Sunday provided Patriots fans with a deeply satisfying win. The loud mouth of Rex Ryan was shut, the Patriots' defense forced seven 3-and-outs, and the New York Jets walked away with a losing record.
Unfortunately, that last bit there means that, satisfying though it was, this win was in no way a statement win.
There is always something to be said about beating the Jets these days, regardless of their record. Their passing defense is a force to be reckoned with, and two straight trips to the AFC Championship Game is nothing to scoff at. That being said, these are the Jets that entered the game at 2-2. These are the Jets that, for all intents and purposes, could have been 1-3 given the complete meltdown of the Cowboys that provided them their first win.
Really, the fact that the only won by nine against this Jets team could be taken as a negative. But between Aaron Hernandez turning a touchdown into a pick, and the Jets getting away with murder (or, at the very least, a good few blocks in the back) on the kickoff return that set them up for a touchdown, the actual final score can be thrown away as being a bit flukey. This could easily have been a big win, but that's what it should be against a frankly mediocre team.
So what did we learn from Sunday's game? Only one thing: the Patriots are the better coached team, and nobody really needed to be told that.
Just consider the primary weaknesses of the two teams. For the Patriots, their pass defense has been a complete joke all year. For the Jets, it's been a struggle to move the ball and stop the run. The game plan, then, should have been easy for Rex Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer: try and get the aerial attack going against the one defense that is least likely to stop it. Instead, Mark Sanchez attempted all of 26 passes, many of them coming on screens or quick throws for a very few yards. Meanwhile, Shonn Greene ran the ball right into the teeth of the Patriots' defense, resulting in only two really successful drives.
The Patriots, on the other hand, actually exploited their opponents' weakness. While Tom Brady still threw the ball a fair bit, they took advantage of New York's inability to stop the run again and again. A relatively quiet night from Rob Gronkowski in the receiving game was the direct result of his strong performance as a run-blocker, helping BenJarvus Green Ellis in his domination of the ground game. So, yes, the Patriots can run the ball. But if you didn't already know that, then you haven't been paying attention since the regime switch from Maroney, Faulk, et al. to Green-Ellis and associates.
"Lawfirm" is, for the record, the best nickname on the team.
Credit where credit is due: McCourty and Bodden were each the solid forces in pass defense that Patriots fans had expected them to be, but really the criticism thrown in their direction for the first four games of the season was overstated, with a few really good passes being made to their marks. But until they manage to keep a strong, confident passing game down, the questions will remain. And until the Patriots prove themselves against a real top contender, we won't really know how good they actually are.