The Patriots entered Sunday’s New Year’s Eve game with the Jets with a chance to close out the season with the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC. It wasn’t always pretty but considering the frigid conditions the 26-6 victory over New York was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Here are some random thoughts from the Patriots 13th victory of the season.
-The Patriots once against were forced to adjust due to personnel limitations. The backfield was hit hardest in the finale as Rex Burkhead (knee) and Mike Gillislee (knee) were declared out on Friday. James White (ankle) was among the inactives as well, leaving Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden to carry the load. Lewis was up to the challenge as he recorded his career high in carries (26) and touches (32) for the second straight week. He finished with 93 yards rushing and a touchdown and added 40 and another touchdown on six receptions. It was also the second consecutive game he ran and caught touchdowns, marking the first time a Patriots running back turned that trick since Larry Garron in 1964.
-The flip side of all that production was the strange manner in which Lewis piled up the carries. Rob Gronkowski played sparingly, sitting out large stretches of the second half and not receiving a single target in the game. Devin McCourty also was rested at times in the second half with the game well in hand. Yet, Lewis continued to have his number called by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels even though the score was lopsided. Brandon Bolden finally took over as the lead ball carrier midway through the fourth quarter and finished with nine carries for 46 yards. It was curious to see Lewis taking as much punishment as he did down the stretch, and watching Brandin Cooks on end arounds in the fourth quarter seemed a bit unnecessary but it appeared that none of those decsions came back to haunt the team in terms of injuries.
-The good news on the injury front was Kyle Van Noy returned after missing the last three games with a calf injury. Van Noy originally sustained the injury in Week 12 against Miami, returned the following week in Buffalo but was limited to just 15 snaps and hadn’t played since. He started and played sporadically throughout the game. He certainly didn’t get a full workload but seemed to come away none the worse for wear.
-James Harrison made his debut and played extensively on the edge for the Patriots defense. He was used mostly in running situations and was asked to set the edge and keep Jets backs Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire contained. He entered for the first time on the Jets second possession, replacing Van Noy at right outside linebacker. The Jets moved the ball with a pair of big plays and got to the Patriots 21 but the defense came up with back-to-back big plays and Harrison was a part of it. First Lawrence Guy got penetration and dropped McGuire for an 8-yard loss, then Elandon Roberts got help from Harrison to take McGuire down for a 1-yard loss. Harrison did a good job on both plays of setting the edge and forcing the back inside. New York eventually settled for a field goal. Harrison finished the game with a flourish as he recorded back-to-back sacks, one causing a fumble, on the final two plays of the game.
-The Patriots won the toss but elected to receive, which is the first time they’ve elected to do so after winning the toss all season. The idea likely was to get an early lead against the overmatched Jets and their young quarterback Bryce Petty, to possibly allow the starters some extra rest time as they prepare for the divisional round in two weeks.
-The tactic worked perfectly to open the game as the offense marched 75 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead in Lewis’ 3-yard touchdown run. Lewis did the bulk of the work on the drive, carrying six times and catching one pass for 25 total yards. The drive appeared to stall at the Jets 21, however, as Danny Amendola’s 11-yard catch was 2 yards shy of the first down to create a fourth-and-two. Bill Belichick did not hesitate and Tom Brady’s 7-yard pass over the middle to Amendola moved the chains. Three plays later New England had the early lead.
-Things bogged down a bit from there, though, as the Jets put forth a solid effort on both sides of the ball in the first half. After the opening touchdown the Patriots were forced to punt on their next three possessions and New York actually moved the ball fairly effectively at times. After the field goal, New York again marched deep into Patriots territory but Chandler Catanzaro hooked his 40-yard field goal to the left and the Jets still trailed 7-3.
-It wasn’t until late in the second quarter when the Patriots assumed control. Thanks to four penalties against the Jets secondary, three coming on failed third downs, the Patriots closed the half with a pair of touchdown drives to take a 21-3 lead to the break. The Jets looked like they had a stop when Brady’s pass on third-and-10 fell incomplete but Juston Burris was called for holding Kenny Britt away from the play. Shortly thereafter, Brady went deep to Brandin Cooks and picked up 39 yards when rookie safety Marcus Maye was called for pass interference, moving the ball to the Jets 17. Cooks finished that drive with a 5-yard touchdown as the Patriots ran a perfect rub combination and corners Mo Claiborne and Buster Skrine collided, leaving the wideout all alone. The next series also benefited from a Burris penalty on third down as he once again was guilty of holding, and Lewis culminated that drive with a 5-yard TD catch with 24 seconds left in the half.
-The slow start on offense allowed the Jets an opportunity to try to get their running game going and for the first time in several weeks the Patriots defense was up to the task. Powell had 34 yards on nine carries, but 24 of those came on one run. McGuire was completely stymied and limited to minus-9 yards on three carries. Despite the 24-yard run, New York managed only 25 yards on 14 carries for a 1.8-yard average. Guy and Malcom Brown were immense on the inside and the Jets had nowhere to run. For the game the Jets finished with 40 yards rushing on 19 carries, which was a huge turnaround for the front seven.
-About the only negative on defense was the big plays the unit allowed against an otherwise sputtering offense. The Jets failed to convert any of their 12 third-down attempts and came away with just 6 points. Despite that solid defense, the Jets came up with plays of 46, 35, 24 and 22 yards, the first three coming on passes. ArDarius Stewart beat Jonathan Jones deep for a 46-yard bomb in the fourth quarter on a play that has become too frequent for the Patriots secondary this season.