O'Callaghan as a third tight end, to give some balance to the offense," he said. "I thought we had balance offensively. We were able to run the ball. We didn't break a lot of long runs, but we stayed out of long yardage, third-and-15 and third-and-20, and it's easy to call plays that way."
The Patriots ended up with 37 rushes for 134 yards (3.6 avg.). It wasn't necessarily a dominating running game, but it was enough to create the balance coaches covet, the balance that creates doubt in the minds of defenders.
Then when the Patriots went to the air, quarterback Tom Brady (22 of 28, 297 yards, 3 TDs) was marvelous, partially a result of terrific protection from the offensive line of left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Koppen, right guard Stephen Neal, right tackle Nick Kaczur, and the tight ends. It also helped to have a receiver like Moss, a weapon unlike any other Brady has had in his arsenal.
In all, the Patriots won the time of possession battle 33:09-26:51. They had scoring drives of 12, 9, and 17 plays.
They were in control. They had balance.
All of which made for one happy quarterback.
"It's nice that we had time to throw it, and we had the running game to complement it," said Brady, who finished with a passer rating of 146.6. "That's how you really force pressure on a defense. If they're going to overplay something, you have to find other ways to do it.
"I think we showed there was balance on offense, and they have to defend everybody. It's complementary football."
The Patriots made it look easy today, turning what was supposed to be a chess match into something altogether different. A decisive knockout.
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com.