For most of the evening at MetLife Stadium it appeared that the Patriots were set to be knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten, but Stephen Gostkowski came up big when it mattered most and New England escaped with a 27-26 victory.
Here are some random thoughts from the Patriots ninth victory of the season:
MONEY MAN –Much had been written and said about Stephen Gostkowski's importance to the Patriots this season but one thing that has been largely lacking from his near-perfect resume was a clutch, game-winning kick. Check that one off the list after his scintillating 54-yard bomb lifted the Patriots to a 27-26 victory. Gostkowski now has seven game-winning kicks in the fourth quarter or overtime, but this was just the second that came with the Patriots trailing and obviously the difficult nature of the kick puts it at the top of the list. He has now made 30 straight field goals.
JULES HIDDEN – The Patriots lost Julian Edelman in the first quarter and the offense struggled for long stretches in his absence. Edelman was causing some problems for the Giants secondary, getting loose on a couple of third downs to move the chains before leaving with a foot injury. He already had four catches for 53 yards when he went down, and with offense already without Dion Lewis it took some time before things settled down. Various reports indicated Edelman broke a bone in his foot and will undergo surgery on Monday but is expected to available to return for the playoffs. After Edelman left the Patriots were forced to punt on their final two drives of the first half. Tom Brady appeared to be irritated at times following Edelman's departure, perhaps frustrated without one of his most reliable weapons.
HOLE IN THE MIDDLE – Jamie Collins was forced to miss his second straight game with an undisclosed illness. In the first against a Washington team that leans heavily on the run it wasn't an issue because Dont'a Hightower and the rest of the front seven were able to contain the Redskins. It was a different story against New York, however. The Giants pushed tempo to keep the Patriots base defense on the field throughout the first half and used tight ends effectively – even with starter Larry Donnell out with an injury. Will Tye and Jerome Cunningham made big plays in the first half, running free across the middle as linebackers Jonathan Freeny and Jonathan Bostic tried in vain to keep up with them. Tye had three catches for 44 yards, including a 31-yarder down to the 1 in the closing seconds of the second quarter. Cunningham had a 16-yard catch as well. Hard to believe those unheralded players would have enjoyed similar success with Collins on the field.
MR. JONES – Chandler Jones continued his monster season but coming up with one of the biggest players of the evening for the Patriots defense. With the Giants trailing 10-7 and driving inside New England's red zone, Jones came around the left end and sacked Eli Manning, knocking the ball away in the process. The fumble was recovered by Justin Coleman, ending the threat.
IN THE NINK-OF TIME – One the biggest plays of the game came from Rob Ninkovich when it appeared as if the Giants were poised to regain their two-score lead. After Brady was strip sacked and New York took over in Patriots territory, Ninkovich stormed in on Manning and brought him down for a 13-yard loss. The Giants were unable to move the ball from there and were forced to punt with a 23-17 lead. Even a field goal on that drive would have put the Patriots in a load of trouble in the fourth quarter.
DANNY BOY – Danny Amendola came up huge in Edelman's absence in the second half. With the Patriots trailing 20-10 the Giants punted to Amendola deep in Patriots territory and the wideout reversed field and scampered 82 yards down the left sideline. If not for getting his feet crossed up with Duron Harmon at the 7, Amendola would have taken it to the house. It didn't matter as LeGarrette Blount eventually pushed it across for the touchdown. Later Amendola came up with a couple of huge catches, one to convert a fourth-and-10 and then the final 9-yard reception to set up the game-winning field goal. He finished with 10 catches for 79 yards and made all the plays with the game on the line.
COACHING QUESTIONS –There will be plenty of second-guessingof Tom Coughlinin the aftermath of the Patriots victory. Trailing 24-23 with just 2:06 left the Giants appeared to be in the driver's seat. With the ball on the 5-yard line the Patriots had just one timeout remaining and the Giants had first-and-goal. Instead of running the ball and forcing the Patriots to use their final timeout, or get to the two-minute warning, Coughlin had Manning throw to the end zone to Odell Beckham Jr. Malcolm Butler knocked it away, which referee Ed Hochuli ruled after reviewing the play, to set up second down with 2:01 left. The Giants threw again and the two-minute warning came with 1:56 left, setting up third down and the Patriots still holding their final timeout. A sack on the final play set up Josh Brown's field goal but left plenty of time for the Patriots to move down the field for the final kick. If Coughlin chose to run the ball on first down the two-minute warning likely would have come, and after second down another run would have forced the final timeout. Then a third-down run would have eaten up 40 seconds before the go-ahead field goal. That would have left about a minute for Brady's final drive.
TAKING A BAD TURN –After turning the ball over just three times in the first seven games, the Patriots have lost it four times in the last two. Against Washington Edelman lost a fumble and Brady threw an interception. In the Giants game it was Brady coughing it up twice, once on a fumble and then on another Brady pick. It could have actually been worse because Brady was stripped later in the game but bailed out when Bryan Stork recovered the fumble. Then on the final drive he threw one up for grabs and appeared to throw an interception to Landon Collins, but the rookie lost control of the ball shortly after hitting the ground and rolling over.
MAYO SIGHTING –After the Giants tight ends enjoyed a lot of success in the first half operating against Freeny and Bostic, Jerod Mayo entered the game and was much more competitive in coverage. Mayo was active in chasing Tye across the middle and finished with four tackles. It was probably his most active game this season and it will be interesting to see if he continues to get any significant time when Collins returns.
EXTRA POINTS – The Patriots once again scored in every quarter and ran their streak to an all-time NFL best of 35 consecutive quarters. … Scott Chandler finished with one catch for 1 yard but it was a touchdown. … Beckham's 87-yard touchdown was the longest touchdown allowed by the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. … New England improved to 44-10 against the NFC under Belichick. …Gostkowski's game-winner was the 264th of his career, moving his past Adam Vinatieri for the most in team history. … Brady engineered the 49th comeback victory of his career.