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Random Thoughts: Another special effort leads to victory


The New England Patriots take on the New York Jets in a regular season game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Offensive performance –** The Patriots offense once again struggled early and problems up front were once again the main reason. Tom Brady & Co. managed just 61 total yards through their first series of the second half as the quarterback was sacked four times. The only points came courtesy of a huge 39-yard punt return by Danny Amendola that allowed the offense to take over at the Jets 36. Other than that the Patriots couldn't sustain anything and fell behind as a result. Special teams getting things going for the offense is not a new trend. Two weeks ago in San Diego it was a blocked punt that gave the Patriots a short field to set up a touchdown, and last week against Miami a blocked field goal was returned for another score.

Out of line – The aforementioned problems along the offense line manifested themselves early on. Josh Kline replaced Dan Connolly (knee) at left guard and struggled. He and Nate Solder appeared confused on an early Jets overload blitz that resulted in a Brady sack, and later he was beaten on the inside on a play that led to another sack. The Patriots adjusted by moving Ryan Wendell from right guard to left guard while rookie Cameron Fleming entered the game at right guard and Kline went to the bench. The pressure abated a bit, mostly due to Brady using the quick passing game to get rid of the ball before coming under fire. The pressure on Brady has increased on recent weeks despite the lack of sacks, and Sunday was just a continuation of that.


Tempo turn –** Things finally started to improve for the offense late in the third quarter when the Patriots went with the hurry-up attack and inserted Shane Vereen into the mix. Using quick throws and Vereen runs out of spread formations, the Patriots marched 81 yards on 13 plays and kicked a field goal to creep within 3 at 13-10. That drive seemed to change the momentum as Geno Smith threw a terrible interception to Jamie Collins on the ensuing drive and the Patriots once again took advantage of a short field to take the lead on a 1-yard Jonas Gray touchdown run. The change in tempo really seemed to keep the Jets on their heels and slowed down the pass rush, and Vereen's change of pace kept New York guessing at a time when the home team was dominating.

Run stoppers – It was no secret coming into the game that the Jets wanted to grind their way to victory. For the most part the Patriots defense didn't let them. At times both Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson picked up some yardage but they were largely held in check. New York tried to stick with the run and racked up the attempts but yards were tough to come by as Vince Wilfork, Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch did a good job of stuffing the run lanes and forcing Ivory and Johnson to bounce outside. The stout play against the run was particularly key in the red zone where the Jets were forced to boot three chip shots on four trips inside the Patriots 20. That ultimately was the difference in the game. The Jets finished with 116 yards on 32 carries for a 3.6-yard average.

Special effort – The Patriots came up with another huge block on special teams, this one coming in the final five minutes when Wilfork got an ever-so-slight piece of Nick Folk's potential go-ahead 52-yard field goal attempt. It was the fourth blocked field goal for the Patriots this season to go along with a blocked punt. It was also the second time this season the Jets had a potential game-winning field goal blocked. Chris Jones knocked down Folk's 58-yarder at the buzzer during the first meeting. Adding Amendola's key punt return to the special teams effort and once again the so-called third phase was huge for New England.


Secondary work –** Given the lack of sophistication to the Jets passing game, the Patriots spent much more time in their base defense with just four defensive backs – Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Rather than matching up with specific targets, Bill Belichick opted to keep Revis on the left side and Browner on the right for the majority of snaps. That left both working against Erik Decker and Percy Harvin, the latter of which represented a difficult matchup in space for both. Fortunately for the Patriots Harvin left the game early with a rib injury. When New England was forced to add extra defensive backs the Jets continued a recent trend by opponents and targeted Logan Ryan. Ryan had trouble with Jeremy Kerley and allowed a few early third-down conversions. He also was called for an illegal contact penalty to give New York another first down, and he could have been flagged for another when he bumped Decker well downfield while Browner was covering the Jets receiver. With Kyle Arrington out with a hamstring problem, Ryan was under the gun.

Safety concerns – Patrick Chung has enjoyed a nice renaissance season in his second go-around with the Patriots but the bulk of his success has come as a run-stopper as a de facto linebacker in the box. When covering tight ends this season, however, things haven't gone quite as smoothly. On Sunday he was caught peeking into the backfield while Jeff Cumberland ran straight past him for an easy 20-yard touchdown. Chung bit on the play-action fake and he didn't have any safety help over the top, and Smith was able to easily loft his scoring pass into space with no Patriot in sight. Chung has been competitive at times but generally when he's been locked in man coverage he doesn't usually win the battles and Cumberland won most of them on Sunday.

Extra points – The Patriots earned a first-round bye for the fifth-straight season, becoming the first team to do so in five consecutive seasons. It was also New England's 10th bye since the current playoff format was instituted in 1990, the most of any team during that time. … The win was the Patriots 12th of the season, the fifth-straight year they've won that many. The Colts from 2003-09 with seven hold the longest such streak. … New England improved to 83-21 (.798) since 2001 in games after Thanksgiving. … For the fifth consecutive game the Patriots held their opponent out of the end zone in the second half. Dating back to the Week 12 win over Detroit, the Patriots have allowed a total of 12 second-half points, including six against the Jets. … The Patriots improved to 4-1 against AFC East opponents this season and 67-18 (.788) within the division since 2001. … Belichick picked up his 230th win and moved past Curly Lambeau into fourth place behind Don Shula (347), George Halas (324) and Tom Landry (270). … Brady went over the 4,000-yard mark for the seventh time in his career. He now has 4,029 yards. … Vereen established a career high in receiving yards with 433 on the season.

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