The Patriots might have the greatest of all time.
And the quarterback is pretty good, too.
But this Patriots defense?
The one that forced five turnovers in the first three quarters Monday night against the Jets? That had Sam Darnold “seeing ghosts” and his offensive line pointing to where pass-rushers were two steps ago? That pitched its second shutout and has held its first seven opponents to 14 points or fewer?
This Patriots defense might be the greatest of all time for a single season.
The Jets can’t argue after a submissive 33-0 defeat — their first shutout loss in this lopsided series since 1974 — in front of a crowd of chanting Patriots fans at MetLife Stadium.
Le’Veon Bell’s bones won’t argue.
He ran hard between the tackles for 70 yards, but Bell suffered a crunching hit when Darnold tried to check down a rare pass in the red zone. Dont’a Hightower met Bell in the flat at the same time as the ball and dropped the running back, posing afterwards like a prize fighter in the ring.
Darnold said in the lead-up to the game that the Patriots defense is “good” but “not unbeatable.”
“We’ve just got to go out there, find the weakness in the defense and keep working it,” he said.
Much more work needed.
Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Stephon Gilmore and Terrence Brooks all had interceptions, and Kyle Van Noy recovered a fumble that he would have returned for a touchdown if not for foot-to-foot contact (that looked almost accidental) ruling him down by contact.
It would have been the second straight game with a touchdown for Van Noy, who scored against the Giants last week. The Patriots baffled rookie quarterback Daniel Jones on a Thursday night, but came back 11 days later and made Darnold look worse.
The Patriots entered the game allowing an NFL-best eight points per game and ranked No. 2 with 234.7 yards allowed per game. The Jets failed to approach either number (154 yards of total offense) only one game after Darnold’s return from mono sparked an upset of the NFC East-leading Cowboys.
Perhaps the Patriots defense is just that good. Good enough to let G.O.A.T. Tom Brady just come along for the ride to his seventh Super Bowl ring.
The 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens — two defense-led Super Bowl champions — surrendered 12.4 and 10.3 points per game, respectively, in an era when rules made it more difficult to score than today.
The secondary, led by the Nyack-raised McCourty, having one of the best seasons of his two-time All-Pro career at age 32, has allowed one passing touchdown over seven games and is responsible for the bulk of an NFL-leading 18 interceptions. That’s twice as many as any of the other 31 teams.
The Patriots have allowed only 12 third-down conversions (two by the Jets) and are on pace to shatter the NFL record for fewest allowed in a 16-game season (49 by the 1991 Saints).
The search for a “weakness” continues.