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Stock Watch: Lewis & Co. cool the Jets
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Neither the Jets nor the frigid cold temperatures could keep the Patriots from closing out the 2017 fashion in style on New Year’s Eve with a 26-6 victory that clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture for the defending champs.
With a game-time temperature of 13 degrees and wind chills much lower, New England took care of business in the coldest regular season home game in the history of the franchise.
Tom Brady -- wearing his cold-weather scuba suit under his uniform while the rest of his offensive skill position teammates were unified in short sleeves – shook off some fluttery throws and three-and-outs to do more than enough for what turned out to be a comfortable win, giving way to Brian Hoyer in the fourth quarter. The presumed MVP completed 18 of 37 throws for 190 yards with two touchdowns and, maybe the best part, didn’t throw an interception, snapping his five-game pick streak.
Linebacker James Harrison’s Patriots debut was a relatively quiet one – though the former Steeler did have one big hit after dropping in coverage and actually finished with a pair of sacks in fourth-quarter garbage time – and Rob Gronkowski was not targeted on a single pass, seemingly staying out of harm’s way to finish the season with 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.
New York failed to convert a single third down, going 0-for-12 on the chilly afternoon. Bryce Petty was underwhelming with his decisions and his throws, including taking an safety at the hands of an Eric Lee sack in the fourth quarter. The Jets went essentially went three-and-out on six straight drives in the second and third quarters.
Meanwhile Brady led a pair of drives to a pair of touchdowns late in the second quarter for the 21-3 on the way to victory.
Give the Patriots and its home crowd credit, as Bill Belichick would hope they did their jobs.
“This was pretty cold today,” Brady said. “It’s a challenge for everyone mentally, physically. We started fast, sputtered there a little bit.
“We got to get going and execute better. I think we can do that.”
"I congratulated the team," Belichick said. "I thought today was a solid effort. It wasn't perfect by any means. It's good to have 13 wins. It's not easy. But these guys accomplished it. Looking forward to starting the second season."
Before moving on to the bye week and possible playoff matchups, here are some of the highs and lows from the Patriots season-ending victory over the Jets. Read
Dion Lewis – A week after the “small-but-not-little” running back set a career high with 24 carries on the way to a career-best 129 yards, Lewis had even more touches against the Jets. Though the production wasn’t as strong in terms in rushing yards, Lewis scored a rushing touchdown and a touchdown reception for the second straight week. He’s the first Patriots running back to accomplish the feat in consecutive games since the 1960s. Lewis finished with a new career high of 26 attempts for 93 yards and the 3-yard score, as well as a game-high six catches for 40 yards and the 5-yard touchdown. Lewis has become the clear lead back and workhorse of the New England offense heading into the postseason.
Lawrence Guy/Run D – The veteran defensive tackle Guy was one of the key guys in arguably the best performance by the New England run defense this season. What had been a major area of concern most of the season – New England was 31st in the NFL allowing opponents to average 4.8 yards per carry – was a strength on Sunday. The front was stout against New York, holding the visitors to just 40 yards on 19 carries for a 2.1-yard average, and that included a 24-yard run by Bilal Powell. Guy had five tackles, including one for a loss, and seemed to be feeling it, flexing on the sideline after one series and urging the crowd on from the field on another. Malcolm Brown also put in another solid performance. One performance doesn’t completely erase a season-long problem by any means, but it was a nice step forward for a unit that’s underperformed much of the season.
Ryan Allen – Though things like hidden yards on special teams weren’t exactly critical in the win over New York, similar plays could be very important when the playoffs kick off in two weeks. Allen punted eight times in what Belichick described as tough winds with five downed inside the 20, equating to a 41.8 net average. Allen had three consecutive punts downed inside the 5 in the fourth quarter, including two by Pro Bowler Matthew Slater. One led the Lee’s safety. As the games reach win-or-go-home level, New England’s specials teams units appear to be postseason strong.
Right to bare arms – It was absolutely as cold as a well digger’s butt in the Klondike for the game, but that didn’t seem to affect New England’s so-called skill players. All but Brady came out wearing short sleeves in what was clearly some sort of team-first sign of unity. Guys like former dome receiver Brandon Cooks went out and took care of business in a mind-over-matter move that could be highlighted down the stretch if the Patriots get to where they want to be later this season. Read
Cameron Fleming – It wasn’t the best day for the offensive line, though it wasn’t the worst work for the unit, either. Fleming has now started five straight games at right tackle to close out the regular season. He had been playing very well, but hit a bit of a bump on Sunday. Fleming was beaten early for a sack by linebacker David Bass for a 6-yard sack that forced a punt on the team’s second drive of the day. Later, Fleming missed a couple cut blocks. He and the rest of the line – which didn’t open many holes on the ground this week – would much prefer to play in the postseason the way they did on Christmas Eve against Buffalo than the way things played out today against New York.
Big plays allowed – New England gave up a 35-yard pass to third tight end Neal Sterling in the second quarter. They allowed an admittedly meaningless long pass for 46 yards to ArDarius Stewart in the fourth quarter. Jermaine Kearse had a 22-yard catch. Powell had the 24-yard run. This came after four passes longer than 30 yards last week for a team that’s been dealing with big plays allowed since opening night. There was a short stretch in the middle of the season when the defense put the wraps on big plays. The defense needs to get back to that style of forcing opponents to piece together long drives between now and the Divisional game.
Brady-to-Cooks – On paper, Brady’s 11 targets to Brandin Cooks led to five completions for 79 yards and a touchdown. But as has been the case most of the year, it just didn’t always look quite right when the two tried to hook up and felt like there could have been so much more production with a slightly better rapport. Cooks did earn a couple flags, including another deep-middle pass interference. He had a 5-yard touchdown. But Brady missed him crossing for another would-be score and the two continue to work on their efficiency with mixed results.
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