We didn't get a lot of sound bites from either side leading up to this contest between division rivals, but we expect that from Bill Belichick. It seems almost surreal for Rex Ryan. The biggest questions coming in all surround the melding of unfamiliar players in the wake of injuries that have depleted both squads.
I'd say those questions were answered, though not all in a positive way. So, here's what we learned on a Thursday night in Foxboro, MA:
1. The Patriots are still floundering on offense, despite having Tom Brady under center. Julian Edelman is no Wes Welker, but he is the best Brady has right now. And the rookies are clearly still learning how to cope with Pro sets, routes, and defenders. There has been a significant drop—off from preseason. Starting out their first drive of the second half with a three and out from the shadow of their own end zone didn't help much either.
2. Geno Smith is also still learning and trying to build rapport with his receivers. He needs to improve his pocket awareness, as well as, his downfield reads. He started to get some help from the likes of Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill in the second half. But it wasn't enough to run away from the Patriot secondary, who intercepted Smith three times, as well as, recovering a fumble downfield.
3. The New England Patriots are still depending on their defense to "bend but not break." It worked last year, up until the AFC Championship game. But is that any way to play through a season and contend for a fourth ring? It doesn't seem like a tenable game plan. Getting to Smith is a good sign for the front seven, but they need to be able to apply consistent pressure to assist the back end, which is a bit thin.
4. The New York Jets do a very, good job of mixing up their defensive looks, taking away the running game and hurrying the quarterback. Brady didn't have that extra second he normally needs to make his reads and find the open man. They were keeping the Patriots from getting first downs, forcing those three and outs all night.
5. Nick Mangold and D'Brick A Shaw Ferguson should get suspended for going after Aqib Talib's knees out of bounds and throwing a punch, respectively, on the late interception. If Goodell doesn't then he should be suspended for having no football sense whatsoever. But I digress. The Jets, as a team, are the new Raiders of the league. How classless to play so dirty when the game is basically over. The NFL is supposed to be pushing safety... that wasn't it.
Overall, that was a horrible, pitiful game. Neither offense could sustain any momentum. The only redeeming factor was the Patriot defense, which benefitted from the mistakes of a rookie quarterback. New England won't be so lucky when they faces tougher opponents; and the Jets have growing pains of their own, although they are getting little leadership from their veterans right now.
Squeaking out a win is not the Patriot Way, but we all knew that it would not be easy for an offense that was basically dismantled in the offseason. On the other side, the Jets did not plan for a rookie to be at the helm of this ship. The AFC East is clearly a weak division right now. The last big question: can the Patriots turn two sloppy, close wins into a growing/learning experience? They can only get better from here.