New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan made headlines this week by comparing himself to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. According to Ryan, they both look alike and more importantly, they both have supermodel wives.
Ryan was being tongue-in-cheek when he made those remarks, but on Monday night, the two of them couldn't have been more different. Ryan seemed sedated, mystified, over-matched, unfocused even. Brady on the other hand was invigorated, demonstrative, poised and showed more focus than an electron microscope.
The end result?
New England administered a 45-3 trouncing, planted their flag atop the AFC and emphatically declared themselves the team to beat in the NFL without ever needing to say a word (maybe the Jets should take notes).
So what does Monday's win really mean for the Patriots as they head down the home stretch?
Belichick and Brady would tell us the only thing this win means is now the Patriots have 10 wins, and they'd be right. They do have 10 wins. But it also means much more than that.
It means if every team in the AFC won the rest of its games (impossible, I know, just humor me) the Patriots would still finish with the best record in the conference. So needless to say, they control their own fate.
Simply put, if they can stay the course and continue their winnings ways, the AFC playoffs go through Gillette Stadium, which is almost unfair for everyone else.
It's hard enough to win on the road in the NFL, especially in the playoffs. Add to that having to travel to New England, in January, to face a team that just beat the Steelers, Colts and Jets in a three-week span.
It doesn't stop there though. Gillette Stadium doesn't provide any ordinary home-field advantage; it provides one of the biggest edges of all time. With Monday's victory, Tom Brady passed Brett Favre for the most all-time consecutive regular-season home wins with 26. In his career, Brady has just one playoff loss at Gillette. His home playoff record is 8-1.
Make no mistake about it, Brady is playing the best football of his career.
Yes, better than his record-setting season.
In a season that was supposed to be a rebuilding year Brady has led his team to a 10-2 record and has them poised for another Super Bowl run.
The Patriots lost Kevin Faulk for the season. They traded away Randy Moss early in the year. They lost Fred Taylor for 10 weeks. Brady responds by rallying the troops and taking his leadership skills to the next level.
He currently leads the NFL in touchdowns with 27 and passer rating with a mark of 109.5.
He's on pace to throw for 4,039 yards, 36 touchdowns and five interceptions. The interceptions would be the lowest total of his career and the second lowest total in NFL history over a full 16-game season. The 36 touchdowns would be the second most of his career, trailing only his record-setting 50 touchdowns in 2007.
The way he's putting up those numbers is far more impressive now than it was in '07 though. Forget the days of throwing deep to Randy Moss. These days Brady is spreading the ball around to his tight ends, his running backs and his receivers.
He's using interchangeable parts like Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Brandon Tate, Danny Woodhead, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to spread the defense and find whoever's open.
He's now gone five consecutive games with multiple touchdown passes and no interceptions. That's the third longest such streak in NFL history. What's more, two years removed from a devastating knee injury, Brady has finally regained his pocket mobility and is keeping plays alive to find the open receiver.
Brady's the best in the business and he's five weeks away from getting the hardware to show for it.
Not that it matters much to him.
Truthfully I think Belichick gets some sick pleasure from being the bad guy. He reminds me of my father as a boy. When I didn't get my way I would whine and scream and carry on about how unfair he was. The old man would shrug his shoulders as a sly grin crept into his face, agree with me and still refuse to cave to my demands. If you watch a Belichick press conference, you know exactly what I'm getting at.
A lot of people, fans especially, lost respect for Belichick after the spygate scandal. Then he helped guide the Patriots to a 16-0 regular season and a Super Bowl berth. When the team lost, the Beli-cheat bandwagon was back on track.
With the job he's done this season, Belichick is knocking the wheels off and sending that bandwagon into a drainage ditch. Then setting it on fire. Then putting the fire out by peeing on it just to re-assert his dominance. A title run this season would be the fecal icing on that urinal cake.
Belichick is without question the best coach in the NFL right now, and is making a weekly case for being one of the best ever.
Before the season, he once again traded down in the draft and took an unheralded cornerback out of Rutgers who was considered more of a special teams player. Well, as of this writing Devin McCourty has the second most interceptions ever by a Patriots rookie with six and is second in the NFL behind former Patriot Asante Samuel.
A quarter of the way through the season he jettisoned Randy Moss in one of the most hotly debated moves in Patriots history. Through 12 weeks the Patriots are 10-2 and have gelled in a way that was impossible with Moss around.
With the worst statistical defense the Patriots have ever had, Belichick has coached his talented youngsters well enough to see marked improvement each week. They give up yards by the truckload but he's putting them in a position to make big plays, and they've been coming through all year when it's mattered most.
Belichick has turned over nearly the entire roster yet somehow the team sits atop the AFC. So far this has been Belichick's finest season as a coach and he won't be resting on his laurels any time soon. Given the way he huddled up his defense to ratchet up the intensity with a 38-3 lead, it's a safe bet Belichick won't let up until the Patriots win another Lombardi Trophy.
Once upon a time, Danny Woodhead was best known as "little (bleeper)" on Hard Knocks. He himself joked that he needs a step stool to do his press conferences. Tom Brady's speculated that he could use one of those little foot-shaped tubs as an actual bathtub. Yeah, we get it, the guy is tiny.
But on Monday night he played as big as anyone on the field. Just as he's done all season, Woodhead continued to defy logic and critics. Is it blasphemous to suggest he's out-Kevin Faulk-ing Kevin Faulk?
I wrote before the season that a defense this young would take its lumps, and it has. I also wrote that such a young group with so much talent could develop quickly under a coach like Belichick. They've done that too.
The stats say the Patriots have a bad defense. Well the proof isn't in the stats, it's in the pudding. Or in this case, the plays. More specifically the big ones.
Starting in their Week 4 demolition of the Dolphins, the Pats defense has found ways to step up when it matters most. They've gone 7-1 since then and with the exception of a clunker in Cleveland they've improved each week.
During that time the team has won three games by a field goal. Having Tom Brady helps, but you don't win close games like that without big plays from your defense.
It all came together against the Jets to the tune of three points. That's it. Just a single field goal the entire game. If those youngsters can maintain their focus they could be dangerous, a la the Saints defense last year.
By the way, the Saints happened to win the Super Bowl last year.
Taking a page from the Belichick playbook here. It was a great win, but now that it's over, it doesn't mean anything. They have four games left to play.
Then it's playoff time and once the playoffs begin this game will mean even less.
Speaking of the Belichick playbook, I wonder if there's a page in there pertaining to media relations because these guys are so in sync in that regard it's scary. It's humorous actually. It's like there's a locker room collection taken up that gets rewarded to whichever player can use the phrase "do my job" the most in an interview. Pretty sure Woodhead set a team record this week by using that phrase to answer three consecutive questions.
The Patriots travel to Chicago on a short week. You can bet they'll put up more of a fight than the Jets did, so for now at least, the game doesn't mean anything other than they're 10-2.