The New England Patriots have not yet secured the number one seed in the AFC after losing 26-20 in overtime to the New York Jets. New England falls to 12-3, while the Jets improve to 10-6. Here are the first bits of analysis of the game.
The injury bug keeps biting the Patriots
On the Patriots' first offensive series, the team lost starting left tackle Sebastian Vollmer to a foot injury. Running back Joey Iosefa fell awkwardly on Vollmer's left foot, forcing the tackle to leave the game on a cart. With New England already thin on the offensive line, Vollmer's loss would be huge if turns out to be indeed as bad as it initially looked like. Vollmer was replaced by LaAdrian Waddle, who himself left the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. Who else was shaken up today? Rob Ninkovich, Dont'a Hightower, Jordan Richards and Justin Coleman.
Keshawn Martin was Tom Brady's go-to-guy
With Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola out, and with the offensive line having a very tough day against a talented defense, Brady needed another guy to be his security blanket. Keshawn Martin was that guy. The first-year Patriot caught seven passes for 67 yards and was often Brady's first read. Given the struggles of the offensive line, New England's quarterback often didn't have time to go through his other reads.
New England's offense struggled on 3rd down
On offense, New England had a hard time sustaining possessions. The unit went just one of nine on 3rd down and didn't convert one until the fourth quarter. However, the team was three for three on 4th down, so not all was bad.
Jabaal Sheard came up big once again
Sheard is looking like one of the best free agent acquisitions of the 2015 offseason. He has made yet another big play against New York, forcing a Ryan Fitzpatrick fumble in the 3rd quarter that was recovered by Jamie Collins and returned for New England's first touchdown of the day – the second game in a row that the Patriots score a fumble recovery touchdown. It was Sheard's eighth sack of the year.
Devin McCourty & Patrick Chung were missed
The Jets tried multiple deep passes. While most of them were misfires by Ryan Fitzpatrick, New England's defense struggled to take away the deep ball consistently and gave up a long touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, who had a huge day against the McCourty-less Patriots secondary. The Pro Bowl safety wasn't the only member of the secondary, whose absence was felt. Without Patrick Chung,...
The Patriots had a tough time against the run
With Chung out and Dont'a Hightower, who was clearly not at 100%, on a limited snap count, New England struggled to defend the run. Overall, the Jets gained 143 yards on the ground, as many rushes reached the second level. This allowed the offense to milk the clock and keep Tom Brady and New England's offense on the sidelines.
Josh McDaniels called up the trickery
On the Patriots' first successful drive of the day – which ended with a field goal – offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dug deep into the playbook on three consecutive plays. First, a flea flicker from Brandon Bolden to Tom Brady, who fired incomplete towards Rob Gronkowski. The next play was an end around to Brandon LaFell, who gained nine yards. Finally, McDaniels called a wildcard play that saw Brady line up as wide receiver and Bolden as the quarterback. The play gained about half a yard. Whoever faces the Patriots in the playoffs will have to prepare for all those plays as well.
The AFC still goes through Foxboro
Despite the loss today, the Patriots – having already secured a wild-card bye – are still the number one seed in the AFC. With a victory next week over the lowly Miami Dolphins, New England will secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Not all is lost.