The Patriots entered their Week 17 matchup with the Jets needing a victory to ensure a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs. They took care of business easily, trouncing the hapless visitors 38-3, locking up a bye and setting themselves up for a hard-earned week off.
Here are some observations from the Patriots 11th victory of the season.
-The Patriots offense entered the game struggling in recent weeks and with a bad Jets defense serving as the opponent this week there didn’t seem to be a lot to be learned from the season finale. To make matters worse, the Jets were missing several of their starters, particularly in the secondary where Mo Claiborne, Trumaine Johnson and Marcus Maye were all out of the lineup. But even though the opposition wasn’t the strongest, Tom Brady turned in one of his better games in recent weeks. He moved well in the pocket and held onto the ball waiting for receivers to clear coverage before delivering some accurate throws. The windows he threw into were consistently pretty sizable but he was able to find secondary targets and came away from the first half with three touchdown passes.
-The run defense showed signs of life in a handful of key spots against the Jets. Elandon Roberts is the epitome of a downhill linebacker who relishes contact, and on a fourth-and-inches play in the third quarter he displayed those characteristics. The Jets mounted an impressive drive and reached the Patriots 9 when they faced the fourth down situation, and Roberts quickly plugged the gap and stacked up the hole before Elijah McGuire could pick up the first down. The Jets were similarly stopped on a third-and-short in the first half when Lawrence Guy helped stack up the point of attack to hold McGuire for no gain.
-One of the lone negatives in the first half came toward the end as the Patriots were marching toward a possible score in the final minute. New England moved from its own 5 into Jets territory at the 37 and faced a third-and-two with about a minute to go. James White tried his luck off right tackle and was stuffed on an effective blitz by safety Jamal Adams. Bill Belichick opted to let the play clock run and called timeout with 33 seconds to go and chose to go for it on fourth-and-one from the 36. Again White got the call and this time he was stuffed on an attempt up the middle, forcing the Patriots to turn it over on downs.
-After missing much of the second half of last week’s win over Buffalo with a knee injury, Cordarrelle Patterson sat out the finale against the Jets. Patterson appeared to injure his knee when he was tackled returning a kickoff in the third quarter against the Bills and was limited in practice all week. Patterson’s absence opened the door for Phillip Dorsett to see more action and he took advantage early. On the Patriots second drive of the afternoon the wideout caught a pair of passes for 14 yards, including one to convert a third-and-three for 8 yards on a march that ended in New England’s first touchdown of the game. Dorsett later added a touchdown of his own with a nice running catch along the back of the end zone to put the Patriots up, 21-3. He finished with five catches for 34 yards.
-Another previously quiet receiver came up with his most productive game in quite some time as Chris Hogan was active throughout. He finished with six catches for 64 yards and could have had a touchdown had Brady not overthrown him in the end zone. The more startling aspect of Hogan’s production was the 11 times Brady targeted him. Hogan has been real quiet for a long time, expressing some frustration on the field last week against Buffalo when he was targeted a single time. In order for the offense to be effective in the postseason, Brady will need to get some contributions from other receivers and against the Jets both Dorsett and Hogan did so with Patterson out of action.
-It didn’t really matter as the Jets Jason Myers booted a pair of touchbacks on his two kickoffs but it was interesting to see Patrick Chung serve as the deep kickoff returner in place of Patterson. Sony Michel stepped in for Patterson last week and White has served in that capacity in the past. Again, Chung didn’t get a chance to return either kick but Bill Belichick likely felt comfortable with his ball security and opted for the veteran’s presence.
-Derek Rivers returned to the lineup for the first time since the Patriots win over Green Bay back on Nov. 4. Adrian Clayborn was a healthy scratch for the second straight week, joining Jacob Hollister (hamstring), Obi Melifonwu, Duke Dawson, James Ferentz and Keionta Davis on the inactive list. Rivers closed the first half with a 10-yard sack of Sam Darnold, the first of his career.
-Continuing with a theme first noticed last week against Buffalo, Rob Gronkowski was not always on the field on early downs. On Sunday against the Jets, Gronkowski was on the sideline for the first three snaps before entering for the first time following Sony Michel’s short run that picked up a first down. On the third series, the tight end was once again on the sideline for the first play as the Patriots went with a personnel group consisting of Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman and Dorsett with White and Rex Burkhead in the backfield. Not sure if the coaches are trying to lighten Gronkowski’s workload in the blocking department but since Dwayne Allen returned to the lineup he hasn’t been as prevalent in running situations.
-The defense forced three turnovers and turned them into 14 points – seven of which were actually scored by the defense. That play came in the third quarter with the Patriots leading 21-3. Trey Flowers rushed Sam Darnold and had the rookie around the ankles while Adam Butler came in and got a piece of the ball as it came forward. The loose ball was scooped up by Kyle Van Noy, who raced 46 yards for a touchdown that for all intents and purposes ended the game. Earlier in the first half, Flowers got penetration on a McGuire rush and knocked the ball loose. Devin McCourty recovered and returned it 14 yards to the Jets 8. That led to a touchdown to Dorsett that came after the Jets Henry Anderson was called for a questionable roughing the passer after a Brady incompletion on third-and-goal. Given the second chance, Brady did a nice job of buying time and rolling to his right before finding Dorsett in the end zone.
-It was a play that won’t show up on the stat sheet but in the first half the defense did a nice job of staying disciplined to thwart a Jets drive. New York had a first down at the Patriots 12 and gave the ball to McGuire around right end. The back was looking to throw as he drifted to the sideline but had no open receivers as Chung in particular did a nice job of covering their receivers and forcing McGuire to run out of bounds. That drive ultimately ended when the Jets went for it on fourth-and-three from the 5, and Darnold’s pass fell incomplete.
-Stephon Gilmore turned in another solid game, this time eliminating the Jets top receiver, Robby Anderson. Anderson was held to just three catches for 24 yards on eight targets and Gilmore was credited with two pass defenses.