FOXBOROUGH – "Throw out the records when these two teams meet" may be a hackneyed sports expression, but it was certainly apropos for Thursday night's 27-25 nail-biter that came down to a blocked field goal as time expired.
It was hard to imagine the 1-win Jets would just crash land in Foxborough. This is, after all, one of the most intense rivalries in the NFL.
"It might have been a little bit ugly and not the way we expected it to go," defensive end Rob Ninkovich conceded, "but a win's a win. Typical Jets-Patriots game. You know, hard-fought. They came in, had a great game plan. You've got to give them credit for some of the things they were able to do offensively, and Geno Smith – he's a guy that can get out of the pocket."
The New England Patriots take on the New York Jets during Thursday Night Football at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, October 16, 2014.
The Jets game plan, it seemed, was to run the ball, and they did that very well: 218 yards total on the ground, half of which came from Chris Ivory. That definitely helped, but it was Smith, their QB, and his legs that kept the Jets within a heartbeat of pulling out an upset on the road. Smith's scrambling allowed him to keep broken plays alive.
"They attacked us a lot in the run game, picked and chose their moments when they wanted to throw, but they did really well attacking us in the run game," cornerback Darrelle Revis admitted.
Up 27-19 with less than eight minutes to play, New England seemed like it finally took control of the game. That is, until Smith led a five-minute touchdown drive that nearly knotted the game, but for a failed two-point conversion attempt that Smith overthrew to an open tight end Jace Amaro. Then when wide receiver Danny Amendola, on the Patriots' hands team, recovered the ensuing onside kick near midfield with 2:30 to play, it looked like victory had all but been assured for New England.
But offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called three straight running plays that netted just one yard, forcing the Patriots to punt. The offense was essentially trusting the defense to do what it couldn't do for the previous three-plus quarters: stop the Jets offense from moving the ball into field goal range.
In fact, when New York kicker Nick Folk lined up for a 58-yard field goal with five second remaining, Gillette Stadium got very quiet.
D-lineman Chris Jones – victimized last year at New York for a penalty on a Jets field goal attempt that wound up costing New England the game – was the hero this time when he blocked Folk's kick. It was Folk's only miss on the night.
"You've got to hold on, and we did," Revis added. "We couldn't get off [the field] at certain times, but guys fought. We knew this game was probably going to be close. It's not how we wanted it to be, with penalties here and there, not getting off on third down, but at the same time… I'll tell you what about this team: we've got a lot of heart. We really do. We stick in these tough games and we fight to the end. It just shows the chemistry we've got and how in synch we are as a whole. We bond well, and we don't point the finger at anybody. We lift each other up and go play the next play."
"New York is a good team, that's why it was close," running back Shane Vereen remarked. "We had to battle to the finish. We knew we were going to have to play 60 minutes and luckily, we did. You take a win anytime you can."
The fact that this game was played on a Thursday night may have contributed to the tight nature of the outcome as well.
"I think with a short week, putting in some things we didn't have a chance to go over or run a lot, get the reps like we do in a normal week, that gave us a little problem where we couldn't get the communication," defensive tackle/co-captain Vince Wilfork explained. "At the same time, you can't be disappointed with a win in the division. You cannot. I'm pretty sure the Jets are feeling worse than we are."
"It's the Jets. It's always good to beat them," acknowledged tight end Rob Gronkowski. "It was great to come out with a victory, no matter what it takes."
New England now has a mini-bye week of sorts before preparing for a brutal stretch of games against some of the best teams in the NFL. They'll need the rest this weekend, and again in a couple of weeks when their actual bye week comes along. The next time the Patriots face a division foe, it will be mid-December when Miami comes to town.
In the meantime, Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay, and San Diego loom large.