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Patriots move to top of AFC, Jets exposed, Brady's roll and more


FOXBORO, Mass. -- Five things we learned from New England's shocking 45-3 destruction of the New York Jets Monday night at a festive Gillette Stadium. ...

1. So much for any lingering debate on who's the class of the AFC this season. The Patriots settled that argument in resounding fashion, and in case you're not scoring at home, New England this season has now beaten Baltimore, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Rex Ryan's favorite team, the NY Jets. Other than Kansas City (8-4), there's not an eight-win team in the AFC that the Patriots haven't bested. So who's really left for New England to make a statement against? Auburn? Oregon?

And New England, like New England always used to do in its glory days, is closing the deal. Since losing in an upset at Cleveland four weeks ago, the Patriots have looked like a driven, focused team intent on making the rest of their opponents pay for that humbling at the hands of the Browns.

In its past four games, New England has scored 39 points at Pittsburgh, 31 at home against the Colts, and then hung 45 on the Lions on Thanksgiving and another 45 on the shell-shocked Jets. And don't forget, New York came into Monday night 5-0 on the road, the NFL's last remaining road unbeaten, with eight straight wins away from home overall.

"This humble pie tastes like a car tire and it goes down like peanut butter," Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha said, perfectly capturing New York's night. "That's how it feels. Sunday can't come soon enough."

The Patriots might have downplayed the stakes in the long buildup to this showdown, but knew exactly what this one meant, and they played with a sense of urgency and single-mindedness that was almost breathtaking. The 42-point margin was the fifth largest in franchise history, and New England's much-maligned defense gave up a season-low three points.

"They played one hell of a game," Jets defensive lineman Trevor Pryce said. "One hell of a game. We've just got to embrace it, pull it in, wear it. You have to hold on to this, and don't pretend it didn't happen. You have to use it. It only counts as one loss. It doesn't count as three. This is not the Super Bowl. It's very close, but it's still just one loss. It's not the end of the world."

No, but the Patriots played as if it would have been had they lost. The difference between a win and a loss on this night for New England would have been the difference between having to win three road games as a wild-card to get to the Super Bowl (the fate of a No. 5 seed), or just two home games as the conference's top dog. No big gap there or anything. Just night and day.

At 10-2, with a game lead on the Jets (9-3) in the division, the Patriots work isn't done. They've got a tough game at Chicago (9-3) on Sunday, and after that a home date with Green Bay (8-4) that could prove a challenge. But after this humiliation it's at least implausible to see New York picking itself up and managing to chase New England down in the final four weeks of the regular season. This beating is going to leave a mark on the Jets, and all the bravado and bluster in Ryan's verbal arsenal won't be able to overcome a 42-point loss to their arch-rivals in what amounted to the NFL's centerpiece game of the year.

2. The Jets might want to pop in the ear plugs, because they're going to hear plenty of talk about them being frauds in the days ahead. But that's the thing about painting a big target on your chest and declaring yourself in August to be Super Bowl-bound. Sometimes all it does is give people something very specific to shoot holes through. That's about where the Jets find themselves today, having been exposed by the Patriots about every way a team can be exposed.

Monday night's meltdown by New York made you think we over-rated these Jets all along this season, and it certainly gives us reason to reevaluate all those late, dramatic comeback victories Ryan's team recorded in October and November. When a team finds a way to win despite struggling against the likes of Denver, Houston, Detroit and Cleveland, we sometimes call them resilient and commend them on finding a way to get the job done.

But then the Patriots completely peeled back the green (and white) curtain on Monday night and showed us a glimpse of a team that really might not be what we thought they were. Maybe struggling to beat bad teams, even if you get away with it for a good long while, is merely an indication that you're not that good yourself. After all, entering the Patriots game, the combined record of the teams the Jets had beaten were just 39-68, with only one of those teams being above .500 (the 1-0 Patriots in Week 2).

"I never thought we'd get blown out, not by any means," Jets receiver Santonio Holmes said, wearing the disbelieving look that was all the rage in the New York locker room. "Things fell apart on us, offensively and defensively. You can't point fingers. You just got to go to work.

"It was only one game. We'll see those guys again. We put it to our minds that we want to see these guys again. That's what it's going to be. We're going to have another showdown with these guys again, if we see them again in the playoffs."

If you say so, but we're not quite ready to buy the notion that the Jets will somehow earn their revenge on the Patriots this season. After all, if New York and New England meet again, it will in all likelihood be right back here at the Big Razor Blade, where the Jets just met their Waterloo. Convincing his players that they can close a six-touchdown gap in a span of six weeks or so may require greater motivational (and coaching) skills than even the ever-confident Ryan possesses.

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3. Give Tom Brady the NFL MVP award. Give it to him right now, because after Week 13's results, the race for the league's top piece of hardware is over even before the Heisman gets handed out.

After watching the Patriots riddle the Jets defense and New York's supposedly dominant secondary on Monday, I'm not sure anyone in the NFL has any answers for the New England passing game these days. And that all goes back to the 33-year-old Brady, who is playing the quarterback position as masterfully as he ever has -- even in the Patriots' record-setting 2007 season.

Brady just followed up on his four-touchdown, perfect 158.3 passing game against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day with a four-touchdown, 148.9 effort against a defense that had frustrated him and shut New England out in the second half of the Jets' 28-14 Week 2 win. Brady was in complete command of every portion of his game on this windy, cold night, completing 21 of 29 for 326 yards, with those four touchdowns to four different receivers, and nary an interception.

Brady completed passes to eight different receivers, and has now thrown 228 consecutive passes since being intercepted, extending his own team record. He has pushed it to seven straight starts without a pick, and now has at least one touchdown pass in all 12 of New England's games. And did we mention Brady just broke an NFL record with his 26th consecutive win at home in the regular season? That's a streak that stretches back to 2006.

"Brady was hot," said Ryan, in what gets my vote for the understatement of the season. "He can burn you, and they have a lot of weapons. They did a good job, they protected the quarterback pretty well and gave Brady enough time to make some plays."

And maybe we need to stop talking so much about the ridiculous efficiency of the Patriots short, rhythmic passing game, too, because even without Randy Moss, Brady and New England are starting to stretch the field again. The Patriots had completions of 50, 35 and 25 yards against the Jets, although the 50-yarder was a shovel pass to elusive running back Danny Woodhead in the second half.

"We have a lot of guys who have good matchups out there: Woody (Woodhead), (Rob) Gronkowski, Aaron (Hernandez), Wes (Welker), and Deion (Branch), with what they're able to do," Brady said. "This team (the Jets) plays a lot of man coverage and I thought we had some good matchups against them. That's pretty much the way it turned out. The guys stepped up and made plays when we needed it."

Nobody is stepping up any larger than Brady himself. Besides leading the best team in the NFL, he's now got 27 touchdowns this season, with just four interceptions, and a 109.6 passer rating. He's got one more thing, too: My MVP vote.

4. It's not going to be the '85 Bears at any point, but for a group that looked to endure season-long growing pains, the young Patriots defense is maturing a little more every week. New England's defense entered Monday ranked last overall in yards allowed (390.9), and last in passing yards (288.5). But despite those ugly numbers, this is a unit that's starting to make plays in the big moments of games, as it did two weeks ago in the 31-28 win over the Colts, and again in the blowout of the Jets.

New England picked off Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez three times in the second half, with both rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and rookie cornerback Devin McCourty picking him off inside the Patriots 10-yard line. Safety James Sanders later added the third New England interception, and overall New York's passing game produced just 164 yards, with a long gain of 24 yards. Sanchez finished 17 of 33, with no touchdowns and a 27.8 passer rating.

"We played our best game of the year," said Sanders, who had the game-saving interception 15 days ago against the Colts. "We disguised our coverages well, played good in man-to-man, played physically, and played for 60 minutes. We were hungry for this game. It feels like we hadn't played in about a month. We were eager to get out there on the field and show everyone what we could do on Monday night."

They showed Sanchez what they could do, and he never did really catch on to the Patriots' coverages. And that's becoming the trend for a pass defense that has been routinely torched this season.

"We confused Peyton (Manning) a couple weeks ago and we confused Mark on a couple passes today," Sanders said. "Any time you can do that as a defense, it makes our job that much easier. You want to keep them guessing. We've just got a lot of guys making plays, and a lot of talent out there. It's jelling real well."

5. Time off is apparently not in the Jets' best interest. For the second time this season, New York has looked horrible after getting a long, in-season break. Coming off their Week 7 bye, the Jets were 5-1 and playing at home against Green Bay in Week 8. New York lost 9-0 to the Packers, looking lethargic and uninspired throughout the game.

It was the same story Monday night. Both the Jets and Patriots played and won on Thanksgiving, giving them 11 days between their Week 12 game and their Week 13 showdown. You know the result. The Jets scored just three points and looked incapable of even the most basic of football skills on some plays.

Afterward some Jets players seemed baffled by the team's lack of preparation, given the time off, and the seemingly solid week of practice New York turned in.

"We got 10 days between games, so what else do we need in terms of preparation if we get that kind of time to prepare for a team?" Holmes said. "Things just kind of fell apart for us, and fell right for them. I don't know what to think. You ask for the time off, you get the time, and then you go out and expect nothing but greatness. But when you fail, all you can do is accept it and move on.

"That's not our character. That wasn't who we we've been this season. It just so happened that those guys had the greatest game plan put together, for one day at least. They had enough time to prepare for us and they did their job."

I suppose there is one silver lining, Jets fans: Thanks to New York's loss at New England, earning a first-round bye in the playoffs -- with the accompanying week off -- is probably out of the question.