In a game which was more closer than expected and should have been, the Patriots outlasted the Jets for a 29-26 overtime win. The Patriots now lead the AFC East at 4-3. It was another game where the Patriots failed to put their opponent away in the second half. This time the Patriots were able to overcome it off the foot of Stephen Gostkowski, who kicked the game-tying 43-yard field goal as time expired in regulation and the go-ahead 48-yarder in overtime.
Here are five observations from the game:
Bill Belichick celebrates Sunday’s win, but there is still plenty to work on. (FILE:USPresswire)
Defense not generating enough pressure
Clearly the Patriots have issues on defense in defending the pass. A lot of the blame has been directed towards the secondary, but some of that stems from the lack of a pass rush and generating pressure on the opposing quarterback. When rushing only four guys and not being able to get to the quarterback, it makes it even more difficult for the already poor secondary as the quarterback has plenty of time to scan the field and find an open receiver. Having to stay glued to their receivers even longer than they should certainly doesn’t help a weak secondary. It’s been a bit surprising Bill Belichick and defense coordinator Matt Patricia haven’t blitzed much this year to try and offset their weak secondary. To me the major reason for this is they are not confident in one-on-one coverage if they were to send extra players after the quarterback. Belichick stresses not giving up the big play and having one-on-coverage increases those odds.
To me, the Patriots need to start blitzing more and taking chances in order to make it uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks. Right now they are too vanilla on defense. The group has some play makers with the ability to make plays on the quarterback and potentially force turnovers. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich has shown that ability by forcing four fumbles already this season, including the one Sunday clinching the win on the last play of the game. Rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower has shown he can get after the quarterback as he finished with a sack and a QB hit against the Jets. Clearly, Brandon Spikes isn’t very effective in pass coverage. Why not have him blitz and try and make a play? He is essentially useless in pass coverage against tight ends, give him a chance to make a play. I’d really like to see the Patriots start being more aggressive on defense and put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it may even help the secondary.
Offense still struggling to close out games
This is becoming a very alarming trend for the Patriots. Once again the Patriots blew a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter for the third time this year, but luckily they were able to overcome this one and win in overtime. It wasn’t just the fourth quarter, it was virtually the entire game. The Patriots offense had numerous chances to increase their lead to three possessions, but they could never do so. They scored only one touchdown in their final eight possessions. The Patriots have failed to deliver the knockout punch early on in games, seeming to always allow their opponent to hang around. What is also becoming a trend is their trouble with their five-minute offense. Once again the Patriots led 23-20 with just over five minutes remaining in the game. A drive producing a few first downs, taking time off the clock would most likely put the game away, but once again the Patriots struggled in this situation and went three and out, only taking 1:25 off the clock. The big blow on this drive came on the first play when receiver Brandon Lloyd was flagged for offensive pass interference making it 1st and 20. You really cannot do much with 1st and 20 so they were given a set back from the start. An incompletion and a run set up third and long and yet another incompletion was followed by a punt, giving the ball right back to the Jets. The pass interference penalty really set the Patriots back on that possession, making it difficult to put the game away. The play call was good, it was just neglected by a penalty. The Patriots did have numerous opportunities to extend their lead to three possessions in the second and third quarters, but couldn’t do so. Luckily for the Patriots they were able to overcome their inability to close out the game, but this is surely something the Patriots will need to turnaround as the season goes on.
Play calling questionable
Once again Josh McDaniels’ play calling is being brought into question. The Patriots are lacking an identity on offense and this is something Tom Brady admitted following the game. This is something which should have been learned by Week 3 or 4. This could be part of the reason for the offense’s poor five-minute offense. They don’t know what to call, a run or a pass because they still don’t know their identity. There is no question they are a pass first team, but yet McDaniels and the offense still insist on running the ball in key situations. The Patriots ran the ball 31 times, and thew it 42 times on Sunday, with the majority of the throws coming on the two final possessions, which proved to be their best of the day. With all the weapons the Patriots have in the passing game it makes no sense why the Patriots still insist on trying to be a running offense. It worked a few weeks back against Denver and against Tennessee, but even that wasn’t a straight running attack, it was the quick, run to the line snap the ball quick. What the Patriots can’t do, and haven’t been able to do in a number of years is run the ball successfully when the defense knows they are running the ball. On 3rd and 2, they can’t line up in a jumbo set and run the ball to pick up the first down, they aren’t built like that. They are a pass first team, and I don’t understand what is taking them so long to realize this.
Another thing which is frustrating is McDaniels seems to be getting “too cute” with his play calls. There is no need to call some of the “trick” and “gimmick” plays that he has, which seem to never even work. This is fine when you have an offense which needs to call those plays to beat teams, which is what McDaniels had in Denver and St. Louis because those teams were not as good. New England has the talent to just line up four and five wide with Brady in shotgun and let him scan the field to allow one of his playmakers to make a play. Hopefully, the Patriots offense will realize their identity is a passing offense, and stop messing around with the run, besides every once in awhile to keep defenses honest.
After a poor start to the season, including missing the game-winning field goal in Week 2 against the Cardinals, Stephen Gostkowski bounced back very nicely making two clutch field goals leading the Patriots to the win. His 43-yard field goal at the very end of regulation was at the same end of the field as the one he missed in Week 2, but he calmly drilled the ball thru the uprights forcing overtime. Then in the overtime session when the Patriots drive stalled around the Jets 30, Gostkowski bailed them out by making another clutch kick, this time from 48-yards. Following the Week 2 game some were saying Gostkowski was not clutch, etc., but he sure proved his critics wrong with arguably two of his most clutch kicks as a Patriot on Sunday, saving Patriot Nation from officially going into panic mode if they were to lose and fall to 3-4. His two kicks did not get the credit they deserved with people focusing on how Brady and the offense moved the ball so well after struggling in the third and early fourth quarters.
Mess in the secondary
As it has been the case nearly every week this season, the secondary was a major cause of concern. They allowed Mark Sanchez to throw for 328 yards and a touchdown. This is especially concerning with as bad as Sanchez has played all season and the fact the top two receivers on the Jets roster are Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. With the injuries at the safety spot, Devin McCourty moved back there, and started with rookie Tavon Wilson. The pair played the whole game together. Alfonso Dennard and Kyle Arrington started at corner, and it stayed that way the entire game as well. On passing situations the Patriots brought in Ras-I Dowling and Sterling Moore as extra defensive backs. It was Dowling’s first real playing time of the season and he did not have a very good showing as he allowed a few big plays and committed two penalties. He was injured in the second half and did not return with Nate Ebner taking his place. Dennard got beat a few times as well, same goes for Arrington.
It is tough to predict what will happen with this unit especially when they are not 100 percent healthy. When everyone does come back, I would expect Patrick Chung and Stephen Gregory to start at safety, with McCourty and Dennard at corner. Then, rotate Wilson, Moore and Arrington in on passing downs. Dennard had outplayed Arrington and earned his spot. There is nothing to say this unit will be able to turn things completely around, but all they need to do is get stops in key situations, and not allow as many big plays as they are good enough to win because of the superiority of the Patriots offense.