EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Despite a massive roster turnover over the last few seasons, the Patriots proved Sunday they've still got some of the same brass they had earlier in the decade when they were winning Super Bowls.
The Patriots orchestrated their greatest show-me victory of the season with a 37-16 clubbing of the Jets. They fought through adversity, erased an early deficit and broke open a tight game in the second half. Those were some tough things for them to conquer during their previous two trips to the Meadowlands, when they failed to score a single second-half point during a pair of losses.
As a result, the Patriots reclaimed sole possession of first place in the AFC East, and they swept the regular-season series with the Jets to take control of an important playoff tiebreaker.
They also avoided their first three-game losing streak in nine seasons, and a loss to the Jets on this Sunday would have brought back the most glaring concern from 2010, when the Patriots were excellent in the regular season until the games meant more and their opponent simply tried to dominate them by playing a more physical game.
"Losing two straight, you have 14 days to just feel crappy," quarterback Tom Brady said. "Every day at practice is harder. It's hard to build on losses. You're just trying to regroup. It feels pretty good to win this one."
Brady, running back Kevin Faulk and left tackle Matt Light are the only players left on the team who have won all three Super Bowls. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and wide receiver Deion Branch are the only other players on the active roster who have won any Super Bowl with the Patriots. And 45 of the 53 players on the active roster have been added to the team since 2008, not including Branch, who was reacquired in 2010.
It's a brand new team that is still centered around Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, but the rest of the identity is still emerging. There's talent, but they wanted to find the guts. Brady had said repeatedly in recent weeks that they needed to find out what they were all about, and they hoped to uncover that Sunday.
They knew they were viewed as an underdog heading into the Jets' building, and they tried to end a trend that had seen many write them off.
"Early on, the naysayers have written us off, and they've been writing our defense off forever," Branch said. "These guys have been playing great ball for us. Every week, they're going to continue to get better and better, and that's what it's all about."
Cornerback Kyle Arrington added, "We expect to win every game. I know it's uncharacteristic for us to lose two in a row. Everybody wants to write us off. We know how good we are. That's all that matters.
"It says it right on that front door [at Gillette Stadium]: 'Ignore the noise.'"
There was some of that Sunday, despite a lopsided final score. The Jets erased a six-point deficit with a safety and a touchdown to take a 9-7 lead in the second quarter. Earlier in the same quarter, cornerback Devin McCourty left the field in obvious pain with a shoulder injury.
But Brady led a crucial touchdown drive to reclaim the lead in the final seconds of the half, and he did it again with two more crucial touchdown drives in the second half — one that doubled the lead to 23-9 and another that answered a Jets score to take a lot of pressure off the defense and extend the margin to 30-16.
So the Patriots answered it Sunday, but they want to make sure they don't become a one-hit wonder that rises to a huge challenge but gets too comfortable with its accomplishments. The next test comes on Monday Night Football against the Chiefs at Gillette Stadium. And they know the victory against the Jets won't mean much if they can't string a few more together.
"It's all about how focused this team will be going into next week," Branch said. "You play a division rival, and everybody is up so high. [The Jets] were, too, at home, Sunday night and all that stuff. Now we're going back, and we've got another tough game against Kansas City. How do we respond to that game without the two-game [losing streak]? Now, it's all about, now let's go play Kansas City and see if we can get this same amount of energy, if not better."