EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Tom Brady almost led his second-straight fourth-quarter comeback, but it wasn't meant to be in a 30-27 overtime loss to the New York Jets.
Here's what stood out from our vantage point in the MetLife Stadium press box Sunday afternoon:
…The much anticipated return of tight end Rob Gronkowski paid immediate dividends for New England. Gronk caught both passes thrown to him on the Patriots' opening drive, including a 29-yarder that set up Brandon Bolden's touchdown run. On that play, Gronk also delivered a critical block to spring the running back.
…Brady tried to force a couple more deep throws to Gronk in the first half, but both were underthrown balls that were easily batted down by the covering defenders. Gronk later drew a defensive holding penalty against the Jets which helped set up Stevan Ridley's rushing touchdown in the 2nd quarter.
…Gronkowski was called for a baffling offensive pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter. Replays showed it was Gronk who was getting manhandled by Jets defenders, not the other way around.
…Gronk caught New England's first and only successful third-down conversion attempt, an 11-yard grab in the mid-4th quarter. The Patriots had been 0-for-8 up to that point in that category and finished 1-for-12.
…New York ran and threw the ball equally effectively on their opening drive against a New England defense with several players in new and/or increased roles. The Jets had little trouble running the football right up the gut at rookie defensive tackles Joe Vellano and Chris Jones on the first two drives. Too many Jets receivers were being left uncovered, which appeared to be miscommunication by the shuffled Patriots defense.
…Bolden saw considerable more action than Ridley in the first half. New England had been employing a committee approach the past few weeks, while Ridley dealt with a knee injury, but he was taken off the injury list this past week.
…With Aqib Talib out, the Patriots had rookie cornerback Logan Ryan take over as the third DB in New England's nickel package. Alfonzo Dennard moved over to Talib's usual spot on the left side. Kyle Arrington was in the slot, and Ryan played mostly on the right, where Dennard would normally be.
…Ryan made a great play to put the Patriots up 14-7 when he read rookie QB Geno Smith's eyes on an out-pass late in the first quarter. Ryan, already playing tight coverage, stepped in front on the pass and easily returned it 79 yards for the score. Good awareness from a young player who showed flashes like this in training camp and preseason, but also had his share of bad plays. He has shown steady progress since the summer.
…Arrington had considerable trouble with Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley in the first quarter. Marquice Cole was inserted in Arrington's place midway through the second. Rookie Duron Harmon, meanwhile, took some safety reps away from starter Steve Gregory in the second quarter. Not entirely unusual. But the pass defense seemed to tighten somewhat after those changes were made.
…Arrington continued to have a presence on special teams units.
…Jones and Vellano may be a bit soft against the run, but both – Jones in particular – are adept at getting pressure on the quarterback. Both Joneses – Chris and defensive end Chandler – had good afternoons getting pressure on Geno Smith.
…Rookie LB Jamie Collins nearly had a sack on the first play of the game, and was close a couple of other times on the opening drive. On special teams, though, he committed a terrible block-in-the-back penalty that negated a long Julian Edelman return. Aside from those plays, it was a quiet afternoon for the team's top 2013 pick.
…The Jets got a little creative on offense, using Wildcat and Read-Option plays at times during the first quarter.
…At the start of the second half, LT Nate Solder was partially responsible for a strip-sack of Brady (the QB recovered) and an interception returned for a touchdown on the very next play. Both times, the man he was blocking got pressure on Brady that forced the mistakes. Solder just couldn't handle d-end Muhammad Wilkerson in the third quarter. Wilkerson later sacked Brady again to put New England in 3rd-and-long.
…Good in-game adjustment by defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. While the three-defensive-end look has been a popular one for New England's defense this season, for the first time in 2013, we saw a three-d-tackle look, with Vellano, Jones, and Marcus Forston. That, along with the Cole-for-Arrington swap, helped the D tighten up against the Jets offense.
…Rookie WR Aaron Dobson was finally getting separation from DBs today – something he struggled to do during the preseason and earlier this year – and Brady just couldn't hit him in stride. Brady's throws in those situations were too far in front of Dobson and out of bounds. One of those came on the final drive of regulation with the Patriots trailing by 3. Had they connected, Dobson most likely would have scored the winning touchdown.
…Story of the game was third-down conversions. The Jets converted more than half of theirs. New England, as noted, was a miserable 1-for-12. That, more than any other factor, led to the overtime loss.