The last time a game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets was decided by more than one score was in week 12 of the 2012 season. The Patriots crushed the Jets on Thanksgiving 49-19, thanks to a certain ButtFumble.
After that match-up, the Patriots decided they would not run the ball against the New York Jets. In fact, the Patriots have dialed up 307 passing plays and just 135 rushing plays in the seven games before Saturday’s tilt (69.5% passing plays).
The strategy is simple: the Jets don’t have a great secondary and they have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Why waste snaps running the ball when you’ll be more successful attacking the linebackers in the flat? The Patriots went 5-2 in those games and employed that strategy again in week 12 of the 2016 season, when QB Tom Brady threw the ball 50 times.
The Jets prepared for more of the same, but the Patriots delivered a curve ball. The Patriots running backs ran 37 times, while the quarterbacks combined for 30 passing plays (55.2% running plays). The Jets weren’t ready for the running game.
“They startled us in the run game a little bit,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said about the Patriots, “and when you get turnovers, you get a chance to get ahead and it makes everything easy.”
Brady was ruthlessly efficient with his limited passing attempts, but it was the Patriots surprise commitment to the run that softened the Jets defense and opened up passes down the field, including the first touchdown connection between Brady and TE Matt Lengel.
The Patriots running backs weren’t particularly successful, either, averaging 3.14 yards per carry against the Jets defense. That production is markedly worse than the 3.42 yards per carry the Patriots averaged against the Jets during the 7-game passing streak, but it was the first time the Patriots recorded more than 100 rushing yards against the Jets since the ButtFumble game.
The Patriots defense continued to force turnovers and the offense didn’t necessarily need a touchdown on every drive, which allowed the Patriots to put run plays on tape and catch the Jets unawares with big passing plays.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels deserves a major tip of the cap for the game plan because it allowed the Patriots to capitalize on the turnovers and to walk away with one of the easiest wins of the year.