The Patriots Christmas Eve matinee against the New York Jets proved to be no contest as New England rolled to a 41-3 victory at Gillette Stadium. Here are some random thoughts from the Patriots 13th victory of the season.
Turnovers continue – The Patriots defense went through a significant lull midway through the season when the group was unable to force any turnovers. They went three full games without causing a single miscue but have since turned things around thanks to the Jets. In the first meeting between the teams last month the Patriots forced a pair of turnovers and since then they've remained productive in that department. The followed by forcing a pair against the Rams, one against Baltimore and three last week in Denver. Against the Jets this time around the defense came up with three in the first half alone with Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe coming up with interceptions while Elandon Roberts forced a Khiry Robinson fumble as well. Butler added another pick, his fourth of the season, in the second half. During the stretch the Patriots went from even in turnover ratio to plus-10. The Jets, incidentally, entered Week 16 with the worst turnover differential in football and currently are minus-23.
Careful what you wish for – The Patriots thoroughly dominated the Jets throughout the first half and led 20-0 with less than a minute to go. Seemingly content with the lead and working from deep in their own territory, Bill Belichick chose to go conservative and called for a pair of Dion Lewis runs that resulted in a total of just 6 yards. With New England facing third-and-four from its 19 and just 46 ticks to go before halftime, Jets coach Todd Bowles opted to call timeout. That proved to be an unwise decision. Tom Brady then completed a 9-yard pass to Julian Edelman and the Patriots called a timeout of their own. On the next snap Doug Middleton was called for a 47-yard pass interference while covering Malcolm Mitchell, and Brady followed with a 25-yard rainbow to James White in the end zone for a 27-0 lead at the break. Had Bowles let the clock run it was clear Belichick was willing to go to the locker room but the timeout changed everything.
Floyd debut – After sitting out his first game with his new team, Michael Floyd made his debut against the Jets. He played sparingly in the first half but was targeted on a deep fade in the first quarter to open the second possession of the afternoon for New England. Brady's pass was on target but Juston Burris provided tight coverage on the play and forced Floyd to make the catch out of bounds. Floyd saw limited action in the second half and caught a 6-yard slant from Jimmy Garoppolo for his first catch as a Patriot.
Growing chemistry – The Patriots first touchdown of the game came on a 5-yard flip from Brady to Martellus Bennett in the back of the end zone under the goal post. Brady lofted the pass and led Bennett into the clear behind the tight coverage of Jets safety Rontez Miles and the tight end easily did the rest. The play was similar to one in which the pair was unable to connect on during the preseason when Brady made his summer debut in Carolina. Brady tried to hit Bennett from deep in the red zone against the Panthers but the timing wasn't quite right and the tight end was unable to make the catch on what appeared to be a catchable touchdown. This time the chemistry between the two was perfect and served as an indication that the rapport between the two has improved during the course of the season.
Lengel lends a hand – Little-used tight end Matt Lengel enjoyed a great Christmas present when he made the first catch of his NFL career, which resulted in a touchdown. Lengel got loose deep down the seam late in the first half and caught an 18-yard touchdown, sparking a huge celebration from his teammates. It marked the first time Lengel had been targeted all season and he wound up scoring a touchdown in the process.
Lewis leads again – For the second week in a row Dion Lewis got the call to open the game at running back behind fullback James Develin. Lewis carried on first down before LeGarrette Blount replaced him on second down, but neither was overly effective. Lewis took some big hits from the physical Jets front and finished with 16 carries for 52 yards while Blount eventually piled up 20 carries but for only 50 yards. It will be interesting to see if Belichick continues to employ Lewis as the lead back even in traditional running sets as he has the past two games, or if he returns to Blount moving forward. Either way the running game needs to improve as the 2.9-yard average is not going to get it done.
Brown out –Defensive tackle Malcom Brown did not play much early in the game as he was replaced by Vincent Valentine. Valentine lined up alongside Alan Branch for much of the afternoon while the Patriots front had some trouble containing the Jets running game. Brown's absence wasn't overly noteworthy most of the day until he made an appearance late with a number of subs while the Jets were simply running the clock out. Prior to that my thought was Brown was likely dealing with some minor ailment and that was the reason for his inactivity but seeing him on the field down the stretch with the Patriots leading 41-3 made me reconsider and wonder if the coaches felt his play had diminished.
Jones returns – Julian Edelman opened the game handling the punt return duties but Cyrus Jones replaced him in the second half. Playing in a steady rain throughout the first half Edelman returned a pair of Lachlan Edwards punts for a total of 12 yards. The rain subsided in the second half with the Patriots leading 27-0 and perhaps that led to Belichick's decision to use him after the break. Jones handled his one chance without incident, returning it 4 yards in the third quarter. Jones also saw action at cornerback in the fourth quarter.
Extra points – Belichick won his 200th career regular-season game with the Patriots. He joins Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry and Curly Lambeau as the only coaches with that many wins with one team. … Blount recorded his 16th and 17th rushing touchdowns of the season, extending his Patriots singled-season record. The 17 touchdowns tied him with Curtis Martin (1996) for third most in team history. … The Patriots improved to 75-22 in division games since 2001. … The Patriots defense is allowing 15.7 points per game, tops in the NFL. … Stephen Gostkowski hit both of his field goals, the first of which was the 300th of his career. … Butler's two picks marked his first career game with multiple interceptions. He leads the team with four on the season. … Nate Ebner had two special teams tackles, giving him 18 for the season.