The New York Jets delivered a performance for the ages Thursday night, laying a complete egg against their archrival, at home, on national television, on Thanksgiving. It doesn't get much worse than that.
The Jets' decent start to the game has long been forgotten, as Gang Green quickly unraveled with a string of turnovers and missed assignments in the second quarter. The Jets were behind 35-0 before they really knew what had happened.
New York's terrible execution was unacceptable, and each and every member of the organization had a part to play in this defeat. Their performance deserved the exact outcome that they received.
That said, there was no reason for Bill Belichick and the Patriots to handle themselves the way they did during the game's second half. The Patriots had the national spotlight, and they chose to use that spotlight to put their lack of sportsmanship on display.
Let's get one thing out of the way up front: The Patriots played a very good game tonight. As they often do, New England made few mistakes, took advantage of opportunities, and executed their game plan to perfection. None of that changes as a result of certain second-half events. But none of that excuses those events either. It is possible to win with class.
Up 35-3 at halftime, Bill Belichick informed NBC reporters that the Patriots would be running their normal offense in the second half, referencing historical comebacks in previous seasons. This is an altogether reasonable approach with 30 minutes remaining in a football game.
Running an end around to a wide receiver, as the Patriots did on their first drive of the second half, does not seem like the best way to protect a 32-point lead, however. Indeed, the Pats' attempt at trickery led to a lost fumble and a head injury to Julian Edelman.
The Edelman play was one of several occasions during which it became clear that Belichick's primary goal was not to protect his lead but to run up the score as much as possible. The Patriots frequently operated out of the no-huddle, running plays with as much as 20 seconds remaining on a game clock that they should have been aiming to bleed.
Leading by as many as 30 points in the fourth quarter, Brady dialed up play-action passes deep down the field in order to tack on additional scores. When he wasn't exploiting the Jets' decision to defend the run in a situation where every team runs, Brady was executing quarterback sneaks to pick up crucial extra yards.
New England's defense got the memo and played all 60 minutes, too. With a little over two minutes remaining in the game and the Patriots leading by 37 points, Patrick Chung dealt Chaz Schilens a forearm to the face in an effort to prevent him from catching an 11-yard pass. The contact could be heard from everyone's TV sets, and Schilens suffered a head injury and did not return to the game.
This was not the only occasion on which the Pats decided that they would continue to play physical in the second half, as Steven Ridley was called for a chop block (widely recognized as the most dangerous play in football) in his own end zone while the Patriots were still leading 35-3.
It is understandable that teams compete until the last whistle, especially in a league like the NFL that always operates at the highest level. But there is a time in any competition when it is appropriate to take your foot of the gas, and the Patriots chose to leap past this juncture Thursday night.
This is not the first time that the Patriots have pushed the boundaries, as only last week New England was dialing up pass plays to extend a 21-point lead to 28 and then 35 points late in the fourth quarter of their victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
There is little reason for this behavior from the Patriots; this is a team that has won three recent Super Bowls and has a revered quarterback and coach. New England does not need to prove that they can score points.
And while it is fair to say that the Jets' lousy effort deserved whatever result ensued, Belichick still had the chance to take the high road and back off. Instead, he continued to push the envelope deep into the fourth quarter, to the point where well-respected Jets beat writer Manish Mehta was openly questioning his motivations.
These actions have consequences. Julian Edelman suffered a head injury because Belichick called an end-around while leading by 32 points. Chaz Schilens suffered a head injury because Patrick Chung made a blatantly illegal play despite leading by 37 points with two minutes remaining.
The Patriots are a very popular team, and for several good reasons. They work hard in practice, they play smart football and almost always execute their assignments, and they embrace the team mentality. Thursday night, they showed once again that they are not above kicking an opponent while they are down. With much of America watching on Thanksgiving, a team that sets a lot of good examples set a very bad one.
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