The New England Patriots beat the New York Jets on Sunday in relatively unspectacular fashion.

Despite a choppy start to the game with early struggles, especially on the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots found a way to earn a 22-17 win at MetLife Stadium.

New England escaped with the victory over a Jets team that’s playing out the string and honestly might benefit more from losing and improving its draft position than actually winning. The Patriots won, but they never really came close throughout the game to covering a 9-point spread (although LeGarrette Blount almost covered it with a late run), for whatever that’s actually worth.

On the surface, it wasn’t the most glamorous win for the Patriots, a team that’s built a ridiculous résumé of gaudy wins in the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era. But you could make the case Sunday’s win against the Jets was the Patriots’ most impressive of the season.

Here’s why:

The travel
An unfortunate travel schedule is not unique to the Patriots, but it’s one of the things that makes winning in the NFL so difficult. New England went west last week to play the San Francisco 49ers in a relatively physical game played in the rain that actually was much closer than most expected, at least for a half. The game ended around 8 p.m. ET, with the Patriots then flying home overnight, losing three hours in the process. Meanwhile, the Jets waited at home … fresh off their bye. So while the Jets had two weeks to prepare for the Patriots, New England was dealing with a relatively “short week.”

The injuries
Again, the Patriots aren’t dealing with anything the other 31 teams don’t have to, but it didn’t take a football scholar to see Brady’s knee injury bothered him Sunday. The injury even caused Brady to miss practice earlier in the week, which is valuable prep time, particularly in a shortened week. Tight end Rob Gronkowski spent the week with his status in jeopardy, and it was a bit surprising to see him on the field Sunday in New Jersey. His stint was relatively short-lived, though, as Gronkowski exited and didn’t return after suffering a back injury in the first quarter.

Brady summed it up best after the game: “I think everybody is battling through different things. You just do the best you can do. It’s a long season. Every week starts fresh again. I’m glad it’s over, and I’m glad we won.”

The Patriots made plays when they needed to make plays
On both sides of the ball, the Patriots stepped up in crucial moments.

Offensively, it was a slog in the early going. Brady completed just one of his first five passes on the day for a mere 9 yards. New England never really found its offensive groove, at least not until the fourth quarter after the Jets took a 17-13 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. As he’s done many times, Brady orchestrated a brilliant fourth-quarter comeback, completing 10 of 16 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in the final frame. That included a gorgeous pitch-and-catch with Malcolm Mitchell, perfectly dropping it into the rookie’s hands on an out route coming out of the two-minute warning.

But the Patriots’ much-maligned defense also stepped up. Much has been made about New England’s inability to get takeaways, especially when they were needed most, but the Patriots came up with a pair of crucial forced turnovers Sunday. First, it was Malcolm Butler punching out and then recovering a fumble on a long would-be first down to Robby Anderson. Then, with the Jets trying to stage a desperation comeback, Chris Long’s strip sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick all but sealed the game for New England.

It’s hard to win games in the NFL
Look, there’s a reason only two teams in the Super Bowl era have finished the regular season without a loss. It’s hard to win a game in the NFL (ask the Browns), and it’s even harder to consistently win. The level of difficulty is ratcheted up against a hated division rival on the road. The last seven Patriots-Jets games have been decided by 27 combined points, with the Jets winning two of those games.

“It’s always great to win a division game on the road, so this is certainly a good win for our football team,” Belichick told reporters after the game. “As Tom (Brady) mentioned, it was a long week with the West Coast trip, Thanksgiving and all that. I thought our players did a really good job of working through it, fighting through it, preparing hard.”

Wins like this don’t register high on the glamour scale, but it’s the kind of adversity-driven test that can help springboard deep playoff runs — the kind of runs with which this team is very familiar.

Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images