As has been the case often of late in the series, New England's trip to New York Sunday afternoon resulted in an AFC East dogfight with the Jets.
The injury-riddled Patriots trailed all day save for tying the game at 20-20 with 1:55 to play and went on to lose 26-20 in overtime when New York took the only possession of extra time and marched to a 6-yard Eric Decker touchdown, beating Malcolm Butler for the game-winning score.
The overtime got off to a controversial start as Matthew Slater won the coin toss with a "heads" call but then informed the officials that New England wanted to kickoff, although the special teams captain also seemed to think he would also get to choose the direction of play as well.
Ryan Fitzpatrick never gave Tom Brady a chance in overtime, moving 80 yards in just five plays, including a 48-yard catch-and-run down the left sideline to Quincy Enunwa that put the home squad in field goal position, while a 20-yarder to Brandon Marshall set up the game-winner.
New England actually needed to convert a key Jamie Collins fumble recovery for a touchdown and a Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski fourth-down conversion to set up a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to come back from a 17-3 deficit and force the fruitless overtime period.
It was by no means a banner effort or day in New York for the AFC East champs who are still fighting to lock down the No. 1 seed and the conference and home-field playoff advantage.
Playing without the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, the losses were obvious on both sides of the ball. It didn't help that Sebastian Vollmer was carted off with a leg injury.
Brady's offense, other than Gronkowski's usual impressive effort to the tune of four catches for 86 yards, seemed to be limited to trick plays and too much reliance on Brandon Bolden and Keshawn Martin. New England used a variety of questionable play calls that included an end around, jet sweep, flea flicker, reverse and the Wildcat.
Brady completed 22 of his 31 throws for 231 yards with one touchdown and one interception for an 89.6. rating. The offense had just one touchdown, 284 yards overall and a mere 68 yards on the ground. In digging a 10-3 halftime deficit New England had a dismal five first downs in the first 30 minutes and then decided to run the clock out in very unaggressive fashion to close out the second quarter.
Defensively the New England unit struggled stopping the run early on and never really got a grasp on the Fitzpatrick-led passing game. Marshal had 115 yards on eight catches with a pair of scores, including a 33-yard touchdown. New York tallied 143 yards on the ground on 27 attempts for a 5.3-yard average. Three different Jets backs had at least seven carries for at least 36 yards with a long of at least 13 yards. It was a less-than-stellar day for the run defense, although it was a bit better in the second half.
Overall, the game went the way many expected. The Patriots looked undermanned and at times lacking must-win motivation. New York, on the other hand, very much played the role of a home team making a late-run at the postseason in hard-fought game against a well-known division foe.
In many ways the Patriots fought the good fight and simply came up short.
"It was obviously a real competitive game," Belichick said. "We had our chances but in the end couldn't make enough plays. Give the Jets credit. We just came up a little bit short today."
On the controversial decision to kick to open halftime, Belichick said simply, "we thought it was the best thing to do."
"There was no confusion," Belichick added later.
And Brady supported him.
"Whatever coach decides," Brady said. "It wasn't like we were tracking it up and down the field."
"We knew it was going to be a fourth-quarter game," Brady said. "We battled to the end. We had our chances, we just didn't come away with it."
Belichick seemed more annoyed with his offense and defense than the questionable call.
"We didn't do much offensively. We couldn't stop the run. We just didn't do enough to win," Belichick said.
Now, New England heads to Miami next week for the regular season finale. A win over the Dolphins clinches the No. 1 seed. Injuries and managing the roster will clearly once again be a concern.
Before turning the page to South Florida, here's a look at some of the personnel highs and lows from the Patriots unsettling by probably somewhat predictable loss in New York:
Rob Gronkowski -The big tight end was the most comfortable weapon Brady had to work with and produced in somewhat limited chances. Gronkowski had four catches on six targets for 86 yards. He beat coverage from New York cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Gronkowski had a key fourth-down conversion in the middle of the field, hauling in a 26-yard grab to set up the game-tying score late in the fourth quarter. Gronkowksi looks healthy, which is great, and looks uncoverable once again, which is also very good.
Special teams - After a month of lots of questionable plays, the kicking game was back to being a solid area at MetLife Stadium. Stephen Gostkowski hit field goals from 35 and 44 yards. His kickoffs were solid. Ryan Allen had a very good 44-yard net with two downed inside the 20. Keshawn Martin was good on returns, both on punts and kickoffs. Most importantly there were no huge mistakes in the kicking game, as had been the case over the previous month.
LaAdrian Waddle - Less than two weeks after joining the Patriots off waivers from Detroit, Waddle made his New England debut. He was called on in the first quarter to replace Sebastian Vollmer at left tackle and did a pretty admirable job the rest of the way protecting Brady's valuable backside on a day when New England continued to add to its long injured list. The only downside is Waddle left with his own shoulder injury in the second half.
Jabaal Sheard -The veteran defender is becoming a weekly Buy. For the third straight week Sheard notched a sack, this a third-quarter strip-sack that was recovered and returned for a touchdown by Jamie Collins. That may have been the play of the game, that ignited the Patriots comeback and gave the team a chance to win. Sheard now has eight sacks on the season, matching his career-high from 2011 in Cleveland, including four in the last three weeks.
Duron Harmon/Logan Ryan/Malcolm Butler -With the back end playing without Devin McCourty for the second straight week, and without Patrick Chung, there were simply too many open receivers in the defensive backfield. Brandon Marshall had his way with Ryan at times, scoring a short touchdown on the cornerback. Marshall's other score came when he beat Harmon for a 33-yard touchdown in which he spun the safety around. Marshall finished with a game-high eight catches for 115 yards, while Eric Decker beat Butler for the game-winner with relative ease.
Run defense -The Jets ran right through the New England front for most of the day. Sure, the Patriots were without Patrick Chung and playing with a limited Dont'a Hightower, but the ease at which the New York offense churned out yards on the ground was a big alarming. The Jets had 92 yards rushing in the first half, at 6.1 yards per carry. Things slowed down some in the second, with Chris Ivory getting banged up, but New York still finished with 143 yards on 27 carries for a 5.3-yard average.
Play calling -From a series of end arounds, reverses, Wildcat snaps and flea flickers in the early going, to a disinterested, run-the-clock-out possession at end of the second quarter, the Patriots game plan was curious to say in the least. There was also seemingly a great focus on getting Brandon Bolden involved both on the ground and through the air. It just wasn't what we've come to expect from Belichick, Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense, even considering the health situation.
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