Untimely penalties and turnovers, inconsistent offense, defensive vulnerabilities, and a roster depleted by injuries. Halfway through the 2020 season, these have been uncharacteristically recurring themes for New England. Such was the case as well throughout the first half of the Patriots' Monday Night meeting with the winless Jets in New York.
Coming off a four-game slump, New England appeared destined to drop its fifth straight game before some late-night heroics.
"It was definitely a big win, just coming off the last few games we had," pass rusher Chase Winovich acknowledged moments after the final whistle. "There's been so many crazy things happening in 2020, a lot of them being pretty unfortunate, but … this was a great opportunity to get a win and hopefully get this thing back on the right track."
For this latest annual matchup in the N.Y. Metropolitan area, both clubs were missing numerous injured starters on both sides of the ball. Most notably for the Jets, veteran and former Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco started under center in place of injured Sam Darnold.
After Flacco led a methodical march on the game's opening drive, New England surrendered a short field goal, but responded immediately. The Patriots went 75 yards in eight plays. With RB Damien Harris and WR Jakobi Meyers as the primary playmakers, the Patriots saw New York's three-point scoring drive and raised them a touchdown, thanks to QB Cam Newton's five-yard designed run. Kicker Nick Folk's PAT gave New England a 7-3 lead late in the first. This also marked the first time all season the Patriots have scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter.
New England's D then held the Jets to a plus-50 punt that effectively brought a fast-moving opening stanza to a close.
During the second quarter, Flacco started to look like his old self, particularly when he tossed a 50-yard TD to receiver Breshad Perriman, who'd beaten CB J.C. Jackson on the play.
Later, on a 4th-down attempt, normally reliable RB and co-captain James White coughed up the ball. Right guard Shaq Mason recovered behind the line of scrimmage, turning the ball over on downs to New York. But Flacco and the Jets' O could only manage a 50-yard field goal, upping their lead to 13-7 late in the second quarter.
Folk then drilled a 45-yard field goal to trim the deficit to 13-10 just before halftime. But with under a minute to go, a Jason McCourty pass interference penalty set the Jets up deep in Patriots territory.
Flacco took advantage by tossing a clinical TD strike to WR Jamison Crowder, who made a tremendous grab and tip-toed in bounds to score. The Jets took a 20-10 lead into the half.
"I'm pleased with how we came out of halftime and to start the game with points," Newton remarked to reporters. "That's a key to victory for us. We want to score when we get the ball, start fast. That was a point of emphasis this week [in practices], coming out of halftime, to put points on the board, preferably touchdowns. We did that."
To start the third quarter, RB Rex Burkhead saw his number 34 called numerous times to help carry the team down to a goal-to-go situation. Burkhead finished off the drive with a 1-yard plunge over the goal line, and with that, the Patriots were right back in it.
Not for long, though, as Flacco led another TD drive, finding Perriman for the receiver's second scoring grab of the night. In coverage, Jackson stumbled, allowing Perriman to run free into the end zone. Entering the fourth quarter, New York had a 10-point advantage.
"You have to have short-term memory and move on to the next play. That's how I deal with [mistakes]," Jackson maintained afterward. "I had some ups and downs, man, but it's always about how you finish the game. They're going to make some plays, but it's all about how you finish. And we finished the right way tonight."
Newton and the Patriots' O then chewed up nearly 10 minutes of game clock, but could only find three more points from Folk. Prospects seemed dim at that stage.
These are the Jets, however. The now 0-9 Jets, who tend to make the kinds of mistakes that render teams winless. Up seven with six minutes left in the game, rather than ground it out themselves to run out the clock – against a weakened Patriots front seven, no less – New York asked Flacco to throw a deep ball on first down following the ensuing kickoff. He'd thrown for three TDs and 262 yards in the game, but on this play, the outcome essentially rode.
Jackson, burnt twice earlier, picked off the pass at the Patriots' 28-yard line, giving New England a chance to drive and tie the score.
Two plays later, New England should've had six, but Newton overthrew Meyers, who'd managed to get behind the Jets' secondary and had nothing but artificial green grass between him and the end zone. Yet, the Patriots continued to move the football and Newton atoned just after the two-minute warning, QB-sneaking over the goal line for the necessary touchdown. Folk's successful PAT knotted things at 27.
A subsequent Patriots defensive three-and-out stop forced the Jets to punt the ball back to New England for one final possession in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
"Just trying to get ourselves in position for Nick to get a chance to kick it, and we did," Burkhead explained. "It wasn't easy. It was hard-fought for sure. Of course, Jakobi making a great catch there at the end, like he did all night, making plays left and right. And Cam, being the leader he was tonight, taking command, his presence in the huddle. He did a great job moving around the pocket and making plays.
"Not much was said [in the huddle], we were just locked in on trying to do our job. [Cam] just reiterated that. 'Let's do this. Let's finish it now, instead of going to overtime.'"
On this November 9, Meyers turned 24 years old and celebrated by snaring 12 of Newton's passes for 169 yards.
None was more crucial, perhaps, than the one he made with three seconds left in regulation and one Patriots timeout left. Getting open in the middle of the field and hauling the ball in at the Jets' 33 put New England in position to avoid overtime if Folk could finish off his perfect night.
Just two days earlier, Folk was held out of practice due to a back injury. However, he appeared to be at full strength Monday night. A long-time former Jets kicker familiar with the MetLife Stadium atmospheric conditions, Folk trotted onto the field and calmly sailed a 51-yarder through the uprights for the hard-fought, much-needed, comeback win.
"Yeah, I hit it pretty well and as soon as I saw it downfield, I knew it was going to stay pretty true," Folk recalled shortly thereafter. "I knew I had enough leg to get it there. Playing in MetLife for so long, night games are usually are the easiest with the weather, the wind anyway. So, I kind of knew that. I'm just happy to get a win."
"It was a fun game, I'm not going to lie," Meyers smiled during his post-game comments to the media. "Just fun to be out there with the team. I enjoyed every moment of it."