Tom Brady didn't know about Rodgers' fate until he was told about it by a reporter. It sucks, he said. It does. And coming on the same day that Brady dropped one perfect rainbow of a pass to Brandin Cooks that helped the Patriots secure a 24-17 win and maintain their shaky hold on the AFC East, it is also a reminder that among Brady's greatest skills is his unending availability. At 40, with a sore left shoulder that was aggravated 10 days ago in Tampa and the Patriots still looking unusually vulnerable, Brady is the thread that weaves together the ragged victories while the rest of the wrinkles are worked out.
"The only way to improve is to stay out there," Brady said. "I think a team can only really count on you if you're out there practicing and playing. Ever since I started playing in sports, I felt like I had to be out there for my team and I work pretty hard at it. I wish I could have played a little better today, but it was at least nice to be out there."
Brady seemed unusually disappointed by the game, and he kept repeating that he wished the offense could have played better.
By increments, they are, despite the television cutaway shot of Brady screaming curses in frustration. New England's running game was more productive (118 yards and a Dion Lewis touchdown) and its pass protection held up better (no sacks allowed), two points of concern stemming from earlier games. The secondary is still experiencing too many breakdowns and allowing too many big plays (the Jets had four pass plays of at least 30 yards) and that is what staked the Jets to a 14-0 lead and kept them close until the end. Coach Bill Belichick said he felt the Patriots were their own biggest enemy in the first third of the game. Had Jets quarterback Josh McCown not thrown two interceptions, and had a confounding replay review not decided that Austin Seferian-Jenkins fumbled a touchdown pass that never left his hands, which took the touchdown off the board and gave possession to the Patriots, the Jets probably would have at least forced overtime.
"When you win a game like this 24-17, there were some good plays we made, but a lot we left out there," Brady said. "We could have won 50-0 and it would be the same thing. It's just about getting a win and finding a way to win each week, making improvements and getting better."
That is, in theory, the formula for all playoff-caliber teams, few of which are ever wholly formed when the season begins. The Patriots aggressively added pieces in free agency, but it is safe to conclude with more than a third of the season over that losing Julian Edelman before it even began has thrown the Patriots ever so slightly off their offensive rhythm, putting an even greater onus on Brady to keep the offense from stalling entirely.
That he would figure something out felt inevitable as soon as Malcolm Butlerundercut a pass and intercepted McCown with 40 seconds remaining in the first half and the Patriots trailing by a touchdown. Brady took over at his own 37. Four plays later, Brady lofted a high-arcing pass deep down the left sideline to Cooks for 42 yards. Two plays later, the game was tied at halftime, part of 24 unanswered points the Patriots scored to give them the victory.
"I don't know, we just didn't execute as well as we needed to," Brady said. "I think that's probably the big thing, just execution. We'll keep at it. It's only the sixth game of the year, so there's still a lot to figure out and we'll just keep going out to practice and try to do better."
In the meantime, Brady became the all-time leader for regular-season wins by a quarterback in NFL history (he already owned the all-time record when including postseason victories) and the Patriots gained control of their division. The quarterback may be frustrated, but each victory gets a little less ugly and gets New England a little closer to the playoffs. That is a formula the Packers would love to have right now, too.