Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth heard the criticism from everyone who didn't think the defense was good enough to get by without injured captain Jerod Mayo.
There was plenty of motivation to get better, and the Patriots believe they've used it to put together two very good weeks of practice to push the defense to a stronger level of play over the last two games. Most of all, they have been honest with themselves all season, knowing their performance hasn't been up to their standard.
As a result, the Patriots put together their best performance of the season during Sunday's 30-21 victory against the Jets. It was far from perfect, and they know they haven't gotten to where they want to be, but progress is progress, especially in a key victory.
"We're putting a lot more pressure on ourselves to be productive," said safety James Ihedigbo, who made his first career start Sunday. "We know we have a great offense. They're putting up points, but we have to make plays on defense, and we're doing that. We're heading in the right direction."
The Patriots forced the Jets to seven three-and-outs. Prior to Sunday, they had only forced eight in their first four games — plus one series against the Raiders where they turned it over on downs without recording a first down.
The Patriots, who had the worst third-down defense in football through four weeks, also limited the Jets to three third-down conversions on 11 tries (27.3 percent). In their last three games, the Pats had allowed their opponents to convert 22 of 36 third-down attempts (61.1 percent).
And the Patriots' defense had a season best with 14 first downs allowed (previous low was 24 against the Bills and Raiders), 255 total yards allowed (previous low was 448 against the Bills) and 158 passing yards allowed (previous low was 369 against the Bills).
"We know we've got the talent," Haynesworth said. "We've got all the parts. We just needed to put it together, and that's what we did. We had to focus. Jerod wasn't out there with us, and I heard the media, some of you guys said we didn't have a shot because Jerod wasn't out there. But we wanted to show that this is a good defense, and no matter who comes in for him, they can play just as good."
The Patriots still came up short on their most important drive of the game. The Jets took over at their own 15-yard line with 12:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, and they were trailing 27-14. The Patriots had a chance to put the game away and give the ball back to the offense, which scored on its final three possessions Sunday, but the Jets found the end zone during an 11-play drive, converting both third-down attempts and scoring on the play after the Patriots called a timeout.
That drive will likely be used as a message during Monday's film session, and the Patriots know they'll need to keep getting better, especially with a much more explosive Cowboys offense traveling to New England this week.
"Keep trying to improve, keep trying to get better as a defense," said cornerback Devin McCourty, who has been much better over the last two weeks. "I feel like that's always the goal around here. We're always trying to improve."
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