Sunday’s win over the Jets secured the top seed in the AFC for the Patriots, with the team coming up with some big performances from several key players during their 26-6 victory at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
Looking back, New England still has some things to build on when they finally play again in two weeks but here’s a look at some takeaways from Sunday’s game.
1) Another great day from Dion Lewis – One of the best stories the Patriots’ regular-season finale is the fact that the Patriots came into this game with a backfield that was without James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, all of whom were inactive. That left just Lewis to carry the load against the Jets’ defense and once again, he came through in a big way. He was front and center in the Patriots’ ground game, carrying 26 times for 93 yards while averaging 3.6 yards-per-carry as the Patriots controlled the clock and won the time of possession by a solid margin. They held the football for 34:49 compared to just 25:11 for the Jets, with Lewis gaining some tough yardage as the team piled up 10 rushing first downs on the afternoon.
Lewis’ contribution can’t be underplayed, especially given how cold it was and the inconsistency they dealt with in the passing game throughout much of the afternoon. Had Lewis struggled, it may have made things more difficult and prevented New England from pulling away offensively.
Instead, Lewis moved the football consistently and he enjoyed similar success down in the red zone, carrying 7 times for 24 yards including three first downs, one of which was a touchdown.
The Jets’ defense didn’t make it easy and they had their moments, stopping Lewis for a loss three times on Sunday while holding him to 2-yards or less on eight other carries. Fortunately, Lewis did what he needed to and he enjoyed the expanded role.
“I’m embracing it,” Lewis told reporters after the game. “I like having the ball, I like helping my team win. They counted on me today and I had a lot of fun out there.”
“We won. It was a great way to close the year out. Now we’ve just got to move forward and work hard for the playoffs.”
2) Gronkowski played, but he was protected – Another thing that stood out was the fact that while Rob Gronkowski played in the season finale, the Patriots came in with a plan to protect him. They kept him out of harm’s way by keeping him in as a blocker for the majority of their plays, which saw him finish the afternoon without a single target. That marks the first time in his career that he wasn’t targeted in a game he played in.
As a result, Gronkowski finished the season with 69 receptions for 1084 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald Tweeted after the game that he asked Gronkowski if he knew how many catches he had this season. Howe said Gronkowski smirked and replied, “Yeah, 69”.
Howe also posted the temperature in the Patriots’ press conference room after the game.
Temperature in the Patriots press conference room pic.twitter.com/yh3jMROfCh
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) December 31, 2017
So there you go.
James Harrison had a strong debut for New England. (USA TODAY Images)
3) Great job by the defense, Including a strong debut by Harrison – Just weeks after being held without a third down conversion for the first time in 26 years, the Patriots paid it forward with the Jets on Sunday.
They held New York without a 3rd down conversion Sunday, with the Jets failing to move the chains on all 12 of their attempts. That was the first time in 21 years since that last happened, which means the Patriots will now be the answer to that future trivia question for those of you scoring at home.
They also kept the Jets out of the end zone and did a great job getting pressure Sunday, sacking Bryce Petty four times while hitting him six times. Newcomer James Harrison made his presence felt in his first start, finishing with five tackles and two sacks, including one where he forced a fumble. His ability to set the edge was big as it kept the Jets from getting to the perimeter in the ground game and he was even in coverage on a couple of plays, showing relatively impressive speed for a player his age.
His sacks came on each of the Jets final two offensive plays of the game, with the veteran closing out the game in style.
“I was just rushing outside and they were passing a lot, so I had good opportunities to get around the corner,” said Harrison after the game on his first sack. “For the other one, I was able to cut back underneath the guard, and the quarterback was scrambling. It felt good.”
Ryan Allen had a strong afternoon Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)
4) Ryan Allen quietly played a big role in the win – It’s not often we talk about the punter after a win, but it’s hard not to give Allen some credit after the way he played on Sunday.
Allen finished the game with eight punts, five of which fell inside the 20-yard line and three of those five were inside the Jets’ 5-yard line, which forced the Jets to have to start those drives with very little wiggle room. One of those was big because it led to a sack by Eric Lee in the end zone for a safety.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater recognized Allen’s performance after the game both punting the football and as a holder on field goals, admitting that what Ryan did was impressive given the elements.
“Ryan was just killing the ball and doing a great job,” said Slater. “Usually the ball dies and I think that we saw that especially kicking towards the lighthouse. There were some tough kicks and some tough ball-handling situations. They had a tough field goal that they weren’t able to hit. That’s part of it. When you play here during this time of the year, that’s what you have to deal with.”
Belichick admired his team’s effort after a 13-3 finish. (USA TODAY Images)
5) Belichick admits how tough the year was, and how proud he is of what they accomplished – Now that the regular season is in the rearview, when you take a moment to reflect on the type of year it was, finishing the season at 13-3 is certainly impressive.
With players like Julian Edelman, Donta Hightower and others sidelined, the Patriots still managed to forge ahead and never waivered, despite a blowout loss to start the year and the 2-2 record they had after the first month of the season.
It could have gone poorly, but as usual, the coaching staff and players did a good job of making sure it didn’t derail what ultimately has turned out to be another terrific year.
“I congratulated the team after the game on today and, really, on the 13-3 season. I thought those guys have worked really hard all year,” said Belichick. “They met a lot of different challenges throughout the course of the season. I thought they really did a good job of stepping up every day, every week and giving us their best.”
It’s a terrific job by a group that kept working hard and they’re now rewarded with an opportunity to play in Minnesota if they can take care of business in the coming weeks. For a group that couldn’t stop anyone in the early going defensively, they’ve come a long way and now they look like a team that could potentially win back-to-back titles for the first time since the 2003/2004 season. Belichick told reporters he’s looking forward to getting started on that next journey.
“It’s good to have 13 wins,” said Belichick. “It’s not easy, but these guys accomplished it. We’ll look forward to starting the second season. We’ll see how that goes but, overall, a lot of contributions from a lot of people on the team. [It was] a good team win and played some good situational football at times, which was important. That helped us. We’ll need to do that going forward.”
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