Ask the New England Patriots coach what his thoughts are on the team's 12-4 record and capturing the AFC East crown and he's likely to say the same thing. Ask him about their 24-17 win in Week 2 at the New York Jets and the teams 17-14 defeat in Week 10 at the hands of Gang Green in Foxboro and hell offer up some new variance of the old answer.
Belichick can be maddeningly coy when asked to analyze what his teams strengths and weaknesses are, especially when they are in the context of a single game. Perhaps therein lies some of the secret to his 6-2 record since 2000 when he is afforded a rematch against an opponent that has beaten him earlier in the season.
Then again, New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini is 1-0 in rematches against his former mentor.
This season has provided plenty of evidence that the Patriots aren't immune to struggling against certain teams. They have lost three in a row against the Denver Broncos, including the rematch of last years AFC Divisional playoff loss. The Dolphins have turned the usually efficient Patriots into a sloppy operation several times over the past three years. Even Peyton Manning and the Colts have turned around their past ineptitude when playing the Patriots into two straight wins.
Some teams just have a knack for making New England look bad, and the Jets win in Week 10 proved that they can be one of those teams. Yet in both the Patriots win in Week 2 and their ugly loss in Week 10, they did some things well while some other things weren't so good. Sound familiar? An anecdotal look at some things that went right and other things that went wrong may hold some answers as to how things may unfold in Sundays Wild Card playoff matchup:
What went right: In Week 2, the Patriots caught a huge break just before halftime when Jets punter Ben Graham shanked a kick and netted nine yards. The short field led to a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Chad Jackson, who beat his defender by three steps on a crossing route to the back of the end zone.
What it means now: The play looked like an omen of things to come for the Pats this season, but Jackson managed just 13 total catches on the season, though three went for touchdowns. Jackson has seen his playing time rise steadily over the past three weeks, however, and he was productive returning punts in the absence of Kevin Faulk. If the Patriots have a deep threat, Jackson may still be it even with his frequent disappearing act this season.
What went right: A fourth-quarter sack on a blitz from Mike Vrabel stopped a key drive with Chad Pennington and the Jets down just 10 points in the fourth quarter after an initial 24-0 deficit in Week 2. New York had to settle for a field goal, leaving them down a touchdown. The Patriots sacked Pennington four times in their win as the defensive line played mainly out of a 4-3 set and got solid push at the line of scrimmage, freeing the linebackers to make plays.
What it means now: The Patriots switched to a 3-4 front for most of Week 10 and managed just one sack on Pennington. The wet conditions of the middle of the field may have served as an excuse for the lack of pressure by the front seven of the Pats in their loss, but the Jets were still able to sack Brady four times and hurry him six times. Meanwhile, an injured Ty Warren sat out Week 10 and Richard Seymour was also on the sideline for several key plays in the game. The Patriots defense is much less effective when the front three is missing Seymour, Warren or Vince Wilfork. A sprained ankle has kept Wilfork out the past three weeks. His return to health will greatly improve the Pats ability to work out of a four-man front.
What went wrong: In Week 2, Brady got enough time to take a shot against the Jets deep downfield, but instead threw long into double coverage and was picked off by cornerback David Barrett. In Week 10, Barrett intercepted another Brady pass meant for Laurence Maroney but misfired behind the streaking running back. Neither throw was under duress from oncoming pass rushers.
What it means now: The Jets have confused Brady by schematically moving their defensive backs up to the line of scrimmage one play and dropping back other times. Brady hasn't looked lost the last three weeks with passer ratings of 108.8, 97.1 and 107.1, but the Jets pass defense has forced some uncharacteristic turnovers from the Pats QB this season.
What went wrong: In Week 10, Victor Hobson's blitz up the middle was timed well enough to force Brady to rush a throw into the arms of Drew Coleman 25 yards downfield. But Hobson drove Brady into the ground after the quarterback's release, drawing a roughing the passer call that overturns the turnover. The penalty moved the Patriots deep into Jets territory, but they didn't turn it into any points.
What it means now: Teams that win in January make the opposition pay for extending a drive, especially if it means a huge field position swing. Also, the play was indicative of Bradys penchant for trying to do too much at times this season.
What went right: With the Patriots down 17-6 and inside the Jets red zone in the fourth quarter of Week 10, Brady's pass was tipped by a Jets lineman before fluttering in the air and into the arms of Reche Caldwell, who scampered in for a touchdown. Right place, right time.
What it means now: Had the Patriots completed a comeback and won the game in the final minutes, Caldwell's play would have been praised as pensive and savvy. But with the Patriots losing, the catch was lost as just a lucky break that made the score look closer than the game really was. The catch surely was lucky, but Caldwell hasn't gotten the credit he deserves for becoming a serviceable playmaker for Brady. After catching just 10 passes in the first five games, Caldwell has 51 catches in the last 11 weeks and has at the very least - earned the confidence and trust of Brady.
What went wrong: In Week 10, the Patriots had two impressive drives of 9 plays for 77 yards and 13 plays for 62 yards. Both drives ended in Stephen Gostkowski chip-shot field goals.
What it means now: The Patriots red zone efficiency has been superb this season (60 percent sixth in the NFL), except in the loss to the Jets. As Caldwell's score proved, luck can play a factor inside the opponents 20-yard line. But New England has to feel good that they were able to move the ball against the Jets even in an afternoon where they looked lost at times. They outgained the Jets 377-278 in total yards. Chances are, if they can duplicate that output again, they will be on the winning side of things.
What went wrong: Ellis Hobbs and Atrell Hawkins had nearly perfect coverage on Jericho Cotchery on his touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that wound up as the winning score in Week 10. The only problem was neither got a hand up to make a play on the ball.
What it means now: Rodney Harrison's knee sprain once again moves all the defensive backs up a spot on the depth chart. Hawkins and Hobbs have both experienced a fair share of inconsistency this season. There is simply a bigger sense of comfort when a ball is lobbed deep when Harrison is on the field. His field presence will be missed on Sunday and perhaps for as long as New England is in the playoffs.
Tom Brady stressed on Wednesday that the Patriots are a different team than the one that lost to the Jets in Week 10. They surely are also a different team from the one fielded in Week 2. But New York has proven itself to be a formidable opponent for the Patriots this season. That isn't likely to change on Sunday. The Jets forced the Pats into their fair share of mistakes over the course of the first 120 minutes of football this season between the two teams. It is what the Patriots have learned from that information and how they adjust that will determine what happens over the final 60 minutes of Jets-Patriots this season.
Dave Fletcher is a longtime contributor to Patriots Insider. An accomplished writer and sports analyst, you can find more of his articles by searching for "Dave Fletcher" in the archives on PatriotsInsider.com