…Hard to find anything other than good things to evaluate from New England's 41-3 thrashing of the Jets on Christmas Eve. We'll start with a great individual effort by DE Chris Long to force a New York three-and-out on the game's opening drive. Long was 1-on-1 with LT Ben Ijalana and just bulldozed him into the backfield, right into QB Bryce Petty. When Petty attempted to spin away from trouble, he stumbled and fell to the turf. Long raced over to get a hand on the QB before he could get up to ensure the takedown.
…The Patriots should have had an easy touchdown at the end of their first possession, but QB Tom Brady somehow didn't see an entirely wide-open WR Julian Edelman on the left side of the end zone, even though Brady was looking in that general direction.
The play began with a trips left formation, with Edelman the closest of the three receivers to the o-line. At the snap from the NYJ 11-yard line, the other two receivers – rookie Malcolm Mitchell and veteran Chris Hogan – ran deep routes to the goal line, with two Jets defenders following them. Edelman ran an out-and-up along the sideline, but no Jets defender followed him. The only defender in the area stayed put to keep an eye on RB James White entering the flat to that side. So, Edelman was completely unmarked. He raised his arm to signal he was open (by a good 15 yards from the nearest oncoming Jet), but Brady unbelievably didn't notice him.
…Petty was sacked again on the next Jets play from scrimmage. It was a result of excellent work by the Patriots' d-line of rushing up the middle and collapsing the pocket collectively. Petty tried to escape once again, but ran into the clutches of DT Alan Branch and DE Jabaal Sheard. The latter actually almost sacked Petty on his own after eluding a blocker. Nice display of teamwork, though, to register the second sack of the day.
…CB Malcolm Butler's first interception of the day was in part a function of Petty having underthrown his pass attempt to WR Robby Anderson. Butler had tight coverage, was looking back at the ball, and had great body position to the inside of Anderson as the ball came down. Butler's sound technique allowed him to make the positive play on the football.
…It was interesting to see the Patriots target WR Michael Floyd so early in this game. Although Brady's pass to him was a bit too far to the outside, Floyd made the spinning catch out of bounds, but more importantly, it indicated to me that Floyd has made progress in learning offense. If he can continue to do so in the coming weeks, he could provide another receiving threat for this already-potent New England offense.
…After the game, TE Martellus Bennett revealed that the play on which he scored the game's first touchdown was one that the Patriots had run in the preseason against Carolina, but without success. Bennett told us that when they worked on it again in practice last week, he told Brady he needed to adjust something minor that might make a difference.
Bennett was lined up in the slot in a two-receiver set to the left on this particular play from the NYJ 5. At the snap, Bennett took a few steps forward and feinted like he was going to run a corner route. The outside man, Edelman, ran a short curl, so, there was space in the back corner of the end zone for Bennett had he chosen to go there. But his feint was enough to freeze the Jet guarding him, and when Bennett turned back toward the inside, he was a couple of steps past the defender. Brady fired a nice strike over the heads of two Jets and Bennett made a great leaping catch in the back of the end zone.
SECOND *QUARTER *
…What a great individual play by rookie LB Elandon Roberts to create New England's second takeaway of the day. On 1st-and-10 from the NYJ 34, Roberts, playing the "Mike," read that the Jets were running the ball, so, he shot through an A-gap, blowing right past would-be blocker Brandon Bostick, a tight end who was lined up as a de facto fullback on this play. Roberts met the ball carrier, Khiry Robinson in the backfield and aimed for the football, jarring it loose. Butler, who had come on a corner blitz, was in the right place at the right time to scoop up the fumble.
…Edelman was again the victim of a play gone awry in the end zone, this time on the opposite end of the field. Again on the left side, he appeared to draw a pass interference penalty against CB Juston Burris, who ran into Edelman's chest before Brady's floater pass arrived. However, no one from referee Gene Steratore's crew threw a flag. New England wound up with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, but it should've been a penalty and a 1st-and-goal for the Patriots at the Jet's 1-yard line.
…Later, New England's improving defense caused another 1-play Jets drive when CB Eric Rowe picked off QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, in the game for the injured Petty. Rowe explained afterward that he had a feeling the ball was coming his way on that play because intended receiver Brandon Marshall ran harder off the line of scrimmage. Plus, he knew from film study that Marshall is Fitzpatrick's favorite target.
Much like Butler's INT earlier, Rowe was stride-for-stride with the receiver, had his head turned back for the ball, and the throw was a bit short, giving Rowe, positioned on the inside, a decided advantage. Rowe finished it off with a nice athletic effort.
…Brady's second TD toss was to another tight end, Matt Lengel, who, like Bennett earlier, was the slot guy in a two-receiver set to the left. Lengel told us after the game that he, too, had a feeling he was going to be the primary target on the play because of the position of the Jets' safeties before the snap. Pre-snap, those players were up close, about 8 yards from the line of scrimmage, meaning there was no one deep over the middle. That's where Lengel's route was taking him, and all he had to do was get good position to the inside of his trailing defender. Lengel succeeded in doing so on his route up the seam, and Brady delivered a precise throw.
…Brady's third TD was a case of trusting a player who'd let him down earlier. White, on a 3rd-and-5 from the NE 29, had beaten safety Rontez Miles on a wheel route down the sideline, but dropped a perfectly placed ball by Brady that would've been a huge gain, if not more. As the half was coming to a close, Brady again looked for White on 1st-and-10 from the Jets' 25.
Like before, White began in the backfield and flared out between the hash marks and the numbers. LB David Harris was marking White this time, but to no avail, as White easily separated from him as he streaked toward the front right pylon. Brady's throw was precision again, and White hauled it in for the score. Nice to see Brady have confidence in White and White redeem himself on a play that often gives him trouble.
Third and Fourth Quarters
…New England's offensive line has been playing solidly all season, particularly down the stretch. There are exceptions, like when RG Shaq Mason allowed DT Muhammad Wilkerson to penetrate the pocket and hit Brady, who fumbled, but was able to recover the ball himself. Overall, though, it's been comforting to watch how health and continuity, plus the return of position coach Dante Scarnecchia, have transformed this beleaguered unit the past couple of seasons into a strength of the Patriots' offense.
…It's also been fun to watch the 39-year-old Brady play some of the best football of his career. His age certainly didn't show on the 28-yard completion he made to Edelman on 3rd-and-16, two plays after the sack. Brady eluded pressure in the pocket, circling back around, even, before locating Edelman in the middle of the field. TB12 has made a strong case to be NFL MVP this season, despite being forced to sit out the first month.
…Mitchell, the rookie WR, only had three grabs against the Jets, but the ones he made were difficult, and he did well to hang onto them. He's really been a pleasant surprise all season, particularly since the mid-season bye week.
…Brady's second sack of the game was more his own doing than the o-line's. Yes, Harris, the LB burned on the White TD, got around LT Nate Solder, but Brady unwittingly backed into the defender while trying to buy time to find an open receiver in the end zone. He wasn't in danger before he backpedaled, but was once he made that decision.
….FB James Develin deserves a measure of credit for helping open up the hole through which RB LeGarrette Blount ran for his first touchdown versus New York. It was only a 1-yard score, but Develin's key block prevented Blount from being taken down in the backfield. Instead, Blount was able to waltz into the end zone untouched up the middle. Harris once again was the unfortunate Jet who was victimized, this time by Develin.
…Later, on Blount's second scoring run, Develin again delivered a punishing block up the gut and Blount run right up his back into the end zone. Develin has made a big, positive difference in the success of New England's rushing attack this season.
…Floyd should have scored in his Patriots debut. He ran a nice route to get open in the Jets' end zone, finding a soft spot in New York's zone defense on this particular play. Backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo, however, waited too long to throw, and when he did, his pass was delivered a bit too high and behind Floyd in the back of the end zone. Floyd made a leaping attempt, but it sailed through his hands. Had Garoppolo unloaded the ball a half-second sooner, it likely would've been six points for Floyd on the other end. Promising start, though, for Floyd.