Six Points for Week 16: Why the Jets exposing the Patriots is major confidence boost
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brandon Marshall navigated through his celebrating Jets teammates and the downtrodden opponents and located Josh McDaniels near midfield on Sunday. He asked his former coach what the Patriots were thinking by electing to kick off after winning the overtime coin toss.
Marshall didn't believe the answer he received from the Pats' offensive coordinator and, moments later, smiled and paused when asked by FOX Sports what he believed had happened.
"I'm speechless," the New York Jets' wide receiver said in wake of Eric Decker's 6-yard touchdown catch to give the Jets a 26-20 victory and a win-and-in scenario in Week 17. "I don't understand why they did it, but I'll take it."
Frankly, it was tough to understand a few parts of this day from the perspective of the Patriots. It was an odd game, with decisions that were difficult to understand even before Bill Belichick sent Matthew Slater onto the field with instructions to elect to kick off if they won the toss.
The Pats were sluggish, conservative and at times, unconventional later when they ran three straight trick plays and then almost seemed content to lose this game. Plenty of people suggested they were trying to lose on purpose to keep the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the playoffs and let a seemingly less dangerous Jets team in.
The evidence to support such a charge is extremely flimsy, so we won't go all Al Jazeera/Peyton Manning on Belichick here.
But at the very least, the banged-up Patriots didn't play well enough to deliver a significant blow to a team that gave them a scare up in Foxborough earlier this season and beat them here at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The Jets made the Patriots one-dimensional in their first matchup (only five rushes by the Pats' running backs) and dictated the pace against a banged-up New England team in the rematch.
It would be an awfully interesting matchup if the Jets made their way up to Gillette Stadium in January.
"We've been in survival mode the last few weeks, so just beating them because they're king of the hill gives us just one victory," Jets coach Todd Bowles said, as he took an un-Rex Ryan-like approach in downplaying the significance of beating the Pats. "We still have to go to Buffalo next week and win, but it feels good to win a tough, gritty game against a good football team."
After the game, Belichick wasn't in much of a mood to discuss his decisions, a few of which were quite questionable.
The biggest of those head-scratchers came late in the second quarter when the Patriots took over from their own 16-yard line with 1:57 left in the half and two timeouts to burn. Belichick loves to get the "double score" -- one at the end of the first half and one to start the second half. That's the reason he defers if he wins the toss at the start of the game.
But on this day, the Pats bled the clock, for some reason.
"We didn't have very good field position," Belichick said.
Well, not at first, no.
But Brandon Bolden started to change that with a 13-yard run up the middle on the first play of the drive. It was first-and-10 from the 29 with 1:40 and change on the running clock at that point. However, the Pats didn't snap it again until 1:19 to play when Bolden picked up 2 yards. The final play of the half was a 5-yard pass from Tom Brady to James White. The Pats watched the clock run down and then jogged to the locker room down 10-3.
"We have the ball to start the second half, so we took it there," Belichick said.
There's a case to be made for Belichick's decision on the overtime coin toss. The Patriots' defense was playing well in the fourth quarter. They forced two three-and-outs while playing from behind and then forced a punt late in regulation when the Jets were trying to win it there. Even if you're potentially taking the ball out of Brady's hands after he threw the game-tying touchdown, it's not hard to at least see Belichick's logic.
"He's trying to do whatever he can to help us win," Brady said, adding of the coin toss: "I'm not sure how it happened today. Sometimes I go out there (for the toss), sometimes I don't."
The Patriots had fought back and tied the game. It's not like Belichick was playing to lose there. It's just that he has a different way of going about things than most coaches.
But that sequence at the end of the first half gave the impression the Patriots were lying down on this one. After losing left tackle Sebastian Vollmer to a left leg injury early in the game (a source told FOX Sports the team hopes it's no more than a high-ankle sprain and that Vollmer could be back for the team's first playoff game), Belichick seemed content to get off the field without getting anyone else hurt.
Maybe that was a wise decision. They're waiting on the returns of wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, tight end Scott Chandler, guard Josh Kline and now Vollmer. They'll have to get healthy and then get that chemistry on track before their first playoff game.
That's a game that could very well be against a gritty Jets team the Pats could've kept out of the postseason with a better showing on Sunday.
NINERS' TOMSULA DILEMMA
It's been a rough season for the San Francisco 49ers, though to say it's as simple as Jim Harbaugh's absence being the difference between this team competing and being a doormat is far too simplistic a statement.
The Niners are a proud franchise that doesn't accept subpar performance for very long. Heck, that's what led them to get rid of Harbaugh in the first place.
So does that mean Jim Tomsula will be one-and-done? Not necessarily.
Remember, the fact there wasn't a real slam-dunk candidate last year is part of what led the Niners to promote Tomsula. Looking at this year's crop of candidates, there still isn't a hot name that, upon his hiring, would lead a locker room and a fan base to feel supremely confident they'll be contenders, and soon.
While it'll take some explaining and massaging, it wouldn't be a shock if San Fran sticks with Tomsula for at least one more season. Changes on his coaching staff are necessary and a switch out of offensive coordinator Geep Chryst in favor of a more experienced and proven play caller wouldn't be a surprise at all.
But as it pertains to the guy at the top, Tomsula seems to have a reasonable shot to return. While the results on the field haven't been ideal, there's something to be said for how the players have respected him enough to keep the chirping and griping to a minimum. That's one area where Tomsula has succeeded in his first season as head coach.
THE CASE FOR JIM CALDWELL
The coach on the opposing sideline from Tomsula on Sunday also finds himself on the bubble. That's Jim Caldwell, whom many considered a fired man walking after owner Martha Ford cleaned out the Detroit Lions' front office earlier this season.
But the Lions are 5-2 since then and one of those two losses was on Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers. Plus, the offense has put up 45, 35 and 32 points in the last three wins. That's a credit to new coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.
The hard part for Lions brass will be deciding whether those wins and point totals against the Niners, New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles are merely because of poor defensive play on the other side of the ball or a sign Cooter and Caldwell have this team moving in the right direction.
That's always a difficult thing to discern in this league and they still have one more week to figure it out. It's quite possible Caldwell, Cooter and the rest of the staff are coaching for their jobs next week against the Chicago Bears.
CREDIT TO BREES
Drew Brees battled through a foot injury to play in Sunday's 38-27 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and, in addition to his competitive nature in general, it had to be due to the fact he knew his future in New Orleans is very much in question.
Brees has a $30 million cap number next season that has to be reworked if he's going to stick with the Saints. He doesn't want to head into that potential negotiation while having the franchise believing he's starting to break down. Playing through his plantar fasciitis -- and playing well, to the tune of 412 passing yards and three touchdowns -- after battling through a shoulder injury earlier this season was huge for Brees.
It might not be only the front office Brees has to sell. The rumors about coach Sean Payton looking for a potential exit have been persistent. Payton might have to decide whether to start anew somewhere else or give it one more shot with the Saints. If he believes Brees isn't tailing off after closing strong this season, that could sway him.
Either way, Brees needed a big game on Sunday and he delivered.
PLENTY OF COMPANY FOR MARCUS PETERS
On Sunday, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters recorded the eighth interception of his stellar rookie season. That's a franchise rookie record and has to be way up there as far as NFL rookie records go, right?
Peters is now one of 36 rookies to pick off eight passes or more. That's pretty incredible to think it isn't a more exclusive club. One would also think that, with all the rules encouraging teams to throw the ball in recent years, a good chunk of the players to accomplish the feat would've done it recently.
Only two players -- the Cleveland Browns' Anthony Henry and the Buffalo Bills' Jairus Byrd -- have done it since 1995. Of course, that's what makes Peters' accomplishment stand out. He's doing it in an era when defensive backs are greatly restricted by the emphasis on illegal contact and pass interference.
The Chiefs selected Peters 18th overall despite concerns other teams had over Peters' being dismissed from the Washington Huskies' team last year. It seems like an awfully wise decision right now.
GIANTS NEED TO WIN THE OFFSEASON
That's the standard joke when a team makes a big push in free agency and the expectations are raised far too high, only to see the new pieces don't fit well together and that team disappoints.
For example, how many times were Dan Snyder's Washington Redskins declared offseason champs in recent years? And don't forget the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011.
But the truth is a strong foundation can be built via free agency. That's what the Seattle Seahawks did a few years ago and it's what the New York Giants did a decade ago. In 2005, they paid big money for wide receiver Plaxico Burress, offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie and linebacker Antonio Pierce -- all of whom were integral pieces on teams that went to the playoffs the next three seasons and won the Super Bowl in 2007.
As NBC's Cris Collinsworth noted during the broadcast of Sunday night's Giants loss to the Minnesota Vikings, GM Jerry Reese has a lot of work to do on the current roster. Collinsworth said it's not an "overnight fix," and he's somewhat right. But think about how much different the Giants' defense would look if they'd landed safety Devin McCourty this past offseason and if Jason Pierre-Paul hadn't injured his hand. McCourty was the big-ticket free agent the Giants targeted and they offered slightly more than the $9 million per year New England gave McCourty to stay put. The team also budgeted for a multi-year deal for Pierre-Paul.
The Giants now carry that money into this offseason and already have roughly $40 million in cap room, though it's too early to calculate an exact number. If the Giants keep their coaching staff intact -- and really, given how little talent those coaches had to work with, they should stick -- they need to win in free agency. Maybe it's not an overnight fix, but it's fixable quickly with the right moves for the right price.