FOXBOROUGH, Mass. Not even a blast of severe winter weather can stop the New England Patriots' pursuit of perfection.
They overcame high winds, heavy rain, a wind chill of 25 degrees and the archrival New York Jets for a 20-10 victory Sunday that allowed them to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams in NFL history to win their first 14 games.
"We realized no matter what it was going to be," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi, "it was going to be ugly."
When miserable conditions limited quarterback Tom Brady to 14-for-27 passing for 140 yards and kept him out of the end zone for the first time since Dec. 10, 2006, New England was forced to find other ways to win in order to secure home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. And it did.
Seemingly forgotten running back Laurence Maroney carried 26 times for 104 yards. The defense rose up to hold New York (3-11) to one field goal in four red-zone trips while opening the scoring on Eugene Wilson's 5-yard interception return on the Jets' second play from scrimmage. Special teams delivered a blocked punt that led to New England's other touchdown.
Maroney's second 100-yard effort this season he totaled 103 yards vs. Buffalo on Sept. 23 might have been the most welcome development of all for New England.
"It was a good performance from him on the ground, and we needed that," said coach Bill Belichick after exchanging a brief handshake with counterpart and former protege Eric Mangini. "He ran hard and took care of the ball, which is really important."
The passing game had supplied an average of 311.3 of New England's league-leading 425 yards per game before this. But Maroney never doubted his time would come as December's chill sets in.
"I knew I had to be prepared to do what I had to do," the second-year back said, "and this was the game."
With Brady unable to add to his 45 touchdown passes, keeping him four shy of the record Peyton Manning set in 2004, it was imperative that the defense make a stand. It did, time after time.
New York was limited to two first downs and 81 yards in the opening half. The Jets were able to convert only three of 14 third-down opportunities. They were 1-for-3 on fourth down.
Defensive end Richard Seymour forced Kellen Clemens from the game on his second snap with a huge hit that left the second-year Jets quarterback with an unspecified rib injury while causing him to put the ball up for grabs. His short pass into the left flat, which was intended for Brad Smith, instead allowed Wilson to emerge as the record-tying 21st player to score for the Patriots.
"Anytime the defense can step up and get a turnover and get a score," said linebacker Adalius Thomas, "it's a big momentum shift."
Another came when Kelley Washington became the first Patriots player to block a punt since Dec. 19, 1999, giving his team possession at the Jets' 3 late in the second quarter. Maroney smashed in from 1 yard out to provide a 17-7 halftime advantage. New England was on its way again.
"Both teams had to deal with it," wide receiver Randy Moss said of the bitter weather, "and we're 14-0."