Saying that the Patriots escaped New York with a 17-16 victory on Sunday would certainly be a fair assessment.
And according to New England's top three coaches, there is little doubt the team needs to play better moving forward, especially when it takes to the turf at Gillette Stadium on the second weekend of January for its first playoff game.
The most obvious concerns coming out of the bye-clinching win over Rex Ryan's Jets came on offense. Sure New York has an impressive defensive front. Sure the unit sports the No. 4 rushing defense and a group that ranked 12th in the league in sacks per pass play.
But the group also entered the division rivalry game ranking 24th in points allowed.
Ryan's troops rallied to hold New England to its third-lowest point production of the season and lowest since the Week 4 blowout loss in Kansas City.
Tom Brady was sacked four times, tying the season high allowed in the opening day loss in Miami.
New England's 231 net yards were a season low, the first time held below 300 yards since that same Week 4 loss.
It was far from a marquee day for the NFL's highest scoring offense and a big part of that was the pressure and disruption New York's front put forth, hitting Brady 11 times on the afternoon.
"I think we had a lot of communication – or I'd say execution issues on offense," Bill Belichick said after breaking down the film of the win. "We just didn't execute very well, I'd say, in any part of the game. All the players were involved, all the coaches were involved. We just didn't execute very well. We had mistakes everywhere; multiple mistakes everywhere. You could point to any spot and find some because they were everywhere."
Heading into Sunday's finale against the Bills – which depending on the results of the Monday Night Football matchup between the Broncos and Bengals in Cincy will either be for the No. 1 seed in the AFC or be somewhat meaningless – Belichick understands that even his team that's considered a top Super Bowl contender has plenty to improve upon.
"We just have to try to correct them today and move on," Belichick continued in regards to the wide-spread failures in execution against New York. "But I don't think there was any one single thing that I would point to. I think it was an accumulation of a lot of lack of execution plays. That being said, there were a lot of times good things that happened on the play, but one part of the play that was poorly executed and I thought we didn't have much to show for it. But we didn't execute the passing game very well. We didn't execute the running game very well; blocking, passing, catching. It was just – none of it really was very good."
Josh McDaniels, who's led a New England offense that topped 34 points in six of seven games during the middle of the season, understands his unit sputtered at MetLife and certainly can't live on its midseason production.
"We didn't have our best day in total on offense. I don't think anybody played or executed or coached particularly well, starting with me," McDaniels said in a Monday morning conference call. "I think there were definitely some things we did well at times, and certainly the Jets gave us some issues. They have a good defense, a good front and a good scheme. They're well coached. They deserve credit for creating some issues for us, and at the same time we feel like we can coach and play better. That onus is on us. We've got to do better, and hopefully we can do that going forward."
Even Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia felt there were plays left on the field for his developing group of playmakers. New England has held opponents to 16 points or fewer in three straight weeks and four of the last five games. But Geno Smith, Chris Ivory and Co. made enough plays to keep the Jets around till the end and that means the defensive effort wasn't as good as it could have been either.
"I think in general we'll go back to the film and take a look at it and there are obviously a lot of areas that we need to improve on and we need to play better. Play better and coach better and just overall just be better as a defense," Patricia said, echoing Belichick and McDaniels. "I think it's an overall thing, I think it's every position. [We'll] get a chance to take a look at how we performed. As a defense as a whole [we've] just got to make sure that we do a better job of playing every single play up to our full ability. So that's really how we look at it. We're trying to improve; we're trying to get better. We obviously have to do that and we have to keep working hard to get better."
The Patriots didn't play nearly as well as they are capable on Sunday, everyone can agree on that. Part of that may have been the absence of key players such as Julian Edelman, Dan Connolly, Kyle Arrington and LeGarrette Blount. Part of that is the at-times predictable dogfights that come with division games between teams that know each other so well. And part of that was that Ryan's Jets have proven themselves capable of making life hard on Brady and the Patriots over the years.
Whether it's against the Jets or any other team, you earn what you get in the NFL. And the Patriots did just enough to earn a win Sunday afternoon, but not nearly enough to impress their coaches.
"Every team is tough in the National Football League. I think you can just look at the scores in yesterday's games or pretty much every game in the NFL every weekend. It's the NFL. We don't play Division I football and have a couple Division III teams on the schedule. They just don't exist," Belichick concluded. "Every week is tough. I don't want to take anything away from them. They came out there, they competed well. In the end, we kind of made the plays that we needed to make in the fourth quarter to win and they didn't.
"But I didn't think we played particularly well, particularly on offense, until we made a few plays in the fourth quarter. I don't think it was our best game by any stretch. I don't want to take anything away from the Jets, but we have and we'll need to play a lot better than we played yesterday."