With the Patriots up 13-10 late in the fourth quarter and the Jets offense coming off a touchdown drive, Judon and the defense faced a 3rd-and-15 at the opposing 5-yard line. A stop would give the offense some premium field position with a chance to put the game away; a conversion would allow New York to further build on its momentum.
What happened was one of the biggest plays in a game lacking many of them.
New England’s pass rush closed in on Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, who had dropped back into the end zone. And when Judon beat left tackle Mekhi Becton on an inside move and got a free shot at the passer, there could be only one result: Wilson was sacked for a safety, giving the Patriots a 15-10 lead and the ball, and changing the complexity of the contest with a little over two minutes left to play.
“We were bottling Zach up, the whole gang,” Judon said after the game. “He got out the pocket a couple of times. Just the drive before they got some momentum and started moving the ball. But just with that, it kind of shut them down. We needed that, three, four straight drives at the end of the game. So, we really needed that”.
The Patriots had dominated the game early on, jumping to a 13-3 lead in the early third period that could have been even bigger if not for a pair of missed field goals. However, their offense fizzled out from that point on allowing the Jets to get back into the mix.
With New England punting on each of its final six possessions — gaining just four first downs along the way — the pressure was on the defense to continue shutting down the Jets. But after surrendering a 13-play, 84-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, the unit was in need for a big play.
Judon was able to deliver it.
“We just take their threats away, show them something pre-snap then play something different post-snap, make them read it out,” said safety Jabrill Peppers about the play. “We got guys up front who get to the quarterback, we like those guys a lot against pretty much anybody. It’s just our job to hold it down in the back end, so they can do what they do up front.”
The play was a pivotal one, but far from a game-ender. The Patriots offense, after all, went three-and-out after the ensuing free kick and took only 36 seconds off the clock.
The defense, meanwhile, continued its successful play. With the Jets now in need of a touchdown rather than a game-tying field goal, they threw incomplete on three straight plays before a 2-yard completion on fourth down ended that series; they did get in one more shot after another three-and-out but were unable to complete a Hail Mary on the final snap of the afternoon.
When it positively had to, the Patriots defense therefore rose to the occasion again. And on a day like Sunday, with the team’s offense unable to get out of its own way, the ability to do that was crucial.
As was Matthew Judon’s safety, for both the team and himself.
“It was just good to get some points for myself.”