Tom Brady talked last Wednesday about the Patriots great rivalry with the Jets and how the games always seem to come down to tight, hard fought affairs.
New England's quarterback was indeed prophetic, as the Patriots (6-0) and New York (4-2) slugged it out Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, with the Jets running out of time in a comeback effort that concluded in a 30-23 victory for the home squad.
Tom Brady threw the ball for 355 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions against the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense. Rob Gronkowski hit for 11 catches for 108 yards and a score. It was a pure passing day as the banged up Patriots decided to forgo the running game against the Jets big, talented, stout front.
But even on the way to another 30-point day, it never was easy. A week after trailing at halftime in Indy, this time around the Patriots were trailing early in the fourth quarter.
And even after New England pulled out to the 30-20 lead on the Gronkowski score, the Jets answered with a field goal and recovered an onside kick to make the final seconds somewhat interesting.
Ryan Fitzpatrick had to work without his usual productive running game, but still put up 295 yards and a couple touchdowns.
Both teams stayed on the field well offensively, New York converting eight of 14 third downs (57 percent) and New England eight of 16 (50 percent).
Neither team ran the ball much – New England never trying and New York never succeeding.
Brady's No. 1 scoring offense made more plays than what was supposedly the best defense in football, and mercenary turncoat cornerback Darrelle Revis was never really much of a factor.
It wasn't easy or pretty. But it was enough.
"Definitely wasn't our best performance. There were a lot of things we left on the field," Bill Belichick said, as the defending champs work to build on each week's contest. "But in the end we were able to make the plays we needed to make when we needed to make them.
"Typical hard fought game against New York and it's always good to come out on top. Good to win here today. Players did a good job fighting through this week. They laid it out there today when they had to and I'm proud of the way they played."
"We were challenged," Belichick added later.
And they met the challenge, as they so often do in these tight battles against the Jets. New England retained first place in the AFC East against this latest competitive, upstart Jets squad. The Patriots move on to a short week to get ready for the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football in Foxborough.
It was hard. It was sluggish at times. It included some really impressive plays and some really ugly plays.
It was typical Jets vs. Patriots in recent years.
And it ended in victory, which is all that matters for Belichick, Brady and the rest of New England.
Before turning the page quickly to the Dolphins and Thursday night, here are a few of the key personnel highs and lows from the big win over Gang Green:
Ryan Allen/Stephen Gostkowski – New England's specialists continue to get the job done. Gostkowski had a scare when a PAT attempt hit the right upright, but still extended his NFL record streak after touchdowns. He also hit his field goals of 38, 46 and 24 yards while putting all seven of his kickoffs on the end zone, including five touchbacks. Allen killed straight-out-the-radio-booth Steve Weatherford big time in the punting game comparison, with a 42.7 net on his three attempts, with all three downed inside the 20.
Dont'a Hightower – The run-stuffing linebacker returned and did his job in impressive fashion. He led a front that shut down Chris Ivory and the entire Jets running game. Hightower finished with 10 tackles, all of them solo. The veteran's ribs didn't seem to be hindering him and he reaffirmed his important role in the middle of the Patriots defense.
*Offensive line – *The Patriots were without Marcus Cannon (toe) and Shaq Mason (knee). They had just one backup dressed (Ryan Wendell) and Cameron Fleming made his first career start at the right tackle spot. The group was facing a Jets defensive front led by Muhammad Wilkerson that may be one of the best, at least the most physical, in the game. But they went out and very much got the job done. Sure Brady was pressured at times, but he also dropped back to throw 57 times against a blitz-happy team and was only sacked three times. The offensive line was more than good enough to get the job done, especially in light of the circumstances.
Rob Ninkovich – The veteran left defensive end knocked down as many passes at the Patriots receivers did. (More on that below.) Ninkovich was credited with four passes defensed and had a great chance for a red zone interception on another deflection. New England's veteran leader took advantage of Ryan Fitzpatrick's low release and right tackle Breno Giacomini for maybe his biggest impact game of the season.
*Run Defense – *Chris Ivory entered the contest leading the NFL in yards per game. The Patriots had allowed 4.8 yards per carry on the season. It looked like a bad matchup. It was…for Ivory. The contact-loving runner had 17 attempts for just 41 yards against the Patriots, a mere 2.4-yard average with a long of just 7 yards. The Patriots simply hemmed Ivory in on all fronts. That included not only Jamie Collins and Hightower combining for 22 tackles, but the rest of the front as well. The work came against what is a very veteran and supposedly high-end offensive line. New England's front won the trenches.
Danny Amendola – A week after a 100-yard game in Indy, Amendola came up huge in the win over New York. On day when many of his receiver teammates were dropping balls, Amendola was making his catches. He finished with eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. The 8-yard score came in traffic on the goal line to give the Patriots the lead. He made an even better catch late in the fourth quarter on a 13-yard jumping reception. Amendola's stock with the Patriots, and his quarterback, continues to be on the rise.
Malcolm Butler – New England's No. 1 corner and supposed Darrelle Revis replacement struggled to man up with Eric Decker. The veteran receiver ran Butler all over the field, keeping the young player chasing him, especially on crossing patterns. Decker finished with six catches for 94 yards, and his quarterback missed Butler's man on occasion as well. But also had one play in the third quarter when he was flagged for illegal hands to the face and holding on the same snap. Tough day for the Super Bowl hero.
Brandon LaFell – The veteran receiver returned from PUP and looked very much like a guy who missed the entire offseason, preseason and first six weeks of the year. LaFell had at least five drops. He looked bit out of timing in his routes and quite rusty. He took on the struggles first hand in the postgame locker room and is likely looking forward to a quick turnaround to get back into the swing of things Thursday night against the Dolphins.
Jerod Mayo – The veteran linebacker and captain continues to be a mainstay on this list because during games he continues to be a mainstay on the sideline. Even in a game in which the Patriots used some more traditional 4-3 sets against a running team, Mayo didn't get into the mix despite big bodies up front like Alan Branch getting the reps in a run-first defensive effort. Mayo is just a bit player at his point in his recovery from his torn patella, who apparently has a ways to go before he can get past Jonathan Freeny on the depth chart.
What do you think of our lists after the big division win? Let us know with a comment below!