In many ways, the Patriots 28-14 win over the Jets in the 2020 season finale encapsulated the kind of near-flawless execution that they needed all season to get victories. They didn't turn the ball over, got two interceptions inside their own territory, finished with touchdowns both times they got into the red zone and capitalized on a wide receiver pass with another touchdown.
They didn't beat themselves and when they got their chances to finish they took advantage of them. Add in some big plays and it was one of their best overall efforts of the season.
By the end, New England had worn down the Jets, despite seeing New York finish the first half and start the second half with two dominant drives that gave them a brief lead. Coming back from a second-half deficit was a small twist that gave this final win a bit of a unique flair, but overall this was a prime example of the 2020 team when everything was clicking for them.
Here are the plays that stood out, as the Patriots' execution showed up at a high level one last time.
Cam's record-setting scamper
It was a clunky first few plays for the Patriots, taking two penalties but seeing Sony Michel pick up 30 total yards on a screen pass and a carry. But things kicked into gear with Cam Newton's read-option keeper that saw him shoot through the middle of the Jets defense, going for 49 yards and setting the record for the longest run ever by a Patriots quarterback, as well as the team record for most quarterback rushing yards in a season.
The read-option plays were a novel twist for Patriots fans in 2020 and Newton ran many of them to perfection, starting with the Week 1 win over the Dolphins that was one of his most effective games running the ball. But nothing stood out like this season-highlight run from Newton, which was perfectly executed.
Led by Joe Thuney pulling through the hole, Newton held the ball for just the right amount of time, forcing two Jets defenders to go to Sony Michel, opening things up for the quarterback to keep it. Great downfield blocks by Thuney, N'Keal Harry and Devin Asiasi enabled Newton to break free and make a huge splash play.
Four plays later, Newton found James White on a short angle route for the opening-drive touchdown. All year long an opening drive touchdown was gold for this Patriots team and this play was one of the absolute best of the year, coming on a play that was one of their most effective this season.
Jets bookend halftime push
After the opening-drive touchdown, the game settled into a back-and-forth with punts until the Jets found their stride on their final drive of the first half, with the passing game being where they found success. Despite taking an offensive pass interference penalty, the Jets were able to climb out of the hole and pick up a first down with Sam Darnold making two impressive throws, including a 3rd-and-nine strike up the seam in between Devin McCourty and Terrence Brooks.
After picking up that first down, the Jets would have a run for one yard, then three chunk plays to get into the end zone. The first, a 15-yard dumpoff, should've been stopped for no gain but Myles Bryant missed the tackle. The second, a near-impossible throw on the run by Darnold up the sideline for 12 yards with a toe-tap sideline catch by Jamison Crowder. Bryant was again involved in the play, thinking the pass was coming right to him for an interception before Crowder undercut him and made the tough grab.
The final was a 21-yard touchdown strike down the seam, with Darnold again finding space between McCourty and Bryant in the end zone. The Patriots rushed just three, dropping eight into coverage. It was a great throw and catch.
The Jets would continue this momentum to start the third quarter with a clinical six-play scoring drive that handed them the 14-7 lead. The highlight play was a 53-yard completion to Breshad Perriman off a first-down play-action throw that immediately got the Jets down to the Patriots 12-yard line.
Again, the rookie Bryant was in the area of the catch, playing as the middle safety, while J.C. Jackson was following in pursuit. This was a tough stretch for the promising undrafted player and it suddenly looked like the Patriots defense had no answers Darnold and the Jets passing offense.
However, these would be the last points they allowed on the season.
Jakobi throws second TD of season to tie it
The Patriots couldn't respond on their first drive of the second half after falling behind 14-7, but got a key first-down sack from Adam Butler after punting back to the Jets. Butler's big play set the Jets back to their own 10-yard line and ultimately resulted in them punting back to the Patriots, who took over on their own 42-yard line.
It was a grinding drive from there, converting three third downs en route to a 1st-and-10 from the Jets 19. At that point, they decided to reach into their bag of tricks to try and ensure they got into the end zone. Newton took the shotgun snap and handed off to Sony Michel, who tossed it to Jakobi Meyers and he found Newton wide open for his second touchdown pass of the season, and the first touchdown catch of Newton's career.
"It was pretty special," said Meyers after the game. "It was always my dream to be playing quarterback in the first place. To actually be able to throw a touchdown and to throw it to Cam [Newton] feels pretty good."
Josh McDaniels has had a good sense of when to use plays like this and in 2020 he's had to rely on them like never before. What used to be an occasional double pass that was used in key moments became almost a weekly feature for the offense in 2020.
"That play was well-executed, well-designed, and Jakobi made a good throw, Cam finished it, got in the end zone," said Bill Belichick. "That was a big play for us, gave us a big boost, got us back in the game."
Enel Powerful Play of the Game: J.C. Jackson ties league-lead with ninth interception
With the game tied, the Jets were looking to retake the lead but J.C. Jackson made a game-changing interception that was the final turning point in the game.
Playing in a Cover-3 shell, Jackson dropped into his deep third of the field. Darnold appeared to be targetting Perriman down the seam, but Perriman pulled up as Darnold was throwing the ball, overshooting the receiver and perfectly throwing the ball into the waiting arms of Jackson.
"I mean, like I always say, I just see the ball and make plays on the ball," said Jackson. "I'm a ballhawk, that's what I get paid to do. Like you said, the ninth pick of the season, I feel like I could have had more than that. But that's a hell of a season, to have nine picks. I've just got to continue to grow and get better for the 2021 season."
Jackson finished the year tied for the league lead with nine interceptions and he was consistent throughout the season, finishing with three picks in the last four games. From there the Patriots never looked back, putting away the Jets, sparked by a defensive takeaway. That makes Jackson's interception this week's choice for the Enel Powerful Play of the Game.
"It was important because it's a new year, you get things rolling with a win," said Jackson. "It was a great way to start the year, to get a win. Even though we're not going to the playoffs or anything like that – to get a win today, it was a big influence. I feel like we finished the season the right way."
Big plays from Asiasi and Sony close it out
The Patriots wasted little time in capitalizing off of Jackson's interception. Facing a 2nd-and-two, the Patriots put power personnel on the field and the Jets countered with 10 players in the box. All those defenders failed to react to tight end Devin Asiasi sprinting off the snap, leaving him with outside leverage on the only deep safety.
Newton lobbed a nice pass where only Asiasi could get it and the rookie adjusted well to the ball in the air, making the catch for his first career touchdown on his second career catch, a 26-yarder.
"Just for him to head into the off-season with a game like today is a great step in the right direction for Acai Bowl [Asiasi]," said Newton. "For him to make a great catch for the touchdown, something that he needs to keep doing, he will keep doing. He has so much talent. He shows so many flashes in practice. It's great just to see it in a game."
The Patriots weren't done with the big plays though and, after forcing a Jets three-and-out, it took just two more plays to find the end zone again. Newton showed good head discipline, looking the defense off to his left before throwing in-time to Sony Michel, who was flaring out to the right.
Michel made a good catch, then showed excellent acceleration up the sideline, finishing the play off with the team's final touchdown of the 2020 season. It was the third-year back's first receiving touchdown.
"It was a cool experience to get that first receiving touchdown, but coach [offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels] called the play," said Michel. "The offense executed, and once I got the opportunity to catch the ball, I'm just trying to make a play in space and I was able to reach the end zone.
"I think, as a collective, having that win and ending off with a win, getting that team win was the best feeling. Going into the offseason, I think that gives us a little momentum and a little confidence going into the spring and into the fall. It's definitely something to build off of."