Through six quarters of action this season much-maligned Jets quarterback Geno Smith had played turnover free football. In Week 7 that and a dominant running attack were why the Patriots needed a blocked kick as time expired to win in Foxborough.
Sunday afternoon in New York (actually, New Jersey), New England once again found itself in a dogfight with a three-win Rex Ryan squad. The Jets led 10-7 at halftime and 13-10 in the third quarter when Smith threw an ill-advised and even more poorly thrown ball that turned into an easy interception for Jamie Collins that swung the game to the Patriots.
Tom Brady – who had another slow day, leading an offense that had just 52 net yards through two quarters of play – and the New England attack turned the turnover into a drive to a Jonas Gray touchdown for the 17-13 lead.
The New England Patriots take on the New York Jets in a regular season game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, December 21, 2014.
The Jets would add a field goal, and New England needed a controversial first-down call and review, but the visitors secured the 17-16 victory to earn a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
On a day when New England was without four key contributors due to injury – Julian Edelman (concussion/thigh), Kyle Arrington (hamstring), LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and Dan Connolly (knee) – Bill Belichick's squad made just enough plays, many of them late, to get the job done.
There are no points for aesthetics at this point in the year. The 12th win is the 12th win. The first-round bye can't be taken away because of any mistakes made during the emotional battle over a tough division rival.
Rex Ryan's team did anything but roll over and lose in what could have been the coach's final home game, final game against New England, as the Jets head coach.
Now, the Patriots will wait for the results of Monday night's game between the Broncos and Bengals to see if New England can lock down the No. 1 seed heading into the season finale against the Bills.
With one game to go, a somewhat banged up football team and a bye week coming on the horizon the Patriots remain very much in position to go a long way this winter. But there have been a few questions about the team's abilities and momentum in the last few weeks, and that continued in an absolute battle on Sunday against the hated Jets.
Before turning attention to the Buffalo finale next Sunday in Foxborough, here's a look at some of the good and the bad from an at-times ugly afternoon of work at MetLife:
Danny Amendola** – Julian Edelman missed his first game of the season, his first since 2012, due to a concussion. Amendola stepped into that role pretty well leading the Patriots with a game-high eight catches for 63 yards. He also had a really nice afternoon on punt returns with a 21-yard average, including a 39 yarder to set up the offense for a short drive to a Rob Gronkowski touchdown catch. As Bill Belichick might say, Amendola did his job.
Brandon LaFell/Shane Vereen – While the Patriots offense wasn't overly productive and sputtered for long stretches once again, each of these two complementary players chipped in at key times. LaFell had 24 of the team's 38 yards on the way to Jonas Gray's game-winning touchdown. He finished with seven catches for 71 yards. Vereen led the Patriots rushing attack with 38 yards on his six attempts, all on an 81-yard drive to Stephen Gostkowski's 24-yard field goal to pull within three late in the third quarter. On a day when offense was tough to come by, LaFell and Vereen kicked in with key contributions at important times.
Defensive tackles – Vince Wilfork and friends shut down the Jets running game for the most part. New York ran 32 times for 116 yards for a 3.6-yard average. Alan Branch and Wilfork each had tackles for mere 1-yard gains to open the game. Sealver Siliga also got into the mix. The Patriots held the Jets to 30-plus yards below their season average and much lower than the 218 that New York ran for in the first meeting. The middle of New England's defensive line can now very much carry its weight on defense.
Offensive line** – Playing without Dan Connolly – inactive due to a knee injury – New England struggled mightily with a battle in the trenches against one of the best defensive fronts in football. Josh Kline stepped in at left guard before being yanked, with Ryan Wendell jumping from the right side to the left and Cameron Fleming coming on at right guard. Regardless, Dave DeGuglielmo's group struggled. Brady was sacked four times in the first half. That disrupted the entire offensive flow – with guys getting beaten one-on-one as well as falling victim to some communication issues. New England averaged just 3.5 yards per carry on the ground, although the team did run enough to run the game out in the fourth quarter. The line has been shaky for the better part of the last month now. And that leaves fans wondering if the line/protection could be the Patriots fatal flaw as has been the case in the past.
Logan Ryan – Kyle Arrington was inactive with a hamstring injury. Ryan played a lot more. And Geno Smith, as other quarterbacks before him, chose to target the guy Ryan was covering with alarming regularity. In fact a New England secondary that's been building steam was not at its best in allowing Smith to complete 63 percent of his throws and find a bit too much room to work for a heretofore inept passing attack. Patrick Chung gave up a wide-open touchdown. Ryan was picked on. Even Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner were seemingly chasing at times. But the fact remains that when Ryan is on the field – out of design or when Arrington is sidelined to injury – he has a bull's eye on his back.
Tackling – The Patriots defense allowed just 16 points and a respectable 307 yards of total offense. But the tackling wasn't nearly good enough. Chris Ivory and others were breaking too many tackles and getting yards after contact. From the linebackers to the secondary, they just weren't efficient enough bringing down Jets ball carriers on initial chances. Fundamentals key any good defense and the tackling needs to be cleaned up as more potent offenses and impressive skill players are on the playoff horizon.
Tom Brady – Brady hasn't looked overly comfortable for the last few weeks. He was pressured and sacked early once again. He didn't respond well trying to move the football. He completed 23 of 35 throws 182 yards with one touchdown and one interception for 76.1 rating that's his third lowest of the season, worst since the Week 4 loss in Kansas City.