It may not have been pretty, but the New England Patriots survived and hung on to defeat the New York Jets 17-16 this afternoon. The Patriots trailed 10-7 at halftime, and were down 13-10 heading into the fourth quarter. A Jamie Collins interception changed the momentum of the game, and the Patriots were able to take the lead for good with a one yard Jonas Gray touchdown run.
Here are five take-aways from the victory:
Patriots have clinched a first round bye. Let's get the most important stuff out of the way first. With the victory, the Patriots advanced to 12-3 on the regular season and clinched at least the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs. All that's left: a week 17 home tilt against the Buffalo Bills with homefield advantage on the line. Unless of course, the Bengals beat the Broncos tomorrow on Monday Night Football, which would render that week 17 game essentially meaningless for the Patriots. But knowing primetime Andy... well... we're getting off track here. Back to the game, this was as tough of a fight as you could possibly imagine from Rex Ryan and the New York Jets. You've got to hand it to Rex, he knows how to counter Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as well as anyone in this league. Even if we knew this was likely the last Rex vs. Belichick showdown of this era heading into the game, you knew this would be a battle.
Danny Amendola answers the call. We've waited all season for Danny Amendola to breakout, and it finally happened today without Julian Edelman in the line-up. Amendola set up the Patriots' first touchdown with a big punt return. He was also consistently relied on by Tom Brady to move the chains in critical moments. His 3rd down catch and run for a first off a screen in the waning moments of the game essentially clinched things for the Patriots. He finished the day with 63 yards on eight catches. Amendola has caught some tough breaks in his Patriots' tenure with the injuries in 2013 and the emergence of Julian Edelman. Nonetheless, he's been healthy for every game this year and has found a way to still make plays in his limited opportunities.
Can anyone play left guard? The Patriots had their fair share of struggles on offense today. When they went big and tried to run the ball, they didn't have any success. Jonas Gray had just three yards on four carries in the first half. The Jets were more physical. When the Patriots' spread it out, the Jets brought the pressure. When the Patriots tried to get cute (play action on a 3rd and 14 kind of cute), the Jets brought the pressure. The Jets do have one of the best fronts in the league, and Wilkerson and Richardson were dominant tonight. Nonetheless, their performance just further highlighted the struggles the Patriots continue to have along the interior offensive line (neither Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, or Rob Gronkowski were very good in pass protection either, and there were communication issues as well).
The Patriots started Josh Kline in place of the injured, but struggling Dan Connolly. The results were not pretty. In the second half, the Patriots started Cameron Fleming at left guard. Later, they switched Wendell to left guard and Fleming to right. Fleming held up well there, but Wendell was literally thrown to the ground by Sheldon Richardson one play.
The Patriots have yet to find a competent solution for the left guard position, and one has to wonder if that could even be part of the reason for Nate Solder's struggles.
Jamie Collins playing out of his mind. Jamie Collins has continued to play positively awesome football as of late. He was all over the field against the Jets. He blew up several running plays by knifing through blockers. He roamed sideline to sideline. His interception of a Geno Smith pass intended for Jace Amaro was a beautiful display of athleticism in the middle of the field. The interception set up New England's go-ahead touchdown. Collins' play has been elevated since Jerod Mayo went down for the year, and you could argue he has even surpassed the hefty preseason expectations surrounding him.
Pass rush, tackling, and Chung. Geno Smith had a nice game today, but it was no doubt aided by the Patriots' complete lack of ability to generate a pass rush. Rob Ninkovich was a non-factor on the edge. Vince Wilfork and company were effective in the base against the run, but didn't generate much pressure. The only area the Patriots got a surge was through Chandler Jones. Therefore, even with Smith as the passer, the Jets were able to move the ball in chunks. Simply put, the Patriots need to get better rushing without the blitz. In addition, the Patriots' tackling was a work-in-progress at times today. They just did not seem to be wrapping up well after a strong start, and it was a bit reminiscent of the tackling issues we saw at the start of the season. On a bit of a tangent, safety Patrick Chung had his poorest outing of the season. He bit on a playaction in the first half which resulted in a Geno Smith touchdown to tight end Jeff Cumberland. In the second half, he overcommitted on a read option, and gave up a long run. He's played well this year, but it will be interesting to see if teams attack him after today's performance. But here's a positive for the defense: Despite the lack of pass rush and Geno Smith really settling down, the Patriots didn't allow a second half touchdown and haven't allowed one of those going all the way back to week 11 against the Colts.