FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Like Cody Kessler, Jared Goff and Trevor Siemian before him this season, New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty on Saturday faced the New England Patriots’ defense for the first time. His afternoon, much like the experiences of his peers, did not go well.
In the four drives Petty led before injuring his left shoulder — while trying to make a tackle after a teammate’s fumble — he completed more passes to Patriots (one) than to his teammates. Petty was held out of the rest of New England’s 41-3 win at Gillette Stadium, which spared him — though not the Jets — further embarrassment.
The Patriots have feasted on neophyte (and veteran) quarterbacks unable to counteract the complexities of their scheme, the disguises of their looks, the versatility of their players — elements that have fueled a monthlong surge casting New England as the stingiest defense in the NFL. This, despite the Patriots’ not having an elite secondary, like the Seattle Seahawks of recent vintage, or a ferocious outside pass rush, à la the Denver Broncos of last season.
These Patriots are less dominant than absurdly competent, which — ask the Jets about this — is still a desirable quality. So far, none of this has mattered, and it is quite possible that it might not after Jan. 1, either, given how well all three team units have played for the Patriots, who improved to 13-2 on Saturday. The Jets fell to 4-11.
But presumably, they will face better quarterbacks in the playoffs than Petty and his replacement, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Or Kessler, Goff and Siemian. Or Brock Osweiler, Colin Kaepernick and Landry Jones, some of the others who have fallen against New England this year.
For all of their defensive success, the Patriots remain untested — through little fault of their own. The ineptitude of their opposition, such as the Jets, who through three quarters Saturday had four completions and four turnovers, can sometimes make it difficult to discern the quality of their defense.
Earlier in the week, though, Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said New England boasted “probably” the smartest defense the Jets have played, or will play, this season. Asked to elaborate, Gailey highlighted Patriots players’ interchangeability — how so many of them can line up in different positions — and, by extension, their depth.
The Patriots dumped two productive players, Pro Bowl linebackers Chandler Jones (in March) and Jamie Collins (in October), in decisions that benefited the team’s long-term viability and salary-cap health, but that elicited skepticism in the moment.
“I thought they traded away their opportunity to go to the Super Bowl,” ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said in a telephone interview. “I was like, ‘They could be in trouble.’ And at first, they were very vanilla, like they were searching. But over the last six weeks, that defense is drastically improved.”
The improvement coincided with two critical developments: A stretch against three of the lowest-scoring teams in the NFL — San Francisco, the Jets and Los Angeles — and the continued progress, and integration, of players like linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin; defensive lineman Vincent Valentine; and cornerback Eric Rowe, who intercepted a Fitzpatrick pass in the second quarter.
Last Sunday in the high altitude of Denver, where New England had lost its past three games, including last season’s AFC championship, the Patriots smothered the Broncos in a 16-3 victory. Watching that game, Hoge found himself in a peculiar position: He had never heard of one of the Patriots’ starting linebackers,
No. 52, rookie Elandon Roberts.
“You really can’t pick a guy,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said earlier in the week, “because they have different guys to make plays.”
Depending on how the matchups come together, the Patriots might not even have to face Pittsburgh, Oakland or Kansas City until the AFC championship game. With Tom Brady, they would hold the advantage at quarterback.
Brady, as ever, might position the Patriots for glory. But he might need some assistance at the end.
On Saturday, the future Hall of Fame quarterback threw three first-half TDs en route to his 204th victory, the most of any other quarterback in NFL history.
N.Y. Jets 0 0 0 3 — 3
New England 10 17 7 7 — 41
NE— Gostkowski 29 yard field goal, 8:16.
NE— Ma.Bennett 5 yard pass from Brady (Gostkowski kick), 3:02.
NE— Gostkowski 22 yard field goal, 11:13.
NE— Lengel 18 yard pass from Brady (Gostkowski kick), 2:40.
NE— J.White 25 yard pass from Brady (Gostkowski kick), 0:25.
NE— Blount 1 yard rush (Gostkowski kick), 3:22.
NE— Blount 1 yard rush (Gostkowski kick), 12:24.
NYJ— Folk 29 yard field goal, 6:16.
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