Pats see improvement from defense

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New York Jets did not make any secret about their game plan for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

After having lost two in a row, New York coach Rex Ryan said the Jets would be going back to their "ground and pound" offense, giving the ball to running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson and asking the offensive line to open holes, taking pressure off erratic quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick made sure his defense was aware of the Jets' plan, helping his team prepare for New York's attack.

"We really worked at it," said nose tackle Vince Wilfork. "Bill didn't give up. Even at our 2:15 meeting (Sunday) we were talking about things we needed to do to win this game."

Sunday, the defense passed its test, holding the Jets to only 97 yards on the ground.

And while Wilfork admitted the defense's performance "wasn't perfect," it was solid enough to help New England claim a 30-21 victory that boosted the Patriots' record to 4-1 while dropping the rival Jets to 2-3.

Making the Pats' defensive showing even more impressive was that the unit was missing a key player, linebacker Jerod Mayo (knee). Gary Guyton filled in for Mayo and performed well in assuming Mayo's role.

"Injuries are part of this game," said defensive end Andre Carter. "Someone else has to step up and maintain our consistency. We have to trust them. We have to trust each other. You have to keep the lines of communication open. We have so much depth it's ridiculous. This was a total team effort for us defensively. They had one long drive, but for the most part we were consistent and physical."

The long drive came in the second quarter when the Jets marched 78 yards in 13 plays, chewing 7:54 off the clock. The touchdown, which came on Greene's three-yard run, cut New England's lead to 10-7. The Jets rushed for 36 yards on nine carries on that drive.

Otherwise, New York's running backs were held in check, and the fact the Jets were playing from behind in the second half forced more of an aerial attack than Ryan probably would have liked. The Jets' longest run of the game was only for nine yards, a compliment not only to the defensive line, but the support from the linebackers and the defensive backs.

"We knew we had to be prepared for anything," said cornerback Devin McCourty. "When we had a chance to make a play in their run game we needed to help out."

The help was appreciated, but the linemen knew what they would be facing on Sunday.

"That was something that was discussed when we got back from (last week's game in) Oakland," said Carter. "We knew they were going to go back to that. We had a lot of preparation for that this week."

Wilfork agreed.

"We knew the Jets wanted to run the ball. That's what they do best, so why wouldn't they? They've got two good running backs and a good offensive line. We knew coming in that they would try to get their ground game going. At times they did, but at times we buckled down," said Wilfork.

"I think a lot of guys took it upon themselves to go out and make plays and be in the right position. I am very oroud of our defense. Is ever everything perfect? No. But we aren't giving up any big plays. The yardage, no big plays, that's part of the most impressive stat for us," added Wilfork.

Early this season the defense has been considered the Patriots' weak link. New England's offense is potent, and seemingly has to outscore the other team in order to come out victorious. But the last two weeks, in victories over Oakland and now the tough Jets, the defense has shown signs of being able to contribute more to the wins. And the improvement, they say, has been noticeable in practice.

"Our practices the last two weeks have been great," said Wilfork. "Every week we have that offense. The better we get defensively the better this team will be.

"That was two good football teams going at it, both teams slugging it out. We knew we had to hang in there tough. They want to play physical. They challenged us this week and I think we rose to the occasion. Like I said, we weren't perfect, but it was a step in the right direction," said Wilfork.

Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.