Patriots victimize Leonhard-less secondary
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By then, the game was all but over for the Jets, who were embarrassed by the Patriots well before the first quarter ended. But Welker's 18-yard score in the third quarter added insult to injury on a blustery, cold night in New England.
On national television, Rex Ryan's Jets got outplayed and he got outcoached. And the loss of safety Jim Leonhard, who was placed on injured reserve Saturday morning with a fractured right tibia, proved to be immeasurable.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady - who collected his 251st career touchdown pass and tied Drew Bledsoe for 13th place all-time on that Welker score - torched the Jets' secondary all night en route to a 45-3 rout that gave New England sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
But it wasn't Welker or former Jet Danny Woodhead who delivered the first blow, although they did plenty. No, the play that helped seal the Jets' fate came at the hands of Rob Gronkowski - in the first quarter, no less.
With New England already up 3-0, Brady launched a deep pass to the tight end near the end zone on second-and-7 from the Jets' 37. Gronkowski easily beat safety Eric Smith, who was flagged for pass interference. The result was a 36-yard penalty that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a 10-0 lead.
Smith knew filling in for Leonhard, the signal-caller and emotional leader in the defensive backfield, wouldn't be easy. But even Smith's second-quarter sack of Brady - who passed Bledsoe with his fourth touchdown pass in the fourth quarter - was little consolation for his missed assignments and blown tackles.
"They would catch the ball and run a long way in this game," he said. "When you're playing a lot of man and somebody catches the ball, you have to make a tackle. And we just weren't doing that. We take pride in our defense . . . To let a team score 45 on you, it's embarrassing."
Darrelle Revis was the only member of the secondary not to get burned by Brady, who stayed away from the cornerback's side of the field.
"I didn't get no balls tonight," Revis said. "I was disappointed about that, but what can you do."
The rest of the unit, however, looked confused and out of position on several key plays. Wide receiver Deion Branch used a stutter-step move to break free of cornerback Antonio Cromartie on a slant route, then beat Smith and cornerbacks Coleman and Dwight Lowery on a 25-yard touchdown pass to put New England up 17-0.
The secondary also got outplayed by former teammate Woodhead, who had his first career 100-yard game. Completely untouched, Woodhead (four catches, 104 yards) scampered 35 yards down the sideline in front of the Jets' bench to give the Patriots a first down at the Jets' 32 in the second quarter. Six plays later, wide receiver Brandon Tate beat Cromartie for a 4-yard touchdown pass that gave New England a 24-3 halftime lead.
Said Ryan, "Jim Leonhard wasn't going to make a 45-point difference."
True. But his presence might have saved Smith, Coleman and safety Brodney Pool on some of those Brady plays.
"It's hard when he's not out there," Revis said. "But you have to move on. The guys here have to step up."
But this game was a step in the other direction.
"It's two 9-2 teams, a rivalry game, this game has a huge impact on who's going to win the division," Lowery said. "That in itself should provide enough incentive to come out and play. And honestly, we didn't."