The undermanned Patriots fought gallantly on the road in New York but ultimately dropped a 26-20 overtime decision to the Jets. Here are some random thoughts on New England's third defeat of the season.
KICKED OFF – The game ended in bizarre fashion when the Patriots chose to kick off to start overtime after winning the toss. Matthew Slater opted to kick but clearly had the idea of defending the opposite goal. After telling referee Clete Blakeman that he wanted to kick the special teams captain quickly added that he wanted to do so the other way as Blakeman was asking the Jets captains which direction they wanted to receive. Obviously the team winning the toss only gets to choose either to take the ball or a certain direction – not both. Slater later admitted he was confused and thought they could choose which direction they would kick. Either way Bill Belichick wanted to kick, which was curious. Neither side was moving the ball well in the second half and Belichick seemed like he was looking for a stop and field goal to win it. Obviously that never materialized as the Jets marched 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
BALANCING ACT –Belichick alluded to the challenges of balancing the health of his roster with trying to win when asked about the injury situation earlier in the week heading into the Jets game. The coach obviously wasn't exaggerating, as several starters weren't able to make the trip to the Meadowlands and were held out. Julian Edelman (foot), Danny Amendola (knee), Patrick Chung (hip) and Devin McCourty (ankle) all remained in Foxborough when the team traveled to take on the Jets and were downgraded to out. It's certainly possible some or all of those players wouldn't have been able to go even in a must-win situation but it would seem as if Belichick used some discretion in forming his lineup and decided that health was more important than locking down the top seed as quickly as possible. The one glaring exception to that rule was the activation of Dont'a Hightower. The linebacker left last week's win over Tennessee early with a knee injury that kept him out of the previous two games but was back in the lineup against the Jets. He started and saw significant action.
RUNNING CONCERNS –The Jets had their way with the Patriots on the ground in the first half despite the fact that the front seven was intact. Hightower joined Jamie Collins at linebacker while Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones played up front. Despite that Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley all enjoyed success in the first 30 minutes. New York rushed for 92 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry while consistently gashing the Patriots front. New England was caught using some lighter fronts with Jabaal Sheard lining up inside standing up on an early second-and-10 play that resulted in a 16-yard Powell run. The absence of Chung likely played a factor as rookie Jordan Richards wasn't able to fill the role of the in-the-box safety as effectively. The Patriots improved in that department in the second half but the Jets still wound up with 143 yards on the ground and averaged 5.3 yards on 27 carries.
BAG OF TRICKS – The undermanned Patriots reached deep into the array of trick plays against the Jets, using an end around, a reverse, a flea flickers and even ran a play out of the Wildcat with Brandon Bolden getting stuffed for no gain on third-and-short. Clearly with Amendola and Edelman not available, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels felt the need to get creative to get the ball moving. It was not effective throughout the first half that saw the Patriots mount just a single scoring drive that resulted in a field goal. The tricks continued a bit in the second half as James White tried his luck on a jet sweep that did not catch New York off guard and resulted in a 1-yard gain.
MOUNTING CONCERNS –Given the Patriots growing injury list, losing Sebastian Vollmer early in the game was not ideal. Vollmer was carted off with a leg injury and LaAdrian Waddle took his place at left tackle while Marcus Cannon remained at right tackle. Waddle handled himself reasonably well in his Patriots debut, although he did receive some help from guard Shaq Mason at times. Overall pass protection wasn't an issue for Tom Brady and the passing game for most of the way but in the fourth quarter things got dicey. Waddle was forced to the sideline with an apparent shoulder injury and Cameron Fleming took his place. Throughout the final quarter the Jets had constant, immediate pressure and forced Brady to get rid of it quickly.
SAFETY NET – With McCourty and Chung out it was clear that the Jets wanted to test the back end of the Patriots secondary and tried several deep balls. With very few exceptions those routes proved effective as several Jets receivers were able to get behind the defense. Unfortunately for Ryan Fitzpatrick he had a tough time connecting on many of those plays. In the first half both Kenbrell Thompkins and Quincy Enunwa beat the coverage deep downfield but Fitzpatrick was off target. The deep balls continued, though, and eventually they proved fruitful. Brandon Marshall got behind Duron Harmon on his 33-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter and Enunwa again was open deep on the final drive but dropped a pass that would have at the very least set up a game-winning field goal. Harmon and rookie Jordan Richards seem to have trouble keeping receivers in front of them, and Tavon Wilson took Richards' place occasionally in the second half in passing situations.
ALL-PRO MATCHUP –There were several occasions where Darrelle Revis and Rob Gronkowski were matched up one-on-one, which is something regular viewers of training camp in 2014 remember well. Revis and Gronkowski spent significant practice time working against each other and it was interesting to see them going at it. Revis had an interception in the third quarter on a play where Brady and Gronkowski appeared to get crossed up as the tight end continued his seam route while Brady's pass came back to the inside, allowing Revis the easy interception. Revis also got beat deep down the seam in the first half but Brady's pass was off target to the inside out fell out of Gronkowski's reach. Revis didn't take Gronkowski exclusively as Antonio Cromartie also lined up opposite the tight end. Clearly the Jets weren't too concerned with the banged-up receiver corps and devoted some resources to limiting Gronkowski to four catches for 86 yards.
SUB LOOKS –After enjoying a successful debut as the nickel back two weeks ago against Houston, Leonard Johnson wasn't as effective against the Jets. Fitzpatrick looked Johnson's way early on third downs and had success with short throws in his direction. Justin Coleman also was part of those sub packages with the safety position lacking its normal depth. Overall the second wasn't at its best but as Fitzpatrick threw for nearly 300 yards and ultimately took his team 80 yards for the overtime victory.
CONSERVATIVE APPROACH –Since the Patriots have dealt with injury concerns on offense it appears the Patriots no longer maintain their aggressive approach late in the first half. New England took over at their 16 with 1:53 left and opened with an 11-yard Brandon Bolden run, which would seem like a good time to kickstart things into a two-minute drill. However, Bolden followed with a 2-yard run and Brady then hit James White for 5 yards before the Patriots simply let the clock run out. New England not only didn't use any of its timeouts but they chose to huddle and were content to go to the locker room trailing 10-3.
EXTRA POINTS –After going the entire season without recording a defensive touchdown the Patriots picked up their second in as many weeks against the Jets when Collins scooped up a Fitzpatrick fumble caused by Jabaal Sheard and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. … The Sheard sack was the 48th of the season for New England, which matches the most for the team under Belichick. … Brady's late touchdown pass to White was the 481st of his career, which tied him with Brett Favre for the most with one team in NFL history. … Gronkowski finished with 86 receiving yards and passed Ben Coates (5,471) for the most by a tight end in team history. Gronkowski now has 5,537 receiving yards in his career. … Steven Jackson made his Patriots debut and finished with 15 yards on seven carries.