The Patriots have had to fight for everything they've gotten on the road this season and that trend continued Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium in the 27-13 win over the Jets.
The victory pulled New England to 3-3 away from Gillette Stadium this fall, but was anything but easy.
Bill Belichick's team came out of the bye playing less than perfect football. New England trailed 7-0 in the first quarter, was tied with the Jets at 10 at halftime and didn't begin to pull away from a 13-13 game until late in the third quarter.
While it was a struggle at times, the return of Rob Gronkowski – to the team and the end zone – was certainly a highlight, as was Sony Michel getting back over the 100-yard mark for the first time since the Week 6 win over the Chiefs.
Now, 8-3 on the season, the Patriots bounced back from the pre-bye blowout loss in Tennessee with a division victory. But there certainly were plenty of things that were less-than-ideal against a 3-8 Jets team that was similarly coming off the bye and had been blown out by the Bills prior to the week off.
Tom Brady spread the ball around to eight different targets to complete 20 of 31 passes for 283 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 115.4 rating despite battling a knee injury and illness this week. It was his first multi-touchdown game in more than a month.
It wasn't perfect, but it was another win and another step toward January football.
"Alright, as usual down here it was a tough game. Jets as always played us tough and gave us problems there in the first half," Belichick said. "We were able to get some things straightened out and play competitively. There are certainly plenty of things to work on and things we could have done better today. But I thought our guys competed hard. Hopefully we can continue to build on that."
Before moving on to next Sunday evening's big battle in Foxborough with the Vikings, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the post-bye win in New York.
Sony Michel/Offensive line – The rookie running back was the point man on a big rushing day after the offense was challenged to run the ball more effectively and efficiently. As a team New England ran it 36 times for 215 yards (6.0 avg.) with one touchdown. Michel led the way with 21 rushes for 133 yards (6.3 avg.) and a touchdown and could have had more were it not for a couple holding penalties. New England couldn't run the ball and lost the line of scrimmage in the pre-bye loss in Tennessee but certainly got the job done up front in the win over the Jets. It certainly helped to get Shaq Mason back at right guard to pull the starting five linemen back together once again.
Rob Gronkowski – Though it was far from perfect, Gronkowski returned to action after missing two games and factored in all three New England touchdowns. He got the scoring going with a pretty 34-yard pass down the middle for the game-tying touchdown in the first quarter. He helped clear the way for Julian Edelman's catch-and-run 21-yard TD. He also was the guy Michel ran behind for his 1-yard rushing score. Gronkowski finished catching just three of the seven passes thrown his way for 57 yards and the score, but had a positive impact on the win in his return to action. Seeing him in the end zone for the first time since Week 1 was a obviously a positive sign for Patriots fans.
Wide receivers' efficiency – One of the bye-week storylines was the idea that Brady was too focused on throwing to Edelman and Josh Gordon, the latter targeted 12 times for just four catches against the Titans. Sunday in New York Brady targeted wide receivers 16 times total for 14 completions. He completed all five targets to Gordon for 70 yards. Edelman had four catches on five targets for a game-high 84 yards, including a 36-yarder and a 21-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Both Chris Hogan (2 catches for 47 yards) and Phillip Dorsett (2 catches for 10 yards) hauled in everything thrown their way. It was a more efficient day in the passing game against a decent Jets defense.
Tackling – New England's tackling – both on defense and in the kicking game -- has had its ups and too many downs throughout the season. The kickoff coverage unit gave up another long return, this time 35 yards. Elandon Roberts had an ugly missed tackle early on (though he bounced back and had a pretty solid day). It wasn't an issue that ended up playing out in the result, but the Jets were sneaky successful running the ball. New York ran it 15 times for 74 yards (4.9 avg.). Each of the three players to run the ball for the home team ran for a gain of 8 yard or longer, two going 12 yards or better and some missed tackles were a part of that.
Penalties – New England played its ugliest game of the year in terms of flags, earning season highs in both penalties called (11) and yards (105) from the NFL's most flag-happy officiating crew. Trent Brown earned first-half holding calls that wiped out a 25-yard Michel gain and a 13-yarder for James White. Brown also had a false start on a short field goal, while Stephon Gilmore picked up a holding call in coverage, adding to his penalty total for the season. It was a sloppy post-bye performance in terms of penalties, although it was a bit more negatively weighted to the first half in New York.
Tight end pass defense – In what has been not only a recurring theme this year but also into past seasons, coverage of tight ends was an issue again on Sunday. Chris Herndon caught a game-high seven of the eight passes thrown his way for 57 yards. The coverage breakdowns likely involved multiple players – Belichick himself warns us coverage breakdowns are difficult to judge from afar -- but it was another week when the opposition's tight end was one of the most efficient targets in the passing game.
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