The New England Patriots barely managed to escape Sunday with a 29-26 overtime win over the New York Jets. Rex Ryan's club was in that game until the very end, and not for the usual reasons. When the Jets play well, they most often defeat their opponents because of defense and special teams, but, this Sunday, it was the Patriots who built a lead on a safety and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Mark Sanchez rallied his team and put up numbers that were better than Tom Brady's, and, given the polar shift required in New York's strategies, it's clear the Jets have learned what the rest of the league already knows: If you want to beat New England, you must throw deep.
The Jets beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6 with one of the more conservative passing games you'll see this season. Only two of Sanchez's passes against Indianapolis traveled 10 or more yards past the line of scrimmage, and neither of those was complete. Seven days later, Sanchez morphed from Chad Pennington into Joe Namath, slinging the ball downfield repeatedly. Fourteen of his passes against New England went 10 or more yards, and he completed 10 of those throws for 200 yards and a touchdown (and one interception).
Sanchez finished the day with a Total QBR of 45.1, well above his season average of 35.5. He's not alone, either: The past five quarterbacks to start against New England (Sanchez, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Joe Flacco) have an average QBR of 51.7. That's about what guys such as Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer have done this season. Against the Pats, all five of those men played better than their season rate, with a collective average of 76.0. That's close to what Brady and the Mannings have done this year, and those three have been the best quarterbacks in football. In other words, the Patriots are making mediocrities look like Hall of Famers -- and making Hall of Famers look unstoppable.