NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
Wide receiver Danny Amendola, halfback Shane Vereen, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Zach Sudfeld were absent from the offensive side of the ball, but the New England Patriots hung on to defeat the New York Jets, 13-10, in a Thursday night downpour at Gillette Stadium.
It was a stagnant process. Quarterback Tom Brady finished 19-for-39 passing for 185 yards and one touchdown to second-round wideout Aaron Dobson. The Jets held the Patriots rushing attack to just 54 yards on 24 attempts. And cumulatively, undrafted rookie Ryan Allen tallied more punts than the entire offense tallied first downs.
In turn, much of the weight rested on New England’s defense to make plays.
The unit did so.
Despite rookie quarterback Geno Smith and the Jets offense producing 318 yards and absorbing 34 minutes of possession, four mistakes changed the complexion of the divisional Week 2 tilt:
Three interceptions and a fumble.
Aqib Talib’s Cleat Forces Stephen Hill Fumble
Down seven points on a 1st-and-10 with 10:34 remaining in the first quarter, New York’s offense hit the field in a four-wide spread from its own 20-yard line. Even with three wide receivers and a tight end in the huddle, the Patriots utilized only two cornerbacks – Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington – and assigned safeties Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty the outside route-runners.
This decision left center field open, and it was up to the 6’1”, 205-pound Talib to stop the 6’4”, 215-pound Stephen Hill from taking it on a streak from the slot.
As Smith took the snap from shotgun and went through his progressions, it became clear that the deep middle was unguarded. The defense rushed five in a three-down, two-up front, while linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo dropped back into coverage.
Concurrently, Talib manned the outside of Hill, which left him susceptible to the inside as the lanky second-year receiver swiveled his head over his left shoulder.
Smith released the football in his direction.
Catching the ball in stride, Hill got to New England’s 48 for a 33-yard pickup. It was there, however, that he encountered Talib. The speedy target was initially wrapped up at the waist.
He kept his feet churning, though, which slipped Talib down to his ankles. Hill twisted backside, planting his left arm in an effort to balance and escape the tackle.
But instead, the ball escaped him.
With one hand on the ball and one hand on the turf, Hill was in a vulnerable state with Talib recoiling up from underneath him.
The ball popped out of his grasp.
Talib didn’t punch or rip at it; he just happened to have his Jordan cleats in the right place at the right time. His left leg flung up and brushed against Hill’s wrist, which dislodged the football and handed McCourty a 44-yard fumble return.
Kyle Arrington Bats, Aqib Talib Picks
After two quarters of turnover-free football, the wheels started to come off with 11:23 left to play in the fourth. The Jets had pieced together some first downs and had New England’s defense reeling at its own 33. But behind by just three points on 3rd-and-4, the momentum came to a halt.
From “11” personnel with one running back and one tight end, wide receiver Santonio Holmes went in motion to the strong side, and drew Arrington along with him. Holmes was set to run a crossing route over the middle, right behind New England’s 4-2 nickel alignment.
As Smith handled the snap and his receivers ran through their patterns, New England’s four-man rush broke into the backfield. Smith flushed the pocket and headed towards the left sideline, where he locked in on Holmes, who had a slight lead on Arrington.
Under duress, Smith backpedaled and lofted a pass Holmes’ way. Yet as he did, Arrington jumped on it, eclipsing the inside shoulder of his man.
The risky pass soared just behind Holmes. It deflected off Arrington hands and facemask.
Talib saw the ball flutter up into the air, and he retreated from Hill’s in route to help contest it.
No. 21 did, leaving his feet to reel in an interception.
Talib knocked Arrington down during his free fall, but the real damage had already been done. Smith had thrown his first NFL pick while vying to make a play that wasn’t there.
Alfonzo Dennard Capitalizes on Underthrow
Still trailing by a field goal with 4:29 left in the final frame, the Jets displayed “20” personnel with three receivers split. The defense counteracted the 3rd-and-4 with the nickel defense.
The 6’0”, 197-pound Clyde Gates stood at the “X” across from 5’10”, 200-pound cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. The Jets receiver was gearing up for a stutter fade. And with safety Steve Gregory playing the hashes, it would be a one-on-one duel.
As Smith took the snap, he looked at his hot read: Gates. As the wideout cut inside, he stacked the press of Dennard, creating a runway down the field.
The second-rounder took a shot deep in the vicinity of Gates and Dennard. That said, he didn’t put enough on it, allowing Dennard an opportunity to turn his disadvantage into an advantage.
The Nebraska product turned back to the ball before Gates. He made an adjustment and leaped out in front of his receiver.
The underthrown ball and anticipation of Dennard left Gates watching his defensive back field the football right in front of him. The 27-year-old route-runner was open downfield, but that’s not where Smith threw the ball.
For Smith, it was the right decision; it just wasn’t the right execution. The Patriots secondary exploited it.
The Jets had one final chance to either tie or take the lead. And it came with 48 seconds left and all three timeouts expensed. Combating a 2nd-and-10, the Jets showed “20,” versus New England’s sub package.
Stephen Hill, in particular, stood off the line against the Talib, who got the best of him earlier on the fumble. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket was looking to avert his mistake, and was readying to run a fade down the right sideline.
Off the snap, Hill jittered and press-released from Talib. Although being within the five-yard bubble, New England’s aggressive corner jammed him. His arms extended towards Hill’s digits and interrupted Hill’s route.
Smith anticipated a window over the top.
The QB fired the ball to the New York 47-yard line. The problem was that he didn’t fire it to the New England 47-yard line. The trajectory of the ball was not conducive to a catch by Hill; it was conducive to an interception by Talib.
The Patriots left cornerback departed from the ground and shielded the Jets receiver, who had to bend his knees and fight back to the incoming ball.
Talib jumped up and corralled the ball at waist level. Meanwhile, Hill was three yards away with a his base wide, not expecting to plant back to catch the pass. Interception.
And with that, the Sept. 12 Patriots-Jets game was effectively over – aside from the brawl that ensued following Talib’s 360-degree spin out of bounds. Smith’s second NFL start yielded three fourth-quarter interceptions, and all three were underthrows that the Patriots defensive backfield seized.
For all intents and purposes, the Jets offense was functioning on more cylinders than the Patriots offense was. But in a game where 915 punting yards were amassed, the side that forced more turnovers was going to win.
The Patriots defense did.