Since their loss to the Browns in Week Nine, there hasn't been a whole lot to rant about the Patriots — from a negative perspective, anyway. They were unstoppable, aside from a hiccup against the Packers, en route to a 14-2 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
That's what made Sunday's playoff loss to the Jets so befuddling. All of the Patriots' miscues that happened here and there throughout the season rolled into one poor performance when it mattered most.
Their pass defense let up enough big plays to remind viewers that it was one of the league's worst against the pass. The weakness in kickoff coverage was highlighted by Antonio Cromartie's four returns averaging over 25 yards. The defensive line got little-to-no pressure on Mark Sanchez, not sacking him once. The Jets converted 6-of-13 third downs against the league's worst third-down defense. Tom Brady threw his first pick since Week Seven, and the offense looked confused, as it had against the Browns.
It was a collectively bad game. There were highlights. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead generally ran the ball well, the run defense for the most part stood tall, Zoltan Mesko punted well and the offense did create a couple of scoring drives.
What remains as a big concern, though, is that the Patriots, led by the quarterback who prides himself on preparation and the genius head coach, got outfoxed by the team they hate most in every facet of the game.
We all knew how motivated the Jets were — they made that clear. And the Patriots made clear in Week 13 how they felt about their rivals, but for some reason they came out flat in the playoffs. Brady claimed he watched how the Jets threw a lot of zone at the Colts, using more defensive backs than usual. Yet he looked flustered, failing to adjust in time to get New England the lead, and the defense plays best when it has the lead. Bill Belichick went into his bag of tricks a few times, showing some desperation.
Week 13 was not so long ago, but the Jets made it seem like it never happened. The Patriots held the Jets to three points in Week 13, forcing three Sanchez picks. They did nothing of the sort in the divisional round, showing that the Jets' preparation to attack the Patriots' "D" was more effective than what Belichick had to offer.
This is not to say the Patriots weren't prepared. They had two weeks, and you know Belichick and Brady had everyone ready. But the fact that the Jets seemed more ready and more motivated tells me the Patriots were not so much looking past their rival but were confident enough that what they had done on "Monday Night Football" and had been doing with ease for weeks would be good enough. The Jets came with a great game plan, and the Patriots weren't able to play their game, instead losing to the Jets at the Jets' game.