FOXBORO — Lost somewhat in the shuffle of the Patriots’ 49-19 roasting of the Jets on Thanksgiving was the fact that the secondary showed indications of making significant progress in defending the pass.
Early on, the Patriots secondary was the scapegoat of a 3-3 start. It was a unit that gave up big play after big play. There was a natural sense of dread every time the opposing team went up top. It happened against the Seahawks  at the end of the game. It happened in the first three minutes against the Rams in London. It happened against the Bills to the tune of 481 yards total offense. But the Devin McCourty  interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick  in the end zone might have been the biggest play of the season – for the team and the secondary.
WIth the rotation of Aqib Talib  at left cornerback and rookie Alfonzo Dennard on the right, and Steve Gregory  and McCourty alternating between free and strong safety, the Patriots showed they can play with a lot more confidence. Throw in Patrick Chung  (coming off injury), Derrick Martin, Tavon Wilson and Kyle Arrington , and the Patriots all of a sudden have some measure of respectable depth.
But what what apparent Thursday night is that more comfortable each member of the secondary is with the other, the greater the chance for big plays. And most of all, their coach can see them starting to gel as a unit.
“I think it can increase as the season goes along,” Bill Belichick  said Monday during a conference call. “I don’t think that’s a given or something you can take for granted. I think sometimes it depends on the people that are involved and the rotation and the amount of opportunity they get to practice, prepare, play and communicate together. I think over the last couple weeks, we’ve made some improvements back there: Steve coming back and as you mentioned, the move with Devin to safety and Talib, and Alfonzo switching sides with Talib coming back the past couple games. There are some moving parts there, but I think those guys have worked hard to try to improve it and I think there are some positive signs.”
Mark Sanchez  had 201 of his 301 yards passing in the second half. In the first half, as the Patriots were building a 35-0 lead, Sanchez was 13-of-19 but only for 100 yards and one interception, made when Gregory made a great read on a “Cover-1″ call in the secondary. Gregory jumped up in coverage and spied Sanchez, picking him off over the middle to thwart a Jets’ drive deep in New England territory when the game was still scoreless.
“We need to continue to do that,” Belichick said of his suddenly ball-hawking secondary. “You know how quick and how fast the game is, especially at that position, just a split second of anticipation or safe reaction time can make the difference between making a play and giving up a play. Those split seconds are very hard to measure, but the difference can be the difference in the game. I do think that it’s improving. I think it should continue to improve; it needs to continue. We have to really work at it, but that’s everybody. It’s not just the secondary: it’s also the linebackers, the coaching staff and the preparation, the scout team ‘ all those things. A lot of times, if your scout team gives you a really good look at a play in practice and then you get that play in the game, you can really almost build your timing and repetition or anticipation on, that can make a difference too. All those little things add up. I don’t know where one starts and the other stops and the other starts, but they’re all interrelated, they’re all a function of the final end result product. We just try to incrementally improve all of them and hope that in the end the product improves.”