The New England Patriots have won the battle for AFC East supremacy. The team went on the road to defeat the New York Jets 24-17 and improve its record to a division-best 4-2. While it was a hard-fought victory that showed the team's mental toughness after being down 14-0 early, not all was perfect.
Without the benefit of game film, let's take a look at some of the winners and losers of yesterday's contest.
Winner: RB Dion Lewis
Dion Lewis continues to show why he is a valuable asset within the team's offense. Against the Jets, the 27-year old was New England's most productive back and displayed his trademark elusiveness and speed throughout the game. Overall, Lewis led the team in carries and rushing yards. He gained 52 yards and a touchdown on his 11 carries.
Loser: LB David Harris
Ex-Jet David Harris was unable to get onto the field against his former team. The veteran was a healthy scratch once again and continues to be an emergency-only option at the linebacker position. With Shea McClellin expected to return off injured reserve soon, Harris' days might be numbered – and a chance to play against his old team missed.
Winner: The run defense
The Jets are by no means an offensive power house and were missing their top running back. Still, stopping the rush was one of the improved defensive areas for the Patriots. Apart from three scrambles by Jets quarterback Josh McCown, that gained a total of 21 yards, New England held its opponent to only 53 rushing yards on 23 carries. An encouraging performance with multiple short-yardage stops being the most notable plays.
Winner: The offensive line
The Patriots' much-maligned offensive line faced a touch challenge in a talented Jets defensive front and it held up. The unit was solid against the run and allowed the team's backs to gain 119 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. It also performed well against the pass and typically gave Tom Brady room and time to operate in – all while not giving up a sack and allowing only four quarterback hits.
Loser: LS Joe Cardona
Normally, the Patriots' long snapper does not stand out – that's how reliable of a player he is. Against New York, however, Joe Cardona failed to be his usual steady self. While he did register one tackle on special teams, he also delivered some low snaps and was called for a false start penalty on a fourth quarter punt. By no means a bad performance but one that did not live up to Cardona's typical standards.
Winner: TE Rob Gronkowski
After being out last week due to an injury, Rob Gronkowski returned to the field today – and he was his usual dominant self. The NFL's best tight end proved why he is just that and finished the contest tied for the team-lead with six catches, gaining 83 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns. Gronkowski also once again looked stellar when asked to block. In short: It was a vintage performance by the 28-year old.
Winner: LB Kyle Van Noy
As has been the case in weeks past, Van Noy has once again been an active player in the middle of the Patriots' defense against the Jets. The 26-year old led the team in both tackles (7) and sacks (2.0); the latter of which putting New York in a unfavorable 4th and 16 with the game on the line. Van Noy has found his role in the Patriots' defense and is productive in it.
Loser: The third down defense
While it ultimately settled down as the Patriots were mounting their comeback, the third down defense was a big reason that the team was in a two-touchdown hole to begin with. The opening series of the game was the unit at its very worst: Four times, the Jets faced a 3rd down – three of which of 5+ yards – and four times the team was able to convert. On the day, the Jets went 9 of 17 when faced with a third down.
Winner: CB Malcolm Butler
New England's defense was far from perfect but did have its moments – just like number one cornerback Malcolm Butler. The 27-year old did give up some plays but also was part of two of the biggest moments for the Patriots. Butler, who finished with four tackles, registered an interception late in the first half that set up the game-tying touchdown and also forced the fumble that was ruled a touchback in New England's favor – two game-changing plays by Butler.
Winner: DT Alan Branch
Despite being healthy last week, the team opted to leave Alan Branch at home. He made the trip to New York and was able to bounce back from the benching. While he still has ways to go to reach his 2016 level, the 32-year old generally looked solid: He played 22 snaps and was able to create upfield push from the interior of the defense in his limited playing time. A step into the right direction.