FOXBOROUGH – Feminist Gloria Steinem became famous largely for her famous anti-men statement, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
In Foxborough, it reads like this: The Patriots without Antonio Brown is like a fish without a bicycle.
Lament his demise if you wish, but Sunday’s 30-14 win over the New York Jets on Sunday at Gillette Stadium further underscored how little they needed him. The Patriots scored 63 points in two games without Brown, and 43 points with him, but 14 of those 43 points came on defensive touchdowns. Brown, who was released on Friday when his menacing text messages aimed at a second woman who accused him of sexual harassment surfaced, turned out to be a luxury rather than an important element of the Patriot offense.
The only way that losing Brown turns out to be anything consequential is that if Julian Edelman misses significant playing time after leaving the game with a rib injury in the second quarter. Late in the first half, Edelman took a quick dump pass in the right flat, then got blasted by Brian Poole and came right out of the game and went right to the locker room. Edelman never returned, and the Patriot offense seemed to get stuck in neutral from that point on.
A late report said that x-rays on Edelman’s ribs were negative, which is certainly good news for the Patriots.
The Patriots scored touchdowns on their first three offensive possessions, but did not score again until the third quarter. The Patriots managed ten points on two consecutive third quarter drives, then nothing for the rest of the game. But with a big lead which eventually reached 30-0 against the offensively challenged Jets, running up big offensive numbers was not needed to win this game.
Once again, the Patriot defense carried the day with a terrific suffocation of a Jet offense which is LeVeon Bell and nothing else. The Jets were forced to start a third string quarterback, Bell was held to 63 yards from scrimmage, Luke Falk was sacked five times, and the Jets did next to nothing at all offensively. The final score says that the Jets scored 14 points, but those points came off uncharacteristic, if not fluky, turnovers by the Patriots. The defense gave up nothing. They shut out the Jets, held them under 100 yards through three quarters, and dominated a team they were expected to dominate.
Tom Brady had a great game probably without breaking a sweat. He finished 28 of 42 passing for 306 yards, two touchdowns and a 103.9 passer rating. It came a little harder for Brady to keep a rhythm after Edelman went out with his rib injury, but he basically ran things pretty easily and treated the Jets like the 0-3 team they are.
Particularly pleasing to the Patriots was the performance of Josh Gordon. He made two leaping catches and led the Patriots with 83 receiving yards. Gordon was targeted 11 times and made six catches, and at times seemed out of sync with Brady, but again showed the brilliance he is capable of. Edelman led the Patriots with seven catches (62 yards) and a touchdown, while Philip Dorsett chipped in with 53 yards on six catches and a touchdown.
Another element regarding the offense was the absence of James White. Following the lead from linebacker Kyle Van Noy a few weeks back, White missed the game because his wife was about to have a baby. Wins are nice, but always family first. Some players would never miss a game for these family reasons, but this is the second time this season a key starter missed a game for childbirth reasons. While the phrase “in the fall, football players play football” echoes everywhere, nobody should complain about either player who wants to be there when a baby is born.
What will come under coaching scrutiny will be the two mistakes, both by rookies, that gave the Jets their 14 points.
At the tail end of the third quarter, the Jets had fourth and 24 at their own 49. Lachlan Edwards punted the ball towards Gunnar Olszewski, who decided to make the catch at the Patriot 12. But Olszewski muffed the catch, and the ball rolled backwards into the Patriot end zone. The ball was covered by Arthur Maulet, and the Patriots surrendered their first touchdown since the 2018 AFC Championship Game at Kansas City, as well as their first points since the season opener against Pittsburgh. Olszewski was not benched, as he was in there for every subsequent punt.
In the fourth quarter, Bill Belichick decided to put in rookie backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham. On his first play, he hit Dorsett in the right flat for 11 yards for his first NFL completion. He was sacked on the next play by Neville Hewitt for a seven-yard loss, then hit Rex Burkhead in the right flat for three yards. On third and 14 at the Jet 48, Stidham had Brandon Bolden wide open in the right flat, but clearly overthrew him and Jamal Adams had an easy pick. He bolted up the left sideline and took it 61 yards to the house. Brady came back in for the next offensive series and played the rest of the game.
The final score will not adequately portray how dominant the Patriot defense was. The Jets managed only 105 total yards for the entire game. They had only six first downs and were 0-12 on third down conversions. Again, against a depleted Jet offense, this is not astonishing. But when you put up numbers like this against a team you were expected to do well against, it is still a good thing. Falk finished with only 12 of 22 passing for 98 yards and a paltry 47.1 rating. Braxton Berrios, who was with the Patriots in the preseason, led the Jets with 29 yards receiving.
The Patriots are 3-0 for the first time in three years, and next week travel to Buffalo to meet another 3-0 team. They will be tested for the first time this year against a rejuvenated Bills team. The Bills rallied late at home to beat Cincinnati on Sunday, setting up this battle of the unbeatens next week up in western New York.
The Patriots need to put Brown in the rearview mirror and move on. On to Buffalo, and no more whining about Brown’s time here or his release on Friday. If you bought a Brown jersey, remember the phrase caveat emptor (Latin for “let the buyer beware”) and build a bridge (and get over it). He’s gone, deal with it.
And get ready for what should be a great game next Sunday at Buffalo.