FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The question was simple. Rex Ryan, head coach of the New York Jets, was asked if the New England Patriots’ defense looked as bad on film as it did statistically.

The Patriots are last in the 32-team NFL in passing defense, allowing 288.5 yards per game, and next-to-last in total defense, allowing 399.1 yards.

That’s pretty bad.

Maybe not. Ryan thinks the stats are misleading.

“You get a big lead on people and you’re willing to sacrifice yards and all that,” he said in a conference call with the New England media on Thursday. “They’re all about wins and right now they look pretty good to me.”

At 9-2, the Patriots are tied with Ryan’s Jets for the best record in the NFL, along with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFC. First place in the AFC East is at stake Monday night when the Pats and Jets meet at Gillette Stadium.

That’s when the nation can see just how bad, or good, the Patriots’ defense really is.

It’s a team that gives up a lot of yards. It’s a defense that has allowed the most first downs (260) in the NFL, is last in third-down efficiency (50.7 percent) and is ranked 27th in the red zone. Patriots’ opponents have scored on 34 of 38 possessions (89.5 percent) inside the 20-yard line, 24 of those scores being touchdowns.

Conversely, the Patriots have also taken the ball away 20 times, 15 on interceptions. They seem to come up with the big play at the right time, and that’s all that seems to matter.

“Yeah I care about where our defense is ranked, stats and all that,” said Vince Wilfork, the Patriots’ superb nose tackle. “But at the end of the day, what really matters is W’s. Like I said before, make the plays when you need to; crunch time, make the plays.

“I would love to be sitting here with one of the top defenses around. I would love that. But you know what? We got one of the best records around here. So I’ll trade it for the record any day. At the end of the day, it’s all about wins; it’s not all about how great your defense is, how great your offense did. It’s not about that. It’s about W’s.”

Good teams, Wilfork continued, find ways to win.

“Regardless of what they go through in the course of the year, or whatever they go through in the course of a week, or a game,” he said. “They will find a way to win. We want to be a good team. So we have to continue to make those plays.”

Even Bill Belichick, that noted defensive genius and head coach of the Patriots, said he doesn’t care about the stats.

Asked if he was embarrassed by the team’s defensive rating, he said, “We play to win the game. That’s what the goal is.

“There’s a lot of things we can do better as a football team, better as coaches, better as a team.”

The thing that they are doing well, at least lately, is getting turnovers. If you look back over the season’s first 11 games, there are two that especially stand out: a 39-26 win at Pittsburgh when the Patriots had five sacks and a 31-28 win over Indianapolis when they intercepted Peyton Manning three times, including a last-second pick by James Sanders that secured the win.

Ryan loves the Patriots’ young secondary, especially rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who has five interceptions in his last six games.

“They force a lot of turnovers,” he said. “Their young secondary is coming together. They’ve got a lot of good football players on their defense.”

He sees a big difference from the defense that played the Jets — and lost 28-14 — in the second game of the season.

“They’re just a sound defense,” he said. “You’ve got the big guys up front, Vince Wilfork is obviously doing a great job, and (linebacker Jerod) Mayo’s a good football player. They’re doing a good job.”

The Jets’ defense, meanwhile, is ranked third overall (allowing 296.9 yards per game) and fourth against the run (86.3). “We think we have the best defense in football,” said Ryan.

Tom Brady knows the challenge he faces. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the first game between the two.

He sees a lot of similarities between the teams, especially in their resiliency. He doesn’t want to place too much emphasis on this game — “It’s not the Super Bowl,” he said — but he knows it’s outcome will have a huge effect on their season. The Patriots’ first goal, he said, is to win the AFC East.

“You can’t expect to win the division and lose to the same team twice,” he said.

“We really want to execute at a much higher level than the first time we played them. They don’t give you much room for error.” 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]