On a chilly Thanksgiving evening in New York, the New England Patriots went into MetLife Stadium and dismantled the home-standing Jets to the tune of a 49-19 victory.
Here are the five most important things that we learned.
Shane Vereen will become an integral part of the New England offense
When the Patriots chose to draft running back Shane Vereen in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, they did so with an eye towards the future. Leaving school at the University of California after his junior season perhaps wasn't the best decision Vereen could have made, but it's certainly landed him in a great situation here in New England. Last year, it was evident to everyone that he wasn't quite ready to contribute at the NFL level. He struggled with injuries and couldn't make any progress on the climb up a deep depth chart at his position, often finding himself on the game-day inactive list. However, a year of tutelage under now-departed league veterans BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk as well as the experience of a full NFL season has truly transformed Shane Vereen. The type of explosive speed and explosiveness that made him a second round draft pick was on full display during an 83-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on Thursday. As the season rolls on, I'd expect to see a lot more of Vereen in the Patriots' offense as he becomes the eventual successor to Danny Woodhead in the role of third down/number two running back.
Can Steve Gregory be a playmaker in this defense?
Veteran safety Steve Gregory came over to the Patriots via free agency this past offseason after spending the past few years in San Diego with the Chargers. He's missed a good portion of his first season with New England while dealing with a variety of minor injuries. On Thursday against the Jets, he played perhaps the best half of football in his entire career, recovering two fumbles, scoring a touchdown and intercepting a Mark Sanchez pass. With the struggles of Patrick Chung and rookie safety Tavon Wilson, the Patriots need Gregory to help stabilize their secondary. If he can become a reliable defender with an ability to make a game-changing play, New England will be a lot better suited to defend against great passing offenses like Denver, Pittsburgh (with Ben Roethlisberger) and Indianapolis.
The New York Jets are the most comical sports team in the country
In an odd sequence of events that this scribe hasn't ever seen on an NFL football field, the New York Jets allowed the visiting Patriots to score 21 points in just 52 seconds. That is an average of .404 points-per-second. It began with Vereen's 83-yard TD scamper, followed shortly by Mark Sanchez's gaffe of epic proportions. The former first round draft pick ran directly into the derriere of his offensive lineman, fumbling the football, which Gregory would pick up and run into the endzone for a New England touchdown. The ensuing kick-off would once again be fumbled by New York as Julian Edelman wound up with the ball and another easy Patriots' touchdown. The Jets do deserve some credit for not just rolling over in the second half, but it was quite clear on Thursday just how badly that franchise needs a complete and total rebuild.
The division is all but won
With Thursday's victory, the Patriots are now 8-3 and sport a perfect 4-0 record in divisional contests. Next week, they will travel south to take on the Miami Dolphins for the first time this season. The ‘Phins are second in the division with a 5-6 record and still hold a relatively slim chance to capture a wild card playoff berth. However, even if they do beat the Patriots this Sunday, they will still sit two games behind with just four left to play. A New England victory in Miami will seal the deal and clinch the AFC East division crown for the Patriots. It would be the Patriots' fourth consecutive division title and would earmark at least one postseason game to be played at Foxboro's Gillette Stadium this winter.
I'm going to miss Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan has shown tremendous loyalty in sticking to his guy, quarterback Mark Sanchez. In all likelihood, that loyalty will cost him his job this winter. While Sanchez continues to make one extraordinary mistake after another, completing around 50% of his passes, Ryan continues to trot him out there as the team's starter. Meanwhile, Jets' fans everywhere clamor for former Denver Broncos' signal caller Tim Tebow to take over the offense. I don't know who the long-term solution at quarterback is for the New York Jets, but I can tell you that it's certainly not Sanchez, and probably isn't Tebow either. Replacing Sanchez with Tebow at this point in the year really wouldn't fix much for the Jets, as they've already played themselves out of postseason contention. At the conclusion of the season, Jets' brass will likely pull the plug on Coach Ryan after two straight miserable years in New York. Truthfully, I'm going to miss Ryan's outspoken personality, as it's added a valuable element to the Patriots-Jets rivalry. He'll find a job somewhere in the NFL next season, likely as a defensive coordinator, and instantly become one of the league's best. While most certainly an unlikely scenario, bringing Ryan to Foxboro in 2013 would be a bold - and brilliant - move for Bill Belichick.
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