NFL Reactor: Patriots Oust Jets from Top of AFC East

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images North America

The New England Patriots used the Sunday night showcase game to show that they, not the New York Jets, were the best team in the AFC East, as they routed the Jets, 37-16, in a regular season rematch. Tom Brady recovered from his struggles in that first contest to throw complete 26 of 39 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. Darrelle Revis, primarily, held Wes Welker in check with only six catches for 46 yards, but the Jets didn’t have an answer for mismatch tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

When the game started, it looked like Mark Sanchez would have success against a mediocre Patriots secondary. Santonio Holmes had three catches the first drive against last year’s Pro Bowler Devin McCourty, but the Jets’ stalled out in field goal range and Nick Folk missed a 24-yard field goal to keep the game scoreless. The Patriots would open the scoring with a field goal their first possession, on a long Stephen Gostkowski field goal, and extend their lead to 6-0 on another Gostkowski field goal, this one set up by a 51-yard pass to Chad Ochocinco on blown coverage by the Jets.

The Jets would finally regain some life with five minutes to play in the first half, when Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding in the end zone after a T.J. Conley punt was down at the Patriots’ 8-yard line. The Jets would then take the first, and only, lead of the game when Mark Sanchez finished the drive with a two-yard scramble on third and goal. Gronkowski would make his make on the next drive, though, catching passes for 12 and 23 yards before finishing it off with an 18-yard reception to give the Patriots a 13-9 lead with :17 to go in the first half.

The Patriots would get the first big break of the game when Joe McKnight muffed the Patriots’ second punt of the second half and Rob Ninkovich recovered at the Jets’ 13. A Rob Gronkowski touchdown catch would be overturned, but Gostkowski’s third field goal of the game gave the Patriots a 16-9 lead. The Jets made it to Patriots territory on the ensuing possession, then Mark Sanchez’s pass hit off Shonn Green and to Rob Ninkovich. Eight plays later, Rob Gronkowski had his second touchdown catch of the game, this one from 5 yards away, and the Patriots’ lead was 23-9.

The Jets cut the lead to 23-16 on a touchdown pass from Sanchez to Plaxico Burress at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Jets’ defense appeared to be out of tricks as the Patriots’ normal regimen of runs and short passes ended in Deion Branch beating Kyle Wilson for an 8-yard touchdown pass to re-extend the Patriots’ lead to 14 points, this time 30-16.  Three plays later, Rob Ninkovich would make his third big play of the game, undercutting LaDainian Tomlinson on a dumpoff and taking Mark Sanchez’s pass 12 yards for another Patriots touchdown, a 37-16 lead, and effectively ending the game.

For me, though, the keys to this game were the Jets’ ability to take advantage of a poor Patriots defense that had been exploited with regularity coming into this game, and New England’s eventual late figuring out the Jets’ defense. The Patriots struggled to put points on the board at first, but could stick to their gameplan and eventually came away with an easy victory.

Three Stars
1. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots. A matchup nightmare, and the man the Jets couldn’t cover in the red zone.
2. Rob Ninkovich, Patriots. A crucial fumble recovery, two interceptions, and a touchdown.
3. Andre Carter, DE, Patriots. Four and a half sacks, as he terrorized Mark Sanchez all night.

Three Duds
1. Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets. He managed three hundred yards and a touchdown, but threw two costly interceptions, went down with surprising regularity against a heretofore primarily impotent Patriots pass rush and struggled to find consistent success.
2. Wayne Hunter, RT, Jets. Carter had most of his success going against Hunter, who regularly struggles a lot in pass protection.
3. Nick Folk, K, Jets. Would the game have proceeded any differently if Folk had made that early gimme field goal and the Jets had taken a 3-0 lead? Probably not, but we’ll never know.