When the experts were asked who should be favored on Sunday night, NBC analysts elected to go with what they perceived as the safe bet; Gang Green.
"New England is just too banged up on defense, I take the Jets." stated former Colts head coach Tony Dungy during the pregame show. Even former Patriot Rodney Harrison elected to choose the New York Jets over the New England Patriots for Sunday Night Football's AFC East match-up.
The Patriots long list of injuries and a track record of defensive problems were enough to support the picks.
Friday's injury report had some familiar names that drew some initial concern for the Patriots, especially on defense. Inactive players included: WR Taylor Price, S Patrick Chung, RB Shane Vereen, LB Dane Fletcher, LB Brandon Spikes and OL Donald Thomas. A closer look at the depth chart after reviewing the collection of names on injured reserve made the depth concerns even more alarming.
But how the game concluded was not something that anyone could have predicted: A Patriots win over the Jets with a final score of 37-16.
More importantly, it was the defense -- which was underwhelming at points through the night -- that came out on top when the game was on the line.
During the postgame press conference, Bill Belichick had compliments ready for every side of the ball.
"Everybody stepped up. Special teams, defense, offense, we made the plays when we had to make them," Belichick said. "It wasn't perfect, but when we had to make them, we made them. Again, all the credit goes to them and you could name 20 guys in here. They did a great job."
Defensive end Andre Carter, who came to the Patriots as a free agent in August on 2011, had a stellar game with 4.5 sacks. Carter, who was originally drafted seventh overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2001, set a Patriots franchise record with the most sacks in a game. Sunday night's game was also the third time in 2011 that Carter had two or more sacks.
Underrated and somewhat overlooked, Carter proved to be the defensive pressure that the Patriots needed to shake up the Mark Sanchez-led Jets offense.
|Jets QB Mark Sanchez gets sacked by Patriots DE Andre Carter Nov 13, 2011 (Nick Laham/Getty Images)|
As far as the quarterback battle was concerned, statistically, Tom Brady was impressive: 26 of 39 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Yet, when Brady running New England's offense, a number of his passes were off the mark, they were overthrown, underthrown and other times just flat out off target. The performance raised questions as to whether or not Brady had lingering "mystery" injury that was affecting the velocity of his passes.
But when watching the first half in comparison to the second half of the game, it was as if Brady was two different players: Slow and sluggish in the first half then efficient and quick to execute in the second half.
The night, however, belonged to the Patriots' defense. New England kept Mark Sanchez in check, limiting him to just 20 of 39 pass completions (51%) for 306 yards and one touchdown. The bigger problems for the young quarterback were the five sacks for a total loss of 38 yards and the pair of interceptions he threw.
It seemed as though because the Patriots were playing so terribly that Tom Brady's "elbow injury" became the highlight of the first half. Of course, it's nothing that a pair of touchdown passes to TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Deion Branch couldn't fix.
When the Patriots forged ahead in the second half,the questions about Brady's injury vanished. It was classic Tom Brady, doing what he did best throwing to the usual suspects. Rob Gronkowski grabbed a pair of Brady passes for touchdowns while Wes Welker quietly became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 500 receptions with one team. Welker took his time to make his presence felt in the contest, but for most Patriots fans, it was perfect timing.
Two meager catches for a receiver in a game may not seem like much, especially when you're dealing with the high expectations of a player like Chad Ochocinco. But when you've only started two games, managed just 11 catches all season with no touchdowns, two big catches in a division game could satisfy the doubters...perhaps if only for a week. Ochocinco's two catches totaled 65 yards.
The game was not without cost. The Patriots suffered a major loss when CB Devin McCourty went out of the game due to what turned out to be a separated shoulder. McCourty was injured when he collided with rookie teammate Sterling Moore trying to tackle Plaxico Burress.
With its highs and lows, Sunday night's game was truly a turning point for the Patriots. As they approach the easier part of their schedule, only time will tell if this patchwork Patriots defense can balance out the explosive offense.
The Patriots will face the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday, November 21, 2011. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m.
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Kisha Tapangan is contributing writer for Patriots Insider.com. She also manages the blog Necessary Roughness with Kisha. She can also be found on twitter @KishaT. Feel free to email her your thoughts here.