NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
The New York Jets evened the season series with the New England Patriots today, recording a 30-27 overtime victory against New England which cut the Patriots’ divisional lead to one game. Many of the problems which have plagued the Patriots all season – a sputtering offense, ineffective run defense – reared their heads once more this week, and a fourth-quarter comeback and initial overtime stop were negated by a fifteen-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Chris Jones that gave Jets kicker Nick Folk an easy game-winning field goal attempt.
1. Third-down woes continue, Jets dominate time-of-possession
Despite scoring 27 points in the game, certainly a respectable total, New England’s offense did not appear to benefit substantially from Rob Gronkowski’s presence, certainly gaining a dangerous offensive weapon but failing to translate that addition into a unit which could consistently move the chains in critical situations. Seven of the Patriots’ points came via Logan Ryan’s interception return for a touchdown, and another of their scoring drives was the result of a twenty-eight-yard drive following an impressive punt return from Julian Edelman.
Tom Brady was sacked on four occasions and hit on another three, creating difficult third-down situations which the Patriots proved inept at converting, going one-of-twelve on those occasions, with the first successful try coming midway through the fourth quarter. One effect of this inefficiency was a pitiful 23:40 time of possession, contrasting sharply with New York’s dominant 46:13 figure, a function of the Jets’ ability to control the clock with their running game.
2. Jets’ dedication to rushing the ball pays dividends
Although the Jets gained 75 yards rushing in the first half alone, their efforts in that regard were probably not what the team had hoped for going into the game, as the team required twenty-two snaps to reach that figure, which translates to an average of just 3.4 yards per carry, twelve of those yards coming on a bootleg by quarterback Geno Smith. What was anticipated to be a combination of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell was in effect more of a one-back approach featuring Ivory, who carried the ball thirteen times in the half to Powell’s three. Neither were particularly effective, collectively averaging slightly under three yards per carry and failing to catch any of the three passes thrown their way.
The team’s weakness in run defense was ultimately their inability to contain Smith, who added to his initial twelve-yard run by scrambling for a first-down and then a touchdown on the same drive late in the third quarter, giving Smith a total of 34 yards to that point and rewarding the Jets with a 24-21 lead with just under twenty minutes remaining. New York’s dedication to establishing the run led to 40 carries in regulation, totaling 148 yards, but representing an average of just 3.7 yards per attempt. All told, the Jets finished with 52 attempts for 177 yards and Smith’s touchdown.
3. Gronkowski appears healthy in return to the field
Rob Gronkowski returned to action this week, catching the first attempt thrown his way and barreling into three defenders, leading with his surgically-repaired forearm, in what was undoubtedly a tense moment for Patriots fans everywhere. However, Gronkowski appeared to suffer no ill effects of the hit, taking a brief break on the sidelines before returning to the game and catching another pass down the seam to set up a first-and-goal situation which was promptly converted by running back Brandon Bolden, who started the game in place of Stevan Ridley, behind an effective edge block by Gronkowski.
Later, the tight end created another first down by beating Antonio Allen off the line and drawing a defensive holding penalty, with Stevan Ridley cutting back to a completely-unguarded right side for New England’s second touchdown run of the game. Gronkowski caught a pair of important passes on New England’s final drive, helping to tie the game at twenty-seven, but also attempted a one-handed catch which failed and brought in only eight of seventeen, certainly not the high percentage expected of a top tight end.
4. Pick-six aside, Geno Smith protects the football
Without injured left cornerback Aqib Talib, the early results from New England’s reconfigured secondary were mixed, with Geno Smith beginning his first drive by completing a 25-yard pass down the right sideline to tight end Jeff Cumberland and targeting Jeremy Kerley for three completions, the final one a touchdown against slot cornerback Kyle Arrington and the original two completions coming against Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard, respectively.
However, New England’s defense played better the second time around, beginning by blowing a zone coverage which led to a 25-yard run-and-catch by David Nelson and a 16-yard completion to Nelson with rookie Logan Ryan in coverage but eventually recovering via a 79-yard interception touchdown by Ryan, who had effectively jammed Nelson at the line of scrimmage. The first half could not be considered a success, however, as Smith passed for 159 yards on eighteen attempts, an average of 8.3 yards per throw. Smith’s average later dropped to 7.1 by the end of the game, but, his pick-six aside, he was able to limit the type of costly turnovers which helped New England escape from the first meeting with a win.
5. Chandler, Chris Jones combine for four sacks
One of the bright spots of New England’s defensive effort this afternoon was their ability to create pressure against quarterback Geno Smith, with the team’s first sack coming by way of Chandler Jones late in the first quarter, setting up a third-and-twenty-one situation which the Jets nonetheless converted. Smith’s interception, discussed before, was also thrown in the face of pressure from left end Rob Ninkovich. In the second quarter, defensive tackle Chris Jones sacked Smith for a six-yard loss, causing a six-yard loss and effectively ending New York’s drive before it began.
The two aforementioned Joneses were at it again in the second half, recording back-to-back sacks in the third quarter, with Chandler beating D’Brickashaw Ferguson to collect a strip sack and Chris rolling into Geno on the following play, which prevented the Jets from getting into field goal range. Unfortunately, the rejuvenated pass rush was not enough to win the game, but represents an encouraging sign moving forwards, as the Jets have some of the most highly-regarded linemen in the league in players such as Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.