Both Mother Nature and an inspired Jets squad threw everything they had at the Pats in an effort to derail their path toward perfection, but in the end New England did just enough to hold on for the 20-10 victory.
The Patriots got their victory. They didn't get their pound of flesh.
New England became just the second team in NFL history to open a season with 14 straight wins, but this victory against the Spygate Squealers came a lot tougher than anticipated. Both Mother Nature and an inspired Jets squad threw everything they had at the Pats in an effort to derail their path toward perfection, but in the end New England did just enough to hold on for the 20-10 victory.
That margin probably didn't satisfy the bloodlust of Pats fans looking to humiliate Jets coach Eric Mangini for blowing the whistle on Bill Belichick's sideline tapings in September. And it certainly didn't live up to the prognostications for a blowout of historic proportions, but then again, the people making those predictions weren't the ones who had to play in yesterday's brutal Nor'easter.
"The media is the media, the predictions are predictions, unless you go out there and play football, it's a different story," said Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel. "You can go predict us to win by 80. Does it matter? We go out there and don't play good, none of that will matter."
The Patriots didn't play particularly well, at least not by their standards. Tom Brady never found his grove in the messy conditions, failing to throw a TD for the first time this season. He completed just 14-of-27 passes for 140 yards and was picked off once, finishing with a season-worst 51.5 QB rating.
"Obviously, it's not very conducive to throwing the football," said Brady of the weather. "I wish we played in a dome every week, where it's 65 degrees or 70 degrees and the elements are never a factor. That's not the case in Foxboro, but you play with whatever conditions are out there and you just try to do the best you can."
With Brady struggling, Laurence Maroney and the much-maligned Pats running game had to take control. Maroney pounded out a season-high 104 yards on a career-high 26 carries, and scored New England's only offensive TD with a
"As soon as we got that snowstorm on Thursday, I figured if it was going to stay like this we were going to do a lot of running," Maroney said. "But I didn't know, because we were doing a lot of passing in practice. ... I expected to run the ball, but you never know. If they were going to give up the pass, we're going to take it."
The Jets did their best to take away the pass, and with some help from a gusting wind and a steady dose of freezing rain, they succeeded more than any other Patriots opponent this year. In turn, the Pats shifted the focus of their attack, calling more running plays than passes for the first time since a Week 4 win at Cincinnati.
The fact that New England had thrown 138 passes to just 49 rushing attempts the previous three weeks had hinted at a lack of confidence in the running game, but Maroney never doubted the club's ability to get it done on the ground.
"Our running game has always been strong," said Maroney. "A lot of teams this whole season has been giving up the pass and our passing game has definitely been doing a great job so we've been sticking with the pass. But all the running backs, we knew we were going to be ready when they called on us."
The defense and special teams also proved ready when called upon. Safety Eugene Wilson, starting his first game since Week 5 with James Sanders inactive with a knee injury, made his presence felt quickly when he picked off a Kellen Clemens throw on the Jets' second play from scrimmage and returned it 5 yards for a TD.
"It was awesome," said Samuel of Wilson's play. "I'm happy for him. That was his first interception for a touchdown. I had just told him before that, 'If you get a chance, be real careful and make sure you concentrate and don't try to run because it's slippery out there.' And he said he hought about me when he caught it. He was looking for me."
The Jets were pinned so deep because Kelley Washington had downed a punt at the 3 after Willie Andrews saved it from going in the end zone. Washington also set up New England's other TD when he blocked a punt to give the Pats a first-and-goal at the New York 3 in the second quarter.
That led to one of several celebrations in the stands, with the hardy fans on hand tossing snow up in the air.
"I looked up and saw all that snow and myself and Mel Mitchell said we never saw anything like that," said Washington. "It's a great atmosphere to play in. We're all cold out there, not just us, but the Jets and everybody's cold and wet, but when you see things like that from your fans it makes it that much better to play in."
Not everyone was enjoying the winter wonderland so much. Samuel, a Florida native, still hasn't grown accustomed to the rough New England winters despite playing here for five seasons.
"Never, never get used to this," said Samuel. "This was the worst it's ever been for me. It is terrible. The snow, the rain, it's coming from everywhere."
Actually, it could have been worse. The Jets made a game of it, but couldn't quite pull off the upset. And sitting in the cold at 3-11 is a lot more uncomfortable than walking off the field a perfect 14-0.
Douglas Flynn covers the Patriots for the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-4405 or email@example.com.