FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Maybe practice doesn't make perfect. But it can come pretty close.
The last time the Patriots lost, back in Week 9 to Cleveland, they pinpointed exactly where things went wrong, and it wasn't necessarily on the field that day.
It was on their practice field in the days leading up to the game. They played how they practiced, they insisted afterward, and they practiced horribly that week.
Back to the present day and just hours removed from thoroughly humiliating the New York Jets, 45-3, on Monday Night Football. Guess what the Patriots – and their coach – were crediting with their convincing win?
That's right. Practice.
"This is the best 60 minutes of football we've played all year," Bill Belichickremarked in his post-game press conference. "We had a good week of practice, a really good week of practice. Everybody was very focused … Tonight was our night."
"I think it starts in practice," added cornerback Kyle Arrington, who was tasked with defending Jets wideout Santonio Holmes for most of the evening.
"We had our most complete week of practice so far this season. We keep practicing like that and playing like that, we'll be in pretty good shape."
"Our preparation, you know what I'm saying?" echoed wide receiver Deion Branch. "Great week. Everyday was good. Everyday was positive."
Another unusual factor was the extended layoff between games. Having played last on Thanksgiving and not returning to game action until Monday night, New England had 11 days to study, think about, and obsess over the Jets.
Which, apparently, they did.
"Yeah, the extra time helped. We were tired," Branch laughed, "we were very tired. The work showed up, though."
"I think we were very confidence coming in. We watched a lot of film this week, really studied them," said center Dan Koppen.
"Yeah, it was a lot of time … a lot of time … between games," Arrington continued, placing particular emphasis on the second 'lot.'
"We had plenty of time to get sharp on the game plan. We just finally put it together, a complete 60-minute game, offensively and defensively."
Everything New England did seemed to work. And every time they needed a big play to thwart a Jets drive, they found one. Whether it was rookie Brandon Spikes'first-ever NFL interception, in the shadow in New England's end zone. Or fellow rook Devin McCourtymaking a great play down the right sideline to snag his sixth pick of the year. Or veteran safety James Sandersmaking yet another timely INT in the second half.
"Our defense really stepped up, made some huge turnovers, got us the ball on a short field, and we capitalized," QB Tom Bradycommented afterward. "All in all, it was a fun night."
For the second game in a row, Brady and the Patriots offense lit up the scoreboard with 45 points. Brady himself came very close to notching his second consecutive perfect passer rating game. The positive feelings begot positive results, and the more results the Patriots saw, the easier those results seemed to come.
"All three phases played very well. When you play as a team like that, it makes you feel even better ... playing together, feeding off each other," co-captain Vince Wilfork observed. "We actually put 60 minutes of good football together. Hopefully, we can continue to do that, win in December."
Clearly, they can't let this be an aberration, not with NFC powers Chicago and Green Bay looming on the schedule. Nor can New England take for granted their remaining AFC East opponents, Buffalo and Miami, to close out the regular season. Now that they have the division lead all to themselves, they need to reproduce this past week's effort in the final quarter of 2010.
"Hopefully, we can have a lot more practices like that, now that we're in December and need to play our best football," Wilfork added.
"This is going to give us a lot of confidence," Arrington insisted, "going into the homestretch of the season."
A homestretch begins this Wednesday.