In a rivalry filled with late-game drama, non-ring kissing vows, and even butt fumbles, yet another chapter was added Sunday as the New York Jets defeated the New England Patriots 30-27 in overtime. While the late penalty by Patriots rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones is sure to spark some controversy, it shouldn’t overshadow the hard-fought battle between the division rivals, particularly the efforts of the Jets’ defense in the second half of the game. For the second time this season, they controlled the last 30 minutes (and more) of the game, and this time the offense was able to capitalize and put up enough points to knock off the defending division champions.
The Jones play will be a hot topic his week as his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty prolonged the game when he pushed his teammate on kicker Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime. Three plays later, Folk lined up again and capped off the upset with a 42-yard field goal that put the Jets at 4-3 on the season, and within a game of the 5-2 Patriots.
Here’s a look at the performances that shaped this overtime battle.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Brady Struggles Despite Return of Gronk
Much has been made about the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski to the lineup Sunday, and while he certainly made his presence felt by grading at +2.6, quarterback Tom Brady continued his uneven play as he finished with a career-low -6.6 effort. He looked comfortable early, relying on Gronkowski to move the chains and work the seam, but Brady may have forced the ball his way too much as he targeted the fourth-year tight end 17 times for the game. Brady saw Gronkowski singled up on the outside by safety Antonio Allen and lofted a deep pass his way with 9:50 to go in the second quarter, but the slight underthrow gave Allen a chance to make a play on the ball and knock it away. The errors became more egregious in the second half as Brady’s threw an ill-advised crossing route Gronkowski’s way that was picked off by Allen and returned for a game-changing touchdown. He made a similar error during a fourth-quarter comeback attempt as his pass to wide receiver Austin Collie was undercut by LB Calvin Pace and nearly intercepted on a pass that also screamed pick-six.
In addition to the previous throws, Brady simply left too many plays on the field, including potential game-winners. Whether it was a deep post route to Gronkowski down the middle of the field that was left just short enough for Allen to tip, or an overthrow to an open Aaron Dobson on a potential game-winner with 1:16 to go in the fourth quarter, Brady was not sharp throughout the day, despite the return of his favorite target.
McCourty All Over the Field
Free safety Devin McCourty has quietly graded as our top safety this season, and he continued his strong play on Sunday. He made plays in all phases of the game, perhaps none better than his touchdown-saving pass breakup in the end zone with 5:57 to go in the third quarter. TE Jeff Cumberland beat linebacker Dont’a Hightower down the seam, but as he looked to secure the well-thrown pass from QB Geno Smith, McCourty swooped in and pulled the ball from his grasp. McCourty made another key play later in the quarter as he blitzed off the edge and batted Smith’s pass to force the punt on 3rd-and -8. He got involved against the run as well, as he cleaned up for the tackle for loss at the 7:59 mark of overtime. The only throw completed into McCourty’s coverage was a swing pass to running back Chris Ivory that also resulted in lost yardage.
Stout Against the Run
Don’t let the stats fool you — the Patriots’ defense played well against the Jets’ running game. Their biggest issues came when Smith scrambled, as they were unable to stop him on a 3rd-and-14 with 5:51 to go in the third quarter, and then two plays later as he juked CB Marquice Cole on his way into the end zone. But without Smith’s 30 yards on his four runs (not including QB kneels), the Patriots held the Jets running game to 145 yards on 46 carries, good for 3.1 yards/attempt. Rookie DT Joe Vellano had his best game as a pro, grading at +3.1 against the run on his way to picking up six stops. The Jets came at him a number of times but he held up well, showing power to stack and shed guard Willie Colon at the 2:25 mark of the third, and later swimming past him with 9:20 to go in overtime as he also took out the fullback’s block and got in on the tackle.
In addition to Vellano, LB Brandon Spikes did his usual fine work blowing up blocking schemes, as he graded at +4.2 in the run game and notched eight stops of his own. He destroyed guard Brian Winters’ pull block with 5:11 to go in the second before getting in on the tackle for a short gain. Spikes may be at his best when New England goes to their 3-4 alignment and he gets up on the line, effectively playing as an extra defensive tackle. He did this with 12:30 to go in the fourth quarter as he knifed past Colon, took out the fullback, and forced the running back to cut back right into his waiting teammates.
Despite missing DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo, the run defense stout against the Jets, save for some missteps on quarterback scrambles.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Wilkerson Controls the Action
Perhaps the story of the season for the Jets has been the play of its defensive line, but mostly the surprising efforts from rookie DT Sheldon Richardson and second-year DT Damon Harrison. The anchor of the group, however, is Muhammad Wilkerson, and he’s continued to dominate after a relatively slow start to the season. He graded at +5.0 for the game, with an identical mark against the run. He had his way with center Ryan Wendell and RG Dan Connolly throughout much of the game, particularly at the 4:18 mark of the second quarter when Wilkerson shrugged off a holding penalty from Wendell to still make the tackle on the running back for a 1-yard gain. He showed well as a pass rusher, beating Wendell almost immediately off the snap with 0:37 to go in the second quarter, and later moved to the edge and beat LT Nate Solder to the inside for a sack at the 4:33 mark of the third. Wilkerson was the best player on the field for the Jets on Sunday.
Matching Up with Gronk
Teams have spent a lot of time in recent drafts looking for hybrid safeties to cover the league’s best tight ends, and SS Antonio Allen was likely drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 draft with Gronkowski in mind. He got a little taste of it last season in their Week 7 matchup, but the plan was in full force on Sunday as Allen was in coverage on 14 of Gronkowski’s 17 targets. There were mixed results Sunday, though most will remember Allen’s big plays. He cut off Brady’s poor throw on the crossing route for the interception, adding a nifty return to put it in the end zone. He also got his hands on the two aforementioned passes, one down the sideline and one up the seam. So while he made some plays, Gronkowski got the better of Allen a number of times as well, picking up four first downs on his eight receptions. Allen almost went from hero to goat as he nearly gave up the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth, but Gronkowski was unable to haul in the one-handed catch. Throw in a defensive holding penalty, and this was clearly a back and forth battle. When you add it all up, Allen finished with a -0.2 coverage grade, which is not too shabby considering he went up against the league’s best tight end with little help. He certainly showed well enough to make this a viable strategy for years to come in the AFC East.
Kerley and Nelson Emerge
It was obvious from the first drive that WR Jeremy Kerley would be Smith’s go-to guy on the day, and he came through catching eight of the nine balls his way for 97 yards and a touchdown. Seven of his eight catches went for first downs as the Patriots were unable to find an answer for him early on. CB Kyle Arrington got the first crack, but Kerley beat him for four catches for 54 yards, including the touchdown on a nice out route in the end zone. Cole showed a little better against Kerley as the game progressed, but the Patriots’ defense was certainly more keyed in after his early success. But as he was taken out of the game, WR David Nelson emerged and caught four of his seven targets for 80 yards in his first extended action with the Jets. All four catches moved the chains, none better than his catch over a slipping Logan Ryan as he outmuscled the rookie cornerback for a 27-yard gain on a jump ball. Kerley and Nelson combined to catch 12 of the Jets 17 completions on Sunday while tallying 177 of their 233 passing yards.
– Jets RB Chris Ivory picked up 64 of his 104 yards after contact, meaning he found only 40 yards before contact on 34 carries.
– Geno Smith was 2 for 9 for 52 yards on passes beyond 20 yards
– Brady was 1-for-10 for 13 yards on passes beyond 10 yards and outside the numbers
PFF Game Ball
Muhammad Wilkerson was dominant all over the defensive line on his way to a +5.0 overall grade and the PFF game ball.
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