The Patriots traveled to the Meadowlands to take on the Jets in their first game coming out of the bye week and ran into some typical problems on the road against a division foe. Penalties (11 for 105 yards) and overall sluggishness created the AFC East “rock fight” that periodically develops but in the end New England righted the ship in the second half and came away with a hard-fought 27-13 victory.
The running game led the way after intermission and allowed the Patriots to come away with the victory. Here are some observations from the eighth win of the season.
-The Patriots opened the second half with a strong focus on the running game and it was successful. Michel ripped off a 31-yard run on the first play and the Patriots kept it on the ground from there. The 15-play drive featured plenty of running as the Patriots moved 52 yards on six carries, all but one (for 4 yards) from Sony Michel. Unfortunately the rookie was injured trying to pick up a third-and-one when he was stuffed by the interior of the Jets front. After he left the Patriots went to Cordarrelle Patterson off right guard and the wideout picked up the fourth-and-one with the help of a late push by backup tight end Jacob Hollister. That drive ended in a field goal.
-James White then ripped off a 27-yard run on the next possession when he replaced Michel. This time the Patriots were able to finish off the drive when Brady hit Edelman for a 21-yard touchdown to give them a 20-13 lead late in the third quarter. Michel returned to action in the fourth quarter and ripped off another long run, this one going for 33 yards. He enjoyed his best game of the season, finishing with 133 yards on 21 carries and New England piled up 215 rushing yards on 36 carries for a healthy 6-yard average. It was the first time the Patriots rushed for 200 or more yards in a game since Jonas Gray did it himself in a win over the Colts in 2014.
-For the first time in several weeks the Patriots had the entirety of the offense ready and available against the Jets. The starting offensive line had Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon together for the first time since Week 6 as Mason returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with a calf injury. Rob Gronkowski, who missed three of the last four games dealing with back and ankle issues, also was back in the lineup. Michel, who returned in Tennessee after missing two games with a knee injury, assumed his lead back role once again.
-Nate Ebner popped up on the injury report with a knee issue on Friday and was among the game day inactives. He joined Duke Dawson, who was activated off IR during the bye week, on the sidelines. Obi Melifonwu suited up and made his Patriots debut, seeing time on special teams. Bill Belichick devoted a lot of attention to the kicking game during the bye week and then was forced to go without Ebner while Melifonwu and fellow newcomer Albert McClellan were added to the mix. Patrick Chung replaced Ebner in his role as personal protector on the punt team. The struggles covering kicks continued as Andre Roberts ripped off a 36-yard return out to the 34 on his first attempt of the game.
-Melifonwu was immediately part of the Patriots sub packages on defense, serving as the fourth safety in a linebacker-type role in passing situations. He was on the field on the Jets first two third down situations, which New York converted 1 of 2.
-Penalties were a big part of the problem early on as the Patriots were flagged twice in quick succession in the first quarter. New York put together an impressive drive on the second series of the game but it appeared to stall when Jermaine Kearse was dragged down short of the sticks after a third-down reception, setting up a fourth-and-four from the Patriots 37. But Deatrich Wise was flagged for roughing the passer after tackling Josh McCown both low and late, giving the Jets a first down. Three plays later the Jets opened the scoring with a 16-yard touchdown pass from McCown to Kearse. On the point after, Danny Shelton was flagged for unnecessary contact against the long snapper, giving the Jets 15 yards on the kickoff.
-The penalties against the Patriots continued but Jets coach Todd Bowles turned one into a bad thing for the home team. Facing a third-and-two from the New York 24, Tom Brady tried to hit Julian Edelman on a wheel router set up by a pick from James White. The pass went through Edelman’s hands to make it fourth-and-two, but Bowles decided to accept the penalty and pushed the Patriots back to the 34 for a third-and-12. Brady then hit Gronkowski deep down the middle for a 34-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7.
-The Patriots had a chance to close out the first half with a lead but struggled with some situational football and wound up heading to the locker room in a 10-10 tie. New England had the ball at its 2-yard line following Stephon Gilmore’s interception that thwarted a Jets drive with less than two minutes remaining, but three Michel runs failed to move the chains and the Jets took over at their 43 with :51 left. McCown came up with a big conversion on third-and-six, finding Kearse for 16 yards down to the Patriots 37 as time was winding down. The Jets spiked the ball with :08 left and Jason Myers booted a 55-yard field goal to knot the score. With better execution the Patriots could have mounted a scoring drive of their own with all three timeouts at their disposal, but instead failed to produce and wound up struggling to keep the Jets off the board. With New England slated to open the second half with the ball, it was an opportunity to take control that went awry.
-On the previous possession the defense had some significant highs and lows on consecutive plays. After the kickoff coverage pinned New York at their 18, McCown burned a Patriots blitzed by finding Quincy Enunwa for 41 yards to the New England 41. Enunwa raced past Jason McCourty and shot down the right sideline for the big gain, but the Patriots bounced back. On the next snap, McCown looked deep to Robby Anderson but John Simon’s pressure off the left edge forced a bad throw that Gilmore picked off to snuff out the drive. The defense has struggled to create pressure with four men all season but the blitzes haven’t always been successful. Despite that, Simon’s timely pressure created a big play for the defense and illustrated the importance of finding ways to make quarterbacks uncomfortable.
-The Jets were unable to score on their opening possession of the game, marking the 19th straight time that has happened. New York was able to score first, however, giving the Jets their first lead of any kind since Week 6. But the Patriots were able to secure a 20-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter, which created a couple of troubling trends for the home team. New York has now lost 18 consecutive times when losing entering the fourth quarter while the Patriots have now won 19 straight when taking a lead into the final quarter.
-Brady downplayed a cut on his right thumb, calling it “a scrape,” but he did receive some medical attention on the sideline in the first half. Brady also dealt with an illness heading into the game and didn’t elaborate when asked about it after in his press conference. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 283 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and in doing so passed Peyton Manning for the most passing yards all time including both regular season and postseason. Manning was the leader with 79,279 yards but Brady topped him in the first half.
-The win guaranteed at least a .500 season for the Patriots for the 18th consecutive year. That trails only Dallas’ run of 21 straight non-losing seasons from 1965-85.