By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts resident genius, like Norman Einstein
Mark Sanchez and the Jets could barely mount a first down last week against Baltimore, an embarrassing total of six, in a disturbing 10-9 loss.
New York fans, meanwhile, suffered a crisis of conscience. They were all but ready to run second-year QB Sanchez out of town, after one of the most inept passing performances in franchise history, a net of 60 yards through the air.
This week the young Sanchez and the Jets found the common cure for what ails many a struggling offense in modern football: a big, motherly hug from the welcoming arms of a Bill Belichick Defense.
The result was an impressive 28-14 Jets win over the Patriots in the New Meadowlands. New York dominated after early struggles, bitch-slapping New England 21-0 over the game's final 31 minutes.
It was New York's largest margin over New England since a 34-17 victory way back in 2000; the last year that the Patriots failed to at least share the division's best record.
The AFC East race is still far from over. But we do know this: you can finally put a fork in the "Belichick as Genius" storyline, an effort we started two years ago, long before it was popular.
There once was a time when quarterbacks and fans feared the awe-inspiring specter of a Belichick Defense, mostly back in the 1980s, when Belichick was coordinator with the Giants. He sure seemed a lot more genius-y back then, when his defense included Hall of Fame linebackers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor, one of the great game-breaking defenders in NFL history.
The "Belichick the Genius" story enjoyed a brief rennaisance in the early 2000s, thanks to an incredible win over the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams and a single season as the league's top unit in 2003.
But that was a long time ago.
In what's become a fairly common storyline since 2005, by a lot of quarterbacks around the league, Sanchez had a career day against a defense that, for a brief period seven years ago, struck fear into the hearts of opponents.
Not anymore. The Belichick Defense is no longer great. But it's worse than that: the Belichick Defense doesn't even show up half the time, and allows even average quarterbacks to have their way with it. Sanchez, for example, set career highs Sunday in:
Sanchez had his career day not against a mighty Belichick Defense of Yore. Instead, he did it against a nameless, faceless unit that's been virtually incapable of making a big play, or even a small play, since its three picks against Donovan McNabb in Super Bowl XXXIX ... six seasons ago.
We've discussed Belichick's utter failure to draft DBs a number of times in recent years, both here
and even with our old friends at WEEI in Boston. We knew it'd be a problem this year, too: the Patriots, as we noted several times here in print and on the radio, should have a Super Bowl-caliber offense; but the defense would be so bad that it would keep the team out of Super Bowl contention.
We got more evidence Sunday: Career days like the one that Sanchez just produced have become a common occurrence against Belichick's non-descript collection of defenders.
Remember the last day of November 2009? The Patriots walked into New Orleans to face Drew Brees and the Saints on Monday Night Football. It was billed as a showdown between the NFL's old guard champions and rising upstart.
The Belichick Defense not only failed to make plays, it laid down and rolled over in one of the most miserable defensive efforts the game has ever seen.
At least Brees is a great passer. The list of quarterbacks who have torched Belichick's defenses in recent years is incredible, and filled with some ordinary quarterbacks : A.J. Feeley (who's produced two of the best games of his career against New England playing with two different teams, Miami and Philly), Phillip Rivers, Chad Pennington, Kyle Orton, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Brees to name a few.
And, most recently, Sanchez on Sunday. The struggles of the Belichick Defense is evident when you look at how far the Jets advanced from their Week 1 loss against the Ravens, and a real defense, to their Week 2 win over the Patriots.
New York Jets offense (first two games of 2010)
||vs. New England|
|Yards per play
||1 of 11 (9%)
||6 of 13 (46%)|
|Time of possession
Sanchez and the Jets embarrassed themselves against the Ravens, as you can see from this chart full of Cold, Hard Football Facts. They redeemed themselves against the cushy soft Patriots, as you can also see from this chart full of Cold, Hard Football Facts.
Clearly, a Belichick Defense in 2010 can barely hold a candle to a Ravens Defense in 2010, and it's not as if the 2010 Ravens have proven that they're the second coming of the 2000 Ravens yet, either.
Through two games, New England has a Lions-esque Defensive Passer Rating of 104.43.
It's only two games into the season, but the Patriots are third in a four-team race. The surprising Dolphins are 2-0; the Jets are also 1-1, like New England, but 1-0 in the division after Sunday's dominating win over the Patriots.
More importantly, the Jets made a huge statement: a Belichick Defense is no longer something to fear. But maybe a Rex Ryan defense is: Tom Brady, one of the least intercepted QBs in history, suffered three second-half turnovers (two INT, one fumble). Randy Moss, meanwhile, is one of the most prolific receivers in history. He fell off the face of the earth in the second half, after his lone (but impressive) touchdown. And Darrelle Revis, New York's star defender, wasn't even on the field.
Sounds the AFC East has a new defensive "genius."