Another golden season is in the making
FOXBOROUGH — They are a team that gives you chills on those freezing nights in December — just like in the good old days at the beginning of the century.
Remember 2001, 2003, and 2004, when the Patriots would always win the cold games off Route 1 in December and January? Bill Belichick would outsmart the other guy, Tom Brady would channel Joe Montana, and a band of overachievers submitted weekly tutorials in the concept of Team.
Here we are in 2010 and everything new is old. Since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl, Belichick has chiseled his profile on NFL’s Mount Rushmore . . . Brady has become a husband, a dad, and a spokesman for UGGs . . . and now a new generation of Patriots is kicking butts and taking names.
In the latest chapter of a storybook season that started with diminished expectations, the Patriots last night decimated the front-running, trash-talking New York Jets, 45-3, at frigid (15 degree windchill factor) Gillette Stadium. A noble New England team with two undrafted running backs and a young, highly suspect defense went on national television to announce its candidacy for Super Bowl XLV Feb. 6 in Arlington, Texas.
What a beating. This was Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths, shattering doubts he had stamina to go the distance.
“It was a really great effort by our team tonight,’’ Belichick said. “The best 60 minutes of football we’ve played all year. It’s nice to win, it’s great, but there’s a lot of football left.’’
With four games left in the regular season the Patriots own the top record (10-2) in the AFC and a clear path to a No. 1 seed, a bye week, and a second-round home playoff game on the weekend of Jan. 15-16. Belichick hates us to get ahead of ourselves, but that’s the reality.
New England made its cushy bed last night with one of the most satisfying regular-season victories in the significant history of the franchise.
Think Danny Woodhead is happy today? The Jets cut New England’s lovable end table in September. In an ultimate act of revenge that typified Patriot Monday, the 5-foot-7-inch Woodhead collected 115 all-purpose yards against the team that told him he wasn’t good enough.
Brady? He was pretty good, too. QB 12 completed 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns. He has thrown 228 consecutive passes without an interception. He is Sandy Koufax in ’65, Pedro Martinez in ’99. He has won an NFL-record 26 straight regular-season home games. He’s usually hot when it’s cold.
“It was colder tonight than it’s been,’’ Brady said. “But not as cold as Tennessee in ’03. That was the coldest.’’
Another reference to the golden days.
Jets Redux was supposed to be a down-to-the-wire steel-cage match keeping America in suspense until midnight. Instead, the Patriots dope-slapped the smack-talking Jets, racing to an embarrassingly easy 24-3 lead midway through the second quarter. Blustering Rex Ryan (“the Rexorcist,’’ according to the vaunted New York Post) was reduced to a puddle of mush, no small achievement given Ryan’s insistence that he is coaching the best team in football.
The Jets pounded New England, 28-14, back in September, but that was when Belichick was in the early stages of sculpting this special edition of the Patriots. The September Patriots still had Randy Moss, occasionally turned the ball over, and featured a young defense with growing pains.
It’s very different now. Since Moss was banished to Minnesota his removal seems to have revived the Patriots in the same manner in which Nomar Garciaparra’s dismissal invigorated the 2004 Red Sox.
The Patriots don’t commit turnovers. They have played four straight games without a lost fumble or an interception. They have only nine turnovers in 12 games. The NFL record for fewest turnovers is 13. In any season it is a formula for success.
Don’t expect a lot of smug self-congratulations coming from the New England locker room in the wake of this beatdown. It is not their way. The Jets are the ones who like to talk about themselves and the Jets are the ones who got spanked on national television.
It was 17-0 at the end of the first quarter. It was 24-3 at halftime. Tedy Bruschi was honored at intermission, which seemed totally appropriate given the way things were going.
“I’m sure this was a game Tedy was proud of,’’ said Belichick.
When it looked like the Jets might get back in the game in the second half, New York’s sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez (a warm-weather guy from USC) was intercepted on three consecutive series — by Patriot rookies Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty, then veteran James Sanders. The late, great, Dandy Don Meredith would have been singing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.’’
The Jets came to New England with a 9-2 record and eight straight regular-season road wins, but this was a nightmare of bad decisions (Rex going for a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter), turnovers, shanked punts, and abject humiliation. The Jets played like a warm-weather team unaccustomed to Frostbite Falls. Rex tried 12 men on defense late in the fourth. Hard knocks, indeed.
It’s always a mistake to fast forward into January after a game like this. The Patriots still have to go to Chicago and Buffalo. They still have home games with the Packers and Dolphins. But after what we saw last night, it’s tempting to think that these Patriots might be the ones to avenge the shocking loss to the Giants in the desert three years ago.
The 2007 New England team was perfect until the Super Bowl. The 2010 team was perfect last night.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.