The Patriots and Jets locked up in an old fashioned AFC East rock fight Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, and although it wasn't always pretty New England came away with a 30-23 victory to take complete control of the division.
LINE PLAY - The Patriots may have turned in their best performance of the year on both side of the line of scrimmage. Playing against talented and physical offensive and defensive fronts for the Jets, New England more than held its own on both sides. Defensively, the Patriots used a lot of bodies up front with Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga all rotating. That group kept the linebackers clean and Dont'a Hightower took advantage with 10 solo tackles. Many of Hightower's stops came with authority and Chris Ivory, the AFC's leading rusher coming in, finished with 17 carries for 41 yards, which translates to a 2.4-yard average. Zac Stacy was equally ineffective with 19 yards on seven carries (2.7-yard average), and the Patriots never let the Jets ground game get going.
LINE PLAY II - On the flip side, for the first time all season the Patriots went with a set starting five along the offensive line. From left to right, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, David Andrews, Tre' Jackson, Cameron Fleming went wire to wire and did an admirable job of protecting Tom Brady. Playing against a talented and aggressive front that includes Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and linebackers Calvin Pace and Quentin Coples, that group was forced to try to protect 57 times and surrendered just three sacks. Playing without three starters - Bryan Stork, Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder and Shaq Mason - the coaches still had the confidence to eschew the running game and go exclusively with the passing game. Considering the difficulty of the task, it was arguably the best performance of the season for the offensive line.
AMEN-DOLA -The player of the game for the Patriots was likely Danny Amendola, who finished with eight catches for 86 yards including the game-winning touchdown. Time and time again he came up with the big play and on a day when catching the ball seemed to be a challenge for many of the receivers, Amendola showed tremendous hands while holding onto eight of the nine passes thrown his way.
BAT MAN -Rob Ninkovich has always been a Jets killer and he got his hands on the ball almost as often as New York's receivers during the afternoon. Ninkovich pushed right tackle Breno Giacomini around for much of the day and as a result found himself in the passing lanes often. He batted down four of passes and nearly had an interception on another deflected ball. It was a strong day overall for Ninkovich.
JUST-IN TIME -Justin Coleman has shown a willingness to compete during his short time in New England. Sunday was no exception. In the first half he drew an illegal hands to the face penalty that allowed the Jets to convert a first down at the 4. But two plays later he made a terrific play to break up a potential touchdown when he deflected a pass in the end zone. Later in the game the Jets targeted the rookie in a big spot facing a third-and-seven while trailing 23-20 in the final five minutes. He was locked up with Devin Smith on a deep fade and had tremendous coverage to prevent the completion. Coleman has been a feisty addition to the secondary.
The New England Patriots take on the New York Jets in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 25, 2015.
LONG DAY FOR BUTLER -Malcolm Butler has a short memory and he'll need to utilize it after his performance on Sunday. The second-year corner had trouble keeping up with Eric Decker, who caught six passes for 94 yards and was fortunate that the damage wasn't worse. Decker was open on a deep ball and also in the end zone on a fade but Ryan Fitzpatrick was unable to make the connection. Butler also was called for an 18-yard pass interference penalty when he tackled Decker before the ball arrived. Interestingly, the Jets focused on Butler instead of trying to get the ball to Brandon Marshall, who finished with four catches for 67 yards but was only targeted seven times compared to Decker's 12. Overall it may have been Butler's worst day as the team's No. 1 corner.
THIRD THOUGHTS -The Patriots third-down defense has to be better than it was against the Jets. New York converted 8-of-14 third downs for a 57-percent rate, and many of those came on third and long. The Jets hit on four of their first five third down attempts and three of those conversions came on third-and-10. Ultimately the Patriots came up with the stop when they needed it when Coleman made his big play, but that will need to be addressed.
PASSING FANCY - The Patriots were forced to go without Dion Lewis, their dynamic third-down back who has been such a big part of the offense over the first month-plus due to an abdominal injury. That put second-year back James White into the fray and he took on his biggest role of his young career. White was active early in the game, making two Jets tacklers miss after a 7-yard catch in the first quarter, and he made a huge block to pick up a blitz on a key third-and-six conversion of 26 yards to Rob Gronkowski in the second. It was the block that likely will earn him some praise from the coaches watching film because without him stepping into the hole to take on the oncoming linebacker Tom Brady would never have been able to deliver his strike to Gronkowski. That play came during a drive that ended in Stephen Gostkowski's field goal to give the Patriots a 13-10 lead.
ROCKY START - Similar to last season when Brandon LaFell's transition to New England wasn't smooth at the outset, the receiver's 2015 debut did not get off to a rousing start. After being activated off PUP a day earlier, LaFell had trouble catching the ball. He finished the first half with one catch for 19 yards but had four others hit his hands without being secured. Not all of the throws were great, and Antonio Cromartie got his hands on one, but certainly one could consider all of them drops. LaFell looked rusty and there's no reason to believe he won't return to the form that saw him develop into one of the main weapons for the offense a year ago. He was replaced at the start of the second half by Aaron Dobson but returned on the next series and added another drop after catching a 6-yard pass to set up third-and-three.
DESERTED ISLAND -Old friend Darrelle Revis was back in town and received a lukewarm greeting from the crowd at best. Once the game began, he was barely noticeable, however. Early on he appeared to be staying on the left side and covering whichever receiver the Patriots lined up across from him. Eventually the Jets adjusted and had Revis manning up with Edelman and even Gronkowski at times. Brady didn't seem to target him often, although there were a couple of plays when Revis was beaten but was fortunate that the Patriots receivers dropped the ball. That was especially true when Edelman dropped one at the goal line after beating Revis on a shallow crossing route. Overall Revis' return was uneventful.
CHANGING SPOTS - The officials had a tough day in terms of spotting the ball the each team benefited from throwing the challenge flag. The Jets were initially awarded a first down when Decker caught a pass and was marked down at the New York 30 in the second quarter. Bill Belichick threw the red flag and referee Bill Vinovich correctly ruled that Decker was down about a half-yard shy of the first down mark and the Jets had to punt. On the ensuing series, LaFell caught a pass on second-and-20 and was initially awarded the first down, but this time Todd Bowles asked Vinovich to take another look and again correctly moved the ball back about a yard. On third down Brady was sacked and the Patriots were forced to kick a field goal. It's not often that spots are challenged and they're overturned even less frequently but both sides were right to ask for a second look and it paid off.
EXTRA POINTS -Brady made the 213th start of his career, tops in Patriots history. … Chandler Jones had a strip sack on the first series, one of two sacks for the Patriots. The team is now on pace for 56 sacks. … Brady threw for 355 yards and is now on pace for 5,477 yards, which would equal Peyton Manning's record set in 2013. … Gronkowski finished with 11 catches for 108 yards and now has 533 receiving yards this season. He is now on pace for 1,421 yards, which would break his own record for tight ends.