EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It’s as though the Patriots have hurtled back in time to the pre-dynasty days, to the days of just hoping to string enough victories together to make the playoffs and then, maybe, make a run.

Consider what happened Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Sure, the Patriots emerged with a 24-17 victory over the New York Jets, but it was a victory that included a ton of mistakes, a late first-half sideline outburst by Tom Brady that was a tick above his normal in-game ranting, and, yes, a late-in-the-day call by the officials that worked to the Patriots’ advantage and had Jets fans screaming that it was old-fashioned highway robbery.

You saw the play: With New England leading 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter, the Jets’ Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Josh McCown – except that a long, laborious review by the officials turned that touchdown into dust.

And it was even worse than that for the Jets, as it was also ruled that Seferian-Jenkins lost control of the ball while driving for the pylon. He regained possession while falling out of bounds but in the refs’ view it was a fumble out of the end zone and, hence, a touchback. The Patriots were given the ball – literally, and, if you’re a Jets fan, figuratively.

Had this been the other way around, angry New England fans would this very moment be storming NFL headquarters with torches and pitch forks. That it happened to work for the Patriots, and that it played a key role in their awkward victory over the Jets, is a perfect example of how this season has been … and how it’ll likely continue to be.

Get used to it, folks. These are not your big brother’s daunting, swaggering, run-it-up Patriots. The Tom Brady Patriots? In the early stages of Sunday’s game, when Malcolm Butler gambled and lost the farm in coverage on Jeremy Kerley’s 31-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give the Jets a 14-0 lead, the day seemed lost.

Suddenly they were the 1990 Tommy Hodson Patriots, trailing 14-0 early and punting the ball away. But … no. A 1-yard run by Dion Lewis with 5:19 remaining in the half made it 14-7, and Brady tossed a short one to Rob Gronkowski to tie it with 26 seconds to go.

And to think that, just a minute earlier, Brady could be seen chewing out the world after throwing an incomplete pass to Brandin Cooks on third-and-10.

“I’m always a little edgy out there for one reason or another,” Brady said. “It’s just an emotional game. I don’t know what it was today.”

Hmmm. Here’s a thought: These Patriots are not those Patriots. Remember when a few well-meaning knucksters from the cheap seats were guaranteeing an undefeated season for this bunch?

It was dumb then, and it’s dumber now just to think about it.

Here’s Brady’s best quote from Sunday: “I wish we could have done better, but we won.”

That, as of right now, is the new bumper sticker for the 2017 Patriots.

And if you don’t like that one, how about this one from Gronkowski: “Every win’s not pretty. You can always improve.”


Even Bill Belichick seemed to be speaking from a different era when he addressed the media following Sunday’s game. It’s simply not 2017 Bill for the Patriots’ boss to say something anecdotal and non-X’s-and-O’s immediately following a game, win or lose, but he came shockingly close to painting a veritable word picture in explaining his take on the overturned call.

“That was an interesting play but, you know, when Malcolm (Butler) came off the field the first thing he told me was he thought the ball was out. I thought they were reviewing whether he had crossed the goal line or not, but Malcolm obviously had a really good look at it and was sure it was out. It was the first thing he told me.”

Now that’s not exactly a campfire story by Scoutmaster Bill, but it was still good stuff. It was information, a genuine behind-the-scenes look at the biggest play of yesterday’s game, and it was … wow.

The 2017 Patriots season has turned into Throwback Sunday. It’s all one big opposite sketch. Down is up, up is down. It has become a season in which fans should not wring their hands over a 4-2 record; they should celebrate it.

The Patriots are 4-2! They have a shot at the playoffs!

That’s the way it used to be around here. And that’s where we are now.

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