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Take Two-sday

Posted Nov 15, 2011

Rex Ryan's strange decision to replace punt returner Jeremy Kerley with Joe McKnight led to a costly turnover that allowed the Patriots to extend their lead.

Each week we try to take a look at an element of the game that went somewhat overlooked in its aftermath but was actually pretty significant. Most of the time there isn't a lot to choose from - after all, if it's a key part of the game chances are it was discussed. This week wasn't like that.

The Patriots big win over the Jets featured many small plays that were forgotten - some that received their proper postgame attention and others that didn't. For example, Santonio Holmes falling in the open field at the 10 instead of running in for a touchdown that would have given the Jets an early 7-0 lead barely registered a blip, but could have been huge. Nick Folk missing the ensuing 24-yard field goal to prevent the Jets from taking any lead was similarly vital. And as the Patriots first drive ended, Tom Brady threw one right to Kyle Wilson along the sideline, but the Jets nickel back dropped it, costing his team not only a chance to prevent the three points Stephen Gostkowski put on the board, but possibly even a pick-six touchdown.

Of course, Brady's analytical precision that allowed the offense to put the game away in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of the Jets personnel, rightly received plenty of postgame accolades.

Those all were candidates for Take Two-sday this week but we went with another more subtle play: Rex Ryan's decision to insert Joe McKnight as his punt returner in the third quarter.

The Patriots were clinging to a 13-9 lead early in the third quarter but had just completed their second straight three-and-out to open the half. The game was playing out very much in the style the Jets prefer - low-scoring, defense-dominated. Jeremy Kerley served as the return man in the first half and for 23 of the team's 27 chances heading into the game. Evidently Kerley was banged up - he limped off the field at one point in the first half - because Ryan put safety Jim Leonhard back there for the first try of the second half, and then went with McKnight for the second.

Back deep for just the fifth punt return of his season, and seventh of his career, McKnight muffed the kick and then was among several Jets who somehow couldn't recover it, allowing Niko Koutouvides to fall on it at the 13. The Patriots kicked a field goal and now held a touchdown lead at 16-9. The play took away a possession from the Jets and affected their mindset, adding some urgency to the situation, and that led to two more turnovers when Mark Sanchez was forced to throw.

Adding to the curious nature of the decision was the fact that Kerley was back on the field catching a 20-yard pass from Sanchez just three plays later. If the rookie's health was a factor in putting McKnight on the field, it would appear to be a strange call since he was back in the game so quickly.

The play led to just a field goal in what eventually became a 21-point win, but Ryan's choice seemed odd nonetheless.

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