October 21, 2012
Patriots Manage To Finish Better Than Jets
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- People can now shut up when the name Stephen Gostkowski and the word "clutch" come up.
And forget all that talk that the Patriots are one of the worst teams in the league in closing out a win. The Jets are much, much worse.
A gift-wrapped win thanks to a Devin McCourty fumble on a kickoff return instead turned into an overtime struggle on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. In the end, the Patriots and Jets matched 43-yard field goals in the last two minutes of regulation, then Gostkowski blasted a 48-yard field goal through the uprights on the Patriots' first overtime possession. The Jets got a possession under the new overtime rules, but their drive died at their own 40 when Rob Ninkovich strip-sacked Mark Sanchez. Replays confirmed the fumble, and the Patriots had a 26-23 win which catapulted them back into first place in the AFC East.
The Patriots will take the win, but the game was more about how the Jets lost the game rather than how the Patriots won it. The Patriots once again coughed up a fourth quarter lead, they allowed Jeremy Kerley to have a career afternoon, and put the Jets in a position to win the game with a costly turnover. But the Jets shot themselves in the foot with generally lousy play calling on offense, a misuse of offensive weapons they could have used differently, and an unspeakable drop by Stephen Hill in the fourth quarter which resulted in the Jets going for a tie instead of a lead, which basically allowed all that followed to happen.
Give the Patriots credit for making some adjustments from previous weeks. For most of the game, the cornerbacks were playing the receivers tighter and making some nice plays, especially on third down. They didn't do it for the entire game, hence Kerley's great numbers (120 yards receiving on seven catches) and Dustin Keller's usual big game against the Patriots (93 yards, also on seven catches). Sanchez finished with 328 yards passing and one touchdown. But the Patriots at times did play the receivers tight and made it hard for Sanchez to get into a rhythm.
But not all the time. If the Jets had done what they did on their first offensive possession, they would have won the game and perhaps easily. The Jets opened the game (after winning the coin toss and deferring, giving them the ball to begin the second half) with an 11-play, 76-yard drive which culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by Shonn Greene. But Sanchez went right after the Patriots like everyone thought he would do, hitting Kerley on a 24-yard slant route and later on a 27-yard slant route, both of them seam patterns in zone coverage. Tavon Wilson and Kyle Arrington looked totally helpless in trying to stop either pass. The Jets got another first down when Ras-I Dowling was guilty of holding on Keller.
This drive was exactly how the Jets should have carved up the Patriots all game long. But the Jets instead spent the rest of the game using Greene (who would later leave the game after getting his bell rung by Brandon Spikes) to try and establish the run. It was something the Jets didn't need to do, but it was something the Patriot defense could handle. Greene did manage 54 yards rushing, but only averaged 3.4 yards per carry. Sanchez had receivers open, but by trying to run the ball, the Patriots were able to avoid being put back on their heels and defend the pass better. Spikes was his usual stout self in run defense, which helped the Patriots greatly in the end.
The only other time the Jets ran what they should have run was in the fourth quarter. Down 23-13 and with the ball at their own 8-yard line the Jets marched 92 yards in 14 plays to cut the deficit to three points. Sanchez found Hill for 21 yards, then later Kerley for 19 yards despite a holding penalty on Dowling. Four plays later, Sanchez found Hill again for 15 more yards with Alfonzo Dennard defending. Sanchez finished off the drive with a six-yard slant to Keller. Again, these were passes against a zone defense playing off receivers and too much respect being paid to the run. Sanchez was able to easily navigate his way through the Patriot defense, but this and the first series were the only times he tried this approach.
Hill, of course, dropped a third down pass on the next drive where he was wide open in the right flat and might have had a 24-yard touchdown reception. Nick Folk had to kick the first of two 43-yard field goals to complete the Jet scoring.
It is also puzzling as to why the Jets don't use Tim Tebow more, or in a better way. Tebow lined up four times, and four times he kept the ball in simple straight ahead run plays. He would only garner 12 yards and three yards per carry. The Jets can use this guy for Wildcat packages, gadget plays and possibly in packages where Sanchez could line up as a receiver. But all they did with Tebow was four simple keepers up the middle, which the Patriots stopped with no trouble.
Offensively, the Patriots didn't look overpowering at all but didn't make any major mistakes either. They were helped in the first quarter with a 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Devin McCourty which answered that early Jet touchdown quite nicely. Brady threw for only 259 yards, mostly to Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker, the usual targets. Brandon Lloyd had three unbecoming dropped passes, which may be a by-product of his shoulder which he perhaps injured late in last week's loss at Seattle.
The rushing attack was good in that the Patriots averaged 4.2 yards as a team. Shane Vereen had 49 yards on eight carries and a 6.1-yard average, a nice stat line in a game where Brandon Bolden was unavailable. Again, nothing spectacular; the longest gain was a 16-yard Vereen run late in the third quarter. The rushing game enabled Brady to sit in the pocket comfortably and force the Jets to respect the run and not sell out on the pass.
The Jets did play the pass pretty well, as Brady often times had to throw the ball away to avoid coverage sacks. Laron Landry led the Jets with 12 tackles and played a solid game, along with the rest of the Jet secondary. But Brady is Brady, and was able to make the completions he had to to win the game.
The Patriots were fortunate to come out of the game with a win as the Jets basically played stupidly and failed to capitalize on distinct advantages on paper they had on the Patriots. Despite being huge underdogs, the Jets may look back on this game with deep regret if the Patriots need tiebreakers to finish ahead of the Jets in December.
The Patriots now make like Olympians and head for London and a date with the Rams next week at Wembley Stadium. By the way, the Rams now have a defense.
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