…Cornerback Malcolm Butler had a memorable game against the Jets for a number of reasons. He had his share of mistakes that cost his team, but he also made several big plays that contributed to New England's much-needed victory.
It started with Butler nearly picking off a tipped Josh McCown pass in the red zone on the game's first play from scrimmage. Then on the second play of the game, Butler did a tremendous job of not allowing WR Robby Anderson to complete what would have been a deep throw of about 45 yards down the right (Patriots) sideline.
As Anderson and Butler were falling to the turf, if looked as if Anderson maintained control of the ball. Yet Butler, who nearly intercepted the pass, managed to use both hands to knock it loose. Great effort by Butler not to give up on the play, even while falling down.
…The very next play, Anderson completely fooled Butler on a 3rd-and-10 route that allowed Anderson to get wide open and gain 23 yards. Anderson faked inside before spinning back out, and Butler bought hard on the feint. By his body language, it was evident that Butler knew immediately that he'd been duped. It was that kind of day for Butler.
…That opening Jets drive resulted in a touchdown, in part because LB Elandon Roberts stumbled as he tried to chase after TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was running a short corner route to the back pylon of the end zone. That momentary lapse allowed the Jet to separate from Roberts and give McCown an easy target.
…It seems that almost every game this season, WR Brandin Cooks has dropped a simple, catchable pass when he was wide open. It happened again on New England's first possession in New York. However, whenever Cooks does this, he usually makes up for it by doing something impressive later on. Once again, he lived up to that reputation, as we'll discuss later.
…RB Mike Gillislee had been running well – gains of 9 yards, 5, and 4 on his first three carries – before he fumbled on his fourth rush and the Jets recovered. LB Darron Lee did a nice job of punching the ball out of Gillislee's grasp from behind. The Patriots ball carrier never saw the defender's arm coming. This was just his third-ever NFL fumble, second lost fumble as a pro, and first in both categories with New England.
Gillislee didn't see the field again until the third quarter, but it's unclear if this was a result of the miscue or the productive running by Dion Lewis, who shined for a second straight game in the Patriots' backfield.
…Veteran CB Johnson Bademosi hadn't played defensively for New England since he was traded here from Detroit last month. He's been a special teams contributor exclusively until Sunday in New York, when he started and played the entire game in place of concussed starter Stephon Gilmore. It was only his fourth-ever NFL start.
Bademosi had a decent outing, but gave up his first crucial play – a 16-yard gain on 3rd-and-5 – on the play just before McCown threw his second (and final) TD of the game. New England's 3rd-down woes continued in New York, no matter who was back there in the secondary.
…Butler was the victim of that second touchdown. He was marking WR Jeremy Kerley in the right slot, and Kerley ran a deep crossing pattern to the left. Butler gave chase, and was in position to make a play, but McCown's pass sailed just over Butler's outstretched right hand and into Kerley's gloves. Butler's diving effort sent his sprawling to the turf, leaving Kerley all alone for the remaining 12 yards into the end zone.
…Sometimes you just have to watch and enjoy TE Rob Gronkowski's athleticism. And there's very little defenders can do to stop it. Particularly when he's 1-on-1 with them. Gronk return from a one-game absence (thigh contusion) and made a positive difference on offense. His first big reception came on 2nd-and-7 from the NE 10.
From a three-point stance on the right side of the formation, he ran a slight out-and-up down the numbers and did a tremendous job of reaching above Lee, the Jets LB, to collect a Tom Brady pass and keep his hands up over Lee's head so the defender couldn't knock the ball loose. Lee then fell to the turf and Gronk was tackled by another Jet, but the reception was a marvelous one that helped spark the Patriots' first score of the day.
…Later in the drive, Gronk helped out again, drawing a pass interference penalty against rookie safety Jamal Adams in the end zone. That set up a 1st-and-goal from the NY 1.
…As noted earlier, Lewis ran well again Sunday. His hard-fought 1-yard plunge on the play immediately following the Jets' PI penalty on Gronk illustrated this nicely. Lewis carried eight times in the first half, averaging 4.4 yards thanks to some nice spin moves, cuts, and strong churning of his legs, as he demonstrated on his touchdown run.
…New England got the ball back quickly thanks to a 3-and-out by the defense. In particular, newcomer Cassius Marsh did a nice job of recognizing New York's rushing attempt on 3rd-and-1. Lined up at left end, Marsh knifed at a 45-degree angle toward the center of the backfield, where the ball carrier had just taken the handoff from McCown. Marsh didn't make the tackle, but slowed down the runner enough to allow teammates to swarm in and stop him short of the marker.
Marsh is getting more and more comfortable with his role on this defense each week, and this was another example.
...Brady was lucky not to be picked off by Jets CB Buster Skrine on the next play after Gronk made that 25-yard grab on the scoring drive. However, Skrine exacted his revenge on the following Patriots possession when he outraced WR Phillip Dorsett for a deep Brady throw and boxed out the receiver to make the long-range INT.
…Another nice 3-and-out on New York's ensuing possession when good coverage by the secondary forced McCown to hold onto the ball longer than he'd have liked on 3rd-and-2. LB Kyle Van Noy came clean across the line of scrimmage to drop a scrambling McCown for a loss and force a punt.
…Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal of the season when he pushed a 47-yarder wide right. Aside from that misfire, he's having another solid year, as most of his seasons in New England have been. Whatever was troubling him last season appears to have been addressed by the veteran this season.
…Butler again stepped to the fore when he stepped in front of Anderson, the receiver, on a deep out-pattern to pick off McCown. The QB never took his eyes off Anderson before delivering the pass, and Butler read the ball directly into his hands for the crucial turnover at the end of the half.
…When the offense got the ball back, Cooks redeemed himself by making a fantastic over-the-shoulder grab to complete a 42-yard pass from Brady. Cooks used his speed to pull away from CB Morris Claiborne just enough to make the catch and keep his feet inbounds as he fell to the sideline at the NYJ 2.
The play never would have happened, however, had RB James White not done yeoman's work to pick up a blitzing Jets defender at the beginning.
…Gronk then victimized Adams, the rookie safety, again in a 1-on-1 matchup at the goal line. Brady's perfect throw to the outside was just past the reach of Adams and into the huge mitts of Gronkowski, who just ran a simple flat route.
3rd & 4th Quarters
…The Patriots played a fairly clean game until the second half, in particular the 4th quarter. WR Chris Hogan started the flags flying against New England when he committed a blatant offensive pass interference penalty in the early 3rd. He and Cooks were attempting to crisscross routes on the left side, and Hogan ran right into the defender covering Cooks. Easy call for Tony Corrente's officiating crew.
…Gronk took Adams to school again on his second TD grab-and-go. Adams attempted to make a play on the football as Gronk ran a shallow crossing pattern from left to right. The Rookie got tangled up with a teammate covering Hogan, who lined up just to the outside of Gronk. Adams was playing Gronk with a cushion, so Gronk allowed Hogan to start his route first, which caused Adams to be delayed going after Gronk. Adams then made a vain attempt to lunge at the pass that Gronk hauled in. Adams fell face-first into the turf and Gronk outran another Jets defender to the end zone.
…New England did a much better job this week of stuffing the run, and it proved critical when the Patriots forced New York into a 4th-and-1 from the NE 34. Rather than try a long field goal, the Jets went for it by putting what looked like a conventional running personnel package on the field. But the Patriots' D was ready for it.
New England sent Butler on a corner blitz, which disrupted McCown's play-action fake. Butler nearly had a sack, but McCown wiggled free, only to see LB Dont'a Hightower bearing down on him up the middle. McCown rushed a throw to a wide-open TE Eric Tomlinson at the 30. The ball sailed past Tomlinson and into the hands of safety/co-captain Devin McCourty.
Good recognition of the play design, but the poor execution (Butler's missed sack, allowing Tomlinson to get open) nearly cost the Patriots. They were lucky to escape that drive with a turnover.
…Cooks returned the Hogan penalty favor when he intentionally bumped a Jets defender trying to cover Hogan on a crossing pattern near the New York goal line.
…The play for which this game will always be remembered, of course, is the Jets' touchdown by Seferian-Jenkins that was overturned by officiating headquarters across the Hudson River in Manhattan.
Before the Jets' tight end reaches the goal line, Butler reaches in and punches the ball, which for a split-second does come free from Seferian-Jenkins' grasp. However, he regains control of the ball as he dives over the goal line and hits the pylon. It looks like it should have remained a touchdown, but that's not how the league's chief referee, Alberto Riveron, saw it.
There didn't appear to be conclusive replay evidence – which is what's needed to overturn a call on the field – that Seferian-Jenkins was still bobbling the ball as he cross the goal line. The Patriots may have been on the receiving end of a lucky break there.