NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
The New York Jets’ 30-27 overtime defeat of the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium ended in controversy, but what’s lost in the Week 7 rubble is what led up to it.
Long before Jets kicker Nick Folk converted the deciding second-chance field goal from 42 yards out, and long before Patriots rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a missed field goal from 56 yards out, New England – up 21-10 at halftime – had offensive chances to secure victory.
Those chances turned into missed chances. And although the rushing corps complied 90 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, the Patriots offense finished a humbling 1-for-12 on third down and kept the defense on the field for 46 minutes of game clock.
It was a disparity that, fair or not, hinged on the arm of quarterback Tom Brady and his ability to synchronize with receivers.
While Brady was sacked four times, hit three times and hurried 10 times, per Pro Football Focus, the QB completed just 47 percent of his passes for 228 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown.
Despite going an efficient 5-for-7 through the first quarter, the connections that looked to be there later on, weren’t. The 14-year pro was 4-for-20 on passes traveling more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That wasn’t all on the pass-catchers, though.
Only two of Brady’s 24 incompletions were definitive drops.
“It was close and we’re close a lot,” Brady said in the postgame press conference. “We just have to start making them, all of us. The balls have to be better thrown. Everyone has to look at themselves and do a better job, because what we’re doing right now isn’t good enough.”
Brady’s statements were on point. New England was outplayed Sunday afternoon, and so was No. 12. He wasn’t comfortable in the pocket, nor was he accurate throwing downfield. Yet still, the Patriots found themselves in contention.
But upon review, the five pivotal misses indicate that Brady and Co. could have done more than contend.
2nd-and-17, 21-10, 14:42 in Third Quarter
After being sacked for a seven-yard loss on the opening play of the second half, Brady and the Patriots offense left the huddle in “11” personnel with running back Brandon Bolden flanking Brady in shotgun and tight end Rob Gronkowski off-line next to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
The 6’6”, 265-pound “Y” was set to run a dig route up the right hash and over the middle, through New York’s 4-2 nickel alignment and the shadow of second-year safety Antonio Allen.
Brady harnessed the snap from center Ryan Wendell and quickly saw his maneuverable territory shrivel. He cautiously hopped forward, leaving just a slight gap between his feet.
Once Gronkowski hit the top of his pattern and veered left, Brady amassed minimal drive off his back leg and leaned over his upright front leg.
It was an off-kilter stance that proved to be problematic. Not only would he generate less velocity, he would generate less precision in leading his can’t-miss tight end.
As the football was released, it became evident that it wouldn’t land out in front of Gronkowski.
Instead, it would land behind him in the hands of Allen, who had jumped the route and extended his arms to exploit the underthrow.
Allen’s interception and subsequent return netted the Jets a 23-yard pickup and a soaring touchdown. And suddenly, New England’s 11-point advantage was cut to four.
Brady’s uneasiness stepping into his throw escalated into much more than an incompletion.
3rd-and-3, 21-27, 13:09 in Fourth Quarter
That pick-six set the tone for the rest of the third quarter. New England’s offense suffered from a trio of three-and-outs and the Jets picked up another TD as well as a field goal.
That said, New England was able to piece together a 10-play series down to the Jets’ 21-yard line with 13:09 to go in regulation. At that juncture, the offense displayed “11” against New York’s 4-1 dime package on 3rd-and-3.
This time, Gronkowski lined up out wide and geared for a fade versus Allen – a five-inch, 50-pound mismatch, at least on paper.
Brady took the snap and immediately looked Gronkowski’s way, as he was even with the defensive back.
The 36-year-old passer planted his leading foot and established a shoulder-width base approximately 90 degrees from his first read.
He slanted his right elbow back.
In one fluid motion, Brady bent his knees, met his release point and swung the ball forward past ear level.
The pass was airborne. Nevertheless, the sun glare was not conducive to catching the sailed ball. Allen fell to his knees, Gronkowski gazed up, and it wasn’t in his field of vision.
It was destined for out of bounds.
The jury is out on whether the ball was attainable. But notwithstanding, the Patriots were left to send out the field goal unit.
Three points were added, but it could have been seven. New York remained ahead, 27-24.
3rd-and-10, 24-27, 6:38 in Fourth Quarter
The Patriots defense held rookie quarterback Geno Smith and the Jets on the following possession, forcing a punt after 10 plays and nearly five minutes.
In turn, the Patriots got the ball back and ran five plays before encountering a 3rd-and-10 at the New England 41. It was there that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels sent out the “11” to combat the Jets’ nickel.
Rookie second-round wideout Aaron Dobson stood by the right sideline, orchestrated to run a stutter streak out and up through the secondary.
Veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie was assigned to guard him.
The ball was snapped and Brady dropped nearly 10 yards behind the neutral zone. He had space to shuffle forward and diagnose his progressions with the ball locked to his chest plate.
Brady opted for Dobson in single-man coverage. Brady used his momentum to anchor his front foot and propel off his back foot.
At the moment of departure, the ball’s trajectory appeared to be highly arced. The amount of torque and trunk rotation put into the throw yielded a tight spiral.
It was, however, a tight spiral that overshot an extended Dobson – whose double-move vertical route gained a lead on Cromartie – by three to five yards.
Dobson’s lunge came up empty-handed. No pass interference was called, and rightfully so.
New England was left to punt with 6:32 remaining in the final frame.
1st-and-10, 24-27, 1:21 in Fourth Quarter
On the fifth play of New England’s final push to end the fourth, the Patriots went back to utilizing the three-wide receiver, one-tight end, one-back grouping. The Jets reacted with a 3-2 dime with six defensive backs.
For Brady, it would be about finding a soft spot in the second tier. That soft spot would come from Dobson, who had ninth-overall draft pick Dee Milliner on him.
The Marshall product was plotting a fade. If he could create a path outside, a 50-50 ball could be executed.
Brady initiated the play and took a three-step drop, wasting no time before zeroing Dobson into his sights.
He gapped his feet a yard-and-a-half apart. His front foot, though, wasn’t oriented to face the defensive backfield; it was oriented to face the 30-yard marker.
That positioning went against the grain of throwing back into the field of play. And as he rotated, his front hip didn’t fluidly follow suit.
His upper body had to compensate.
The ball was catapulted wide and well over Dobson, who had Milliner eclipsed at the New York 40.
The potential game-breaker ended up being a 2nd-and-10 with 1:16 left in the fourth. But seven snaps later, New England was able to tie it up with another Stephen Gostkowski field goal, forging the battle to OT.
1st-and-10, 27-27, 14:17 in Overtime
The Patriots won the overtime toss and elected to receive. But after a acquiring a first down on the first snap, the trend of miscues reared its head once again.
On the second snap of New England’s drive – a 1st-and-10 from the far 38 – the offense spread the field with “11.” In response, the Jets worked from the nickel.
Dobson played the “X,” outside Gronkowski on the left half of the ball. The 6’3”, 200-pounder was readying to run a jagged fade with Milliner pressing.
The play got underway. From shotgun, Brady handled the snap and dropped back.
He saw his priority, Dobson, uniform with Milliner down the boundary. As a result, the signal-caller directed his front foot towards his 22-year-old route-runner. But when Brady did so, he didn’t garner sufficient energy from his footwork.
He allowed his upper body to do the heavy lifting in its place, leaving his front foot to absorb weight without much thrust off his back one.
Rather than seeing the ball meet Dobson in stride, Brady saw his pass alter Dobson’s route. The pass soared low and behind Dobson, ultimately causing the rangy target to twist back without much-needed balance.
That lack of control gave way to a fingertip bobble, behind the eyes of the corner.
Brady’s pass bounced off the turf.
After two more incompletions, the Patriots had to ship punter Ryan Allen back on the field for the eighth time.
New England wouldn’t get another offensive opportunity.
The Oct. 20 loss was one of forgettable milestones for Brady. For the first time in his NFL career, Brady has been held to three sub-50-percent completion games in one season. And for the second time in three games, Brady was held scoreless after notching a touchdown-passing streak of 52 games.
The eight-time Pro Bowler doesn’t need to be perfect. But if the undermanned 5-2 Patriots are to find rhythm in the 2013 campaign, it will be because Brady finds his.