E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Remember, in the preseason many experts had the Patriots finishing 16-0 and the New York Jets finishing 0-16.
You’d be lying if you claimed that in August, an October meeting between the Patriots and the Jets would be a battle for first place in the AFC East. Yet here they are, both teams 3-2, and both teams playing opposite preseason projections. The Patriots have been bedeviled by bad defense and subpar pass blocking, while the Jets are getting unusually good performances from quarterback Josh McCown.
McCown became quarterback number six to drop 300 passing yards on the Patriots, the Patriot defenders once again had problems leaving receivers wide open despite having ten days to prepare for this game, and the Super Bowl champs still look like a team in flux rather than a team in control. At one point, the Patriots trailed the Jets 14-0, looking every bit as bad as they have in their two previous losses.
And yet the game came down to one of the most flabbergasting replay decisions in the history of instant replay. A seemingly certain touchdown by Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the fourth quarter was changed after replay to a lost fumble out of the end zone and a touchback. That turned out to be the difference in the game as the Patriots held on to win 24-17 on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
On second down and goal at the Patriot 5, trailing 24-14, Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass in the left flat, with Malcolm Butler and Duron Harmon covering him. Seferian-Jenkins gave Harmon a stiffarm, and headed towards the pylon. He fell over the pylon going out of bounds, and the official signaled touchdown. Butler and Harmon immediately jumped up and started yelling at the official. It wasn’t clear as to why they were yelling with the naked eye on the play.
After a commercial break, catching the CBS television crew by surprise, referee Tony Corrente announced that, after further review, the receiver bobbled the ball before hitting the pylon, and then fell out of bounds. By rule, that is a fumble out of the end zone, and a touchback. The six points were taken off the boards, and the Patriots had the ball at the 20 with the score once again 24-14.
Seferian-Jenkins was in absolute disbelief, and was lucky that he didn’t get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after protesting. Replay showed that the tight end did bobble the ball, but regained possession before falling out of bounds. CBS commentator Dan Fouts overtly disagreed with the call. The lost touchdown was the margin of victory for the Patriots, and Jet fans will be gnashing their teeth over this call. Normally, the call on the field takes precedence unless there is clear and absolute proof that the call should be overturned. This is one play where Corrente should have said, “After further review, the call stands.”
But it didn’t, and the Patriots walked off the field victorious. They will take it. Tom Brady is now the winningest quarterback in NFL history, surpassing Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. The Patriots are now in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. That in and of itself is hardly earth shattering, but given how badly the Patriots have played at times this year, the Patriots will take that too.
While the defense showed general signs of improvement, it is still a work in progress. The Patriots had a hard time getting off the field on third down in the first half, and once again gave up long gains to wide open receivers.
In the second quarter, McCown had the Jets on the Patriot 31 after finding Jermaine Kearse for 16 yards on third and five. On first down, Trey Flowers brought pressure on McCown, forcing him to hurry a throw. The lob pass to the left side, however, found Jeremy Kerley in stride, who had run away from Butler, and he waltzed into the end zone for a 14-0 Jet lead. Butler played Kerley to the inside on the right side, but Kerley ran a crossing pattern and Butler took the wrong angle to him, surrendering a far-too-easy touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, on the final Jet drive of the game, the Patriots had a chance to put the Jets away and didn’t. Down to their last play at their own 25 on fourth down and 12, McCown stepped back into the pocket and found Robby Anderson in the right seam for a 32-yard completion into Patriot territory. Butler and Devin McCourty were the nearest defenders to Anderson, both of them 7-10 yards away. Again, why was Anderson so wide open on what should have been the game sealing play? The game was finally salted away four plays later, but the fact that Anderson was not covered at all on a fourth and 12 play is maddening.
To be fair, it wasn’t an overall bad day for the defense. The unit did induce four three and outs and three turnovers, albeit one of those turnovers being controversial. Butler had two interceptions, his pick late in the first half being the turning point of the game. McCown threw a bad pass along the right sideline towards Anderson when Butler jumped the route, and the Patriots scored six plays later with nine seconds left in the half on a two-yard scoring pass to Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots completed the “double score” with Gronk hauling in a 33-yard scoring pass on the first drive of the second half and the game was tied.
Despite the win, the defense still allowed 408 yards of total offense from the Jets. McCown had 354 yards passing on 31 of 47 completions, two touchdowns and two picks. His passer rating was 84.9. But McCown was sacked four times, and most of his passes were to a running back (Matt Forte) and a tight end (Seferian-Jenkins). Kearse and Anderson had the most yards, but the Patriots were able to contain them in the red area.
Brady’s numbers were actually worse than McCown’s. He finished 20 of 38 passing for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and a rating of 80.7. He had no sacks, but never really got into a rhythm. Credit the Patriot running game with helping out, as both Mike Gillislee and Dion Lewis averaged over four yards a carry and tallied 96 rushing yards between them.
The Patriots need more work on their defense and quickly, as the big Super Bowl rematch is next weekend at Gillette. Atlanta comes to town next Sunday night, and given that both of the Patriot losses have come at home, it could be bombs away for the wrong team.
And Julio Jones is hard to defense even when you do it right. Get busy, Matt Patricia.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary