EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. â€“ Division battles are always tough.Â Patriots versus Jets is one of the toughest in the NFL.
Tough?Â Brutal perhaps best describes Sundayâ€™s game at MetLife Stadium.Â The 3-12 Jets gave the Patriots the battle of their life, with the possible loss of the top playoff seed in the AFC staring them in the face.Â A late series of events, some of them rather bizarre, allowed the Patriots to hang on for dear life and defeat the Jets 17-16.Â The win gives the Patriots no worse than the two seed and a bye week; a Denver loss on Monday night or a Patriot win next week at home against Buffalo gives the Patriots the top seed in the playoffs.
All game long, Rex Ryan, in what might be his last home game as Jet head coach, had his defense dialed up and basically shutting down Tom Brady and the Patriot offense.Â The Jets took advantage of a slightly depleted and discombobulated Patriot offensive line with Dan Connally a scratch for the game and used an effective blitz to keep Brady off kilter and on the run all game long.Â Brady was sacked four times as the Patriots at times looked totally helpless against the blitzing Jet defense, the Jets helping their cause with disguised blitzes and terrific blitz technique, mostly Sheldon Richardson.
The Patriots were finally able to deal with the Jet blitzing by going to a no-huddle offense with quick dropbacks and passes that did not take a lot of time to develop.Â On their second and third drives of the second half, the Patriots used the no-huddle to ring up ten precious points to provide the eventual margin of victory.Â With Julian Edelman a scratch from this game, Danny Amendola was made to step up and come up big in the slot, and he responded with a season high (and team high) eight catches for 63 yards.
It was a chain of events that began midway through the fourth quarter that sealed the win for the Patriots.Â Some of these plays typify why the Jets have been consistent losers this season, and why they have played well but not quite well enough to qualify for the playoff recently.
Danny Amendola came up big in Julian Edelman’s absence with eight key catches in the Patriot win over the Jets on Sunday.
(USA TODAY Images)
The score was 17-16 Patriots with 7:26 left in the fourth quarter.Â The Patriots had the ball, needing a field goal to make it a 4-point lead and a touchdown to make it an 8-point lead, either scenario forcing the Jets to have to respond with a touchdown for a win or a tie.Â The Patriots had the ball at their own 24.Â After an illegal formation penalty on the Patriots and an underthrown pass to Amendola in the right flat, Brady was pressured on second down and nearly sacked by Jason Babin.Â Brady let loose a wild throw in the left flat that was thrown behind Brandon LaFell and intercepted by Marcus Williams.Â The Jets had the ball at the Patriot 30, and it was a lock that they would at least take the lead on a field goal.
On third down and four at the 24, Geno Smith did the one thing he absolutely could not do:Â take a sack.Â Dontâ€™a Hightower blasted through and sacked Smith for a ten-yard loss.Â Nick Folk came in to attempt a now treacherous 52-yard field goal.Â Vince Wilfork got what some players said was a â€śfingernailâ€ť on the ball, and the ball sailed wide left and fell short.Â The Patriots took over on the 42 with 5:16 left.Â Either the Patriots run out the clock or get a field goal, and theyâ€™ll be home free.
Three plays later, it was third down and seven at the 45.Â Brady threw a quick screen to Amendola in the left flat, and he was tackled right at the first down marker.Â What happened next is still a little hard to explain.
Television replays showed Amendola just a little shy of the line to gain, which is not official in determining a first down.Â The chains came out, and the ball was measured as about two chain links short.Â The Patriots were about to go for it on fourth down and inches, but just before the snap, the whistle blew and a red challenge flag was thrown.Â Bill Belichick was challenging the spot of the ball, right?Â No, Ryan was challenging the spot of the ball.Â But the ball had been marked short of the first down by a measurement.Â How did this happen?
The game announcers did not immediately report this, but an official ruled first down for the Patriots after the measurement, not fourth down.Â This forced Ryan, and not Belichick, to throw the red flag.Â Referee Brad Allen looked at the play, then came out and upheld the first down call.Â Ryan now had only one timeout left after the lost challenge.Â One has to wonder why first down was ruled when it was clear that the ball was short of the line to gain after the measurement.
The Patriots now had only 4:03 to kill off. Â A false start on Marcus Cannon set them back five yards, but two passes to Amendola for 19 yards put the Patriots in easy field goal range.Â Three Brandon Bolden runs, the last of which went for 17 yards around right end, put the game away.
The sack of Smith, the missed field goal, and the confusion surrounding the measurement more or less encapsulate this season for the Jets.Â Give them credit for taking it to the Patriots, and the Jets almost succeeded in imperiling the top playoff seed for the Patriots.Â Give the Patriots credit also for pulling out a tough division game on the road.Â Any time you can win by one point on the road in a divisional game speaks well with the playoffs just a few weeks away.
Brady was held to only 182 yards passing on 23 of 35 passing and a 76.1 passer rating.Â LaFell (seven) and Rob Gronkowski (six) had the bulk of the remainder of the catches, with Gronkowski snaring the one touchdown pass from Brady.Â The Jets did a nice job in shutting down the Patriot running game; take away Boldenâ€™s last run and the Patriots had only 23 carries for 69 yards and exactly three yards per carry.
Smith finished 17 of 27 for 210 yards and a touchdown.Â His passer rating was 83.9.
If Denver loses Monday night in Cincinnati, the Patriots lock up the top AFC playoff seed and the season finale against Buffalo becomes a meaningless game (maybe a start at quarterback for Jimmy Garoppolo in the offing?).Â If Denver wins, the Patriots will get a Buffalo team that was eliminated from playoff contention by losing at Oakland, 26-24 and may be in a â€śget on the busâ€ť mindset.Â But if the game means anything for the Patriots, Buffalo may play them tough up to a point.
Whatever the case, the Patriots need to shore up their substandard first halves before the playoffs hit.Â The Jets played the Patriots brutally tough.Â A playoff team will throw much worse at them.