Some observations and highlights from the third quarter:

After deferring to start the game, New England went three and out on their first offensive series, which included a run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis for no gain, followed by a 3-yard pass to Deion Branch and then an incompletion on 3rd-and-7 to Rob Gronkowski which forced a punt by the Patriots.

Defensively Devin McCourty was “Questionable” to start the third quarter and didn’t take the field, which is obviously a bad sign for a guy who has battled through broken ribs and was still able to play.  The shot he took from Sterling Moore was a big one, and one can only hope it’s not serious.

Fortunately his teammates did enough to answer, holding Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense to a 3-and-out of their own, and New York would also punt on their opening possession.

On the Patriots next possession, the Patriots went three and out, but on the punt the Jets Joe McKnight muffed the catch and Niko Koutouvides came up with the ball, putting New England in great shape with the ball at the Jets 13 yard line.

Three plays later Tom Brady did an unbelievable job avoiding pressure, avoiding a sack and then sliding over to find Rob Gronkowski in the back of the endzone for an apparent touchdown.  The play would be reviewed, and it was ruled incomplete because Gronkowski stepped out of bounds before making the catch.  After review he was also called for an illegal touch pass after they ruled Brady was out of the pocket, which nullified the play.  Brady then threw incomplete on the next play to Wes Welker, and Steven Gostkowski would convert a 37-yard field goal to put them up 16-9 early in the third quarter.

The Patriots then made a key turnover on the Jets ensuing possession, with Rob Ninkovich grabbing a tipped pass off of Shonn Greene, giving Tom Brady and the offense the ball at their own 43 yard line.


Rob Gronkowski made a key touchdown reception in the third quarter to help extend New England’s lead. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Brady would capitalize, going to the no-huddle and driving all the way down the five yard line.  From there he found Rob Gronkowski for the touchdown, capping an 8 play 57 yard drive that lasted 2:52 and giving them a 23-9 lead with 4:44 left in the quarter.

After the play Gronkowski was called for “unsportsmanlike conduct” after spiking the ball in front of a Jets defender, which was a 15-yard penalty assessed on the kickoff.  Stephen Gostkowski kicked off to the Jets 8, with Joe McKnight returning it 21 yards to their own 29-yard line.

The Jets got a big play on that drive, with Dustin Keller beating Antwaun Molden for 29 yards, taking the Jets down to the Patriots 18-yard line.   Mark Sanchez then threw incomplete on an attempt to Plaxico Burress, with Kyle Arrington making a great play and nearly picking it off.  The Jets then ran twice, once with Shonn Greene running up the middle for an 8-yard pickup, followed by a 3rd and 2 play where LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for three yards and was tackled by James Ihedigbo.  On the play Ihedigbo was shaken up and left the field, with the safety already having earlier been dinged up.

One play later Sanchez threw incomplete to Santonio Holmes to close out the quarter, with the Jets now at the Patriots 7 heading into the final quarter.