Boy, those New England Patriots. You just can't figure them out.
Their defense stinks. Their coach has lost a step. Their offense has been figured out. They were spiraling down, the New York Jets were taking off. The Sunday night showdown was going to be a train wreck.
It was. That'll be 37 for the Patriots, and 16 for the Jets.
This wasn't supposed to happen. The Jets had their gift-wrapped opportunity to finally seize the AFC East. They were supposed to smack the Patriots in their home building, where Rex Ryan had never lost to New England.
Instead, the opposite happened. After a tense start to the game, the Patriots blew up Gang Green. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the rest of the New England offense finally began to click and rediscover their potent selves.
The defense, which is at the absolute minimum in terms of able bodies, made stops. And plays.The defense, instead of letting an opponent back in the game, closed them out.
Andre Carter had 4.5 sacks. Rob Ninkovich picked off two passes, with one going for six and clinching the victory in the fourth quarter. The normally vanilla, lukewarm unit got an adrenaline shot at halftime and became a whole new group, even as the no-name secondary became even more obscure.
It was a step-up moment for a team that has become impossible to predict. The offense has gone from explosive to one-dimensional to opportunistic. The defense has gone from bad to really bad to passable, then back to awful, and after the last two games, this is looking like a group that can get the job done.
The Patriots got it done even as the secondary, already ridiculously thin, was stretched even further. Patrick Chung missed the game, and then Devin McCourty went down and out with what appears to be a separated shoulder.
That meant that the secondary was ultimately made up of Kyle Arrington, Antwaun Molden, Phillip Adams, James Ihedigbo, Ross Ventrone, Sergio Brown and Sterling Moore. Only one of those players, Molden in the third round, was drafted.
And yet, it was enough.
It brought up memories of a past Patriots team. Not 2007, like the first two weeks did, or 2009 or 2008, like the last two games did.
This was out of the yearbook for the 2004 Patriots. No-names in the secondary, plus a lack of depth forcing offensive players (Troy Brown in '04, Julian Edelman last night) to pitch in in desperation. And yet, thanks in both cases to an offense that picked up the slack, it was enough.
I'll pump the brakes. It's not 2004. This team isn't packed with Pro Bowl talent at every position. And the idea of Molden lining up as a starting cornerback for a long period of time is still scary.
But this was a win that, at its heart, was a perfect example of the way the Patriots used to win. Injuries and a lack of talent weren't an excuse. The team still had to find a way to compete, and find a way to leave the field with a win. It takes heart, soul, a pair. Whatever you want to call it.
There was never a reason to doubt the mental toughness of this team. A comeback win over Dallas and near rallies against Pittsburgh and the New York Giants showed that this team had plenty of it. That was easy to expect.
Everything else that happened in the Meadowlands Sunday night? Anything but.