The Patriots battled through an up-and-down first half and pulled away in the second half, knocking off the New York Jets 22-17 and evening their season record at 4-4. It was largely a must-win game for New England, and while some of their warts of 2022 continue to rear their ugly heads, the Pats had enough to overcome them with Rhamondre Stevenson leading the way with a stout defense and reliable special teams unit all doing their part as well.
Mac Jones went the distance in this one and fought hard to help his team get their first win with him under center since Week 2 against the Steelers. Mac finished with a touchdown and an interception as he continues to work his way back from a high ankle injury that cost him three games.
Still very much in the thick of things, the Patriots still have a lot of work to do. They faced a shorthanded Jets team that clearly missed stand-out rookie running back Breece Hall. But they've bought themselves time as the games get tougher and more meaningful.
Here's everything that stood out from the divisional win!
Offense spotty in first half
It was another grind for the Patriots offense to start the game, with Mac Jones taking three sacks in the first quarter alone while also throwing a tipped-ball interception and nearly a pick-six that was called back due to penalty. The first scoring drive took 15 plays to go all of 62 yards for a field goal, as the offense matched the Jets 3-3 early on.
Jakobi Meyers and Rhamondre Stevenson stood out among the offensive weaponry, combining for three early third-down conversions that included a nicely timed 22-yard catch-and-run by Stevenson.
One offensive lowlight in the first half came while going for it on 4th-and-1 from the Jets' 21 just after the two-minute warning. Jones' pass fell incomplete as he and receivers Hunter Henry and Jakobi Meyers all appeared to be on different pages. The Pats missed out on the chance for points with a disjointed play call.
After getting a second chance before the break off of a Bentley interception, Mac threw what looked like a terrible pick-six but was lucky to find the turnover negated by a roughing the passer penalty. The game see-sawed late in the second quarter, with two Jets penalties playing key roles. The Pats would continue to stumble with a Cole Strange penalty costing them some valuable yards, settling for a field goal that made it 10-6 Jets at the half.
Defense keeps Jets close
The Patriots defense was inconsistent out of the gate, forcing two three-and-outs in the first four drives but also giving up long sustained scoring possessions on the other two as the Jets tallied an early 10-3 lead. Garrett Wilson's 54-yard reception stood out as a huge play, as the Patriots were introduced to the dynamic young receiver when he split their coverage downfield.
Jets quarterback Zach Wilson showed excellent accuracy in picking up the Jets first touchdown of the day with a pinpoint goalline pass to tight end Tyler Conklin. Josh Bledsoe was seemingly in tight coverage but those are NFL passing windows. It was a tough play for Bledsoe who was thrust into a bigger role due to injury.
Ja'Whaun Bentley made a game-changing play just before halftime, picking off a terribly advised throw by Wilson and giving the Patriots offense another chance to rewrite the second-quarter ending, which they did with a field goal.
It wasn't perfect and they gave up some big plays, but in the first half, the defense kept the game within reach, a critical component for the contest.
'Mondre's big play sparks a points run
Talk about an ideal start to the second half! The Jets had a terrible kickoff, setting the Patriots up at their own 38 to start the third. On the next play, Stevenson continued his strong day, ripping off a 35-yard run, his best of the contest as the second-year running back continues to flash dominance. The drive would stall out though and the Pats were forced to attempt another 4th-and-1, though this time the Patriots found paydirt, with Mac hitting Meyers for a touchdown and the lead, 13-10.
Jones and the offense kept it rolling on their next drive coming off a missed Jets field goal attempt. With Damien Harris showing some burst, the Pats rolled off 10 plays for 34 yards and picked up another field goal, making it 16-10. They'd tack on another off of a defensive takeaway as the lead continued to inch upwards.
The classic Patriots complementary football formula for success came to life in the second half and the Jets wilted in the face of it.
Defense and special teams step up
With the offense finding a second-half stride, the defense and special teams did their part to step up and help New England pull away.
Marcus Jones was an electric punt returner in college and it seemed like a matter of time until he broke a big gain in the pros. That happened Sunday as Jones' 32-yarder set up the Patriots for a second-straight field goal possession, one that moved the Pats into the two-score lead territory.
Nick Folk was once again a special teams superstar, nailing 49- and 45-yarders in the third quarter, as New England's offense continued to sputter just outside of the red zone. Folk's consistency under 50 yards is remarkable and he was a key piece in knocking off his former team. Folk went 5-for-5 on the game, accounting for 16 of the Patriots' 22 points in the game.
Those clutch special team contributions were backed up by a Patriots defense that went into full shutdown mode in the second half, with second and third bad interceptions from Zach Wilson only aiding the process. Deatrich Wise continued his disruptive season while Matthew Judon was also a force throughout.
The Jets did make it interesting down the stretch though with Denzel Mims breaking a tackle and going 63 yards with time winding down. New York tacked on a touchdown just after the two-minute warning, setting up a final onsides kick. But the strong special teams play from the Patriots would carry the day as they recovered the attempt and sealed the win.
Patriots are now 4-4
With the win the Patriots even their season record at 4-4 and by Football Outsiders' metric move their playoff chances to 39 percent instead of the 13 percent they'd have fallen to with a loss. Those numbers don't mean much at this point in the season with nine games still left to go, but it shows how bleak things would've been with a loss.
The Patriots got the must-win and now must focus on hitting a new level of execution, especially on offense. Defensively and on special teams this will always be a winning formula and those two units will play a big part in the team's future. They continue to make game-changing plays and lessen the margin of error for the offense.
With one game to go before the bye week, the Pats now have a chance to secure themselves a winning record for the first time this season against the Colts.