The New England Patriots have been gracious hosts this season, letting their opposition hang around like they’re all best friends gathered for a tailgate party. Problem is, the New York Jets know when it’s time to drop the BBQ ribs and the pleasantries and start smacking folks in the mouth.
And smacking folks in the mouth is exactly what they did. Unfortunately for them, the Patriots Tom Brady showed that he still has a little magic left in that ragged right arm.
Brady drove his Patriots 40 yards in 6 plays, setting up Stephen Gostkowski’s 43 yard game tying field goal to send the game into overtime, then continued with the hot hand in the extra period, taking his team 54 yards in 12 plays to set up Gostkowski again, this time from 48 yards to give the Patriots the lead.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich strip sacked Jet’s quarterback Mark Sanchez on the ensuing drive, then recovered the fumble, ending the game as New England survived 29-26.
It was a stirring victory for New England, the kind that digs a team out of a funk, the kind that rights the ship, the kind that gets them on track. Use whichever worn out cliche you’d like, or make up one of your own. The Patriots’ gritty, determined victory on Sunday evening is the stuff that turns a season around.
They needed this type of game. They needed to stick with a game plan for a full 60 minutes. They needed to face this type of adversity, they need to hear the fans getting on their backs – they needed to fall behind their most hated rival so that Brady could could engineer this comeback.
The talk around the water cooler is that Tom Brady has lost his magic, that he doesn’t have anymore comebacks left in him. And not just around the water cooler. All week, the media had been lambasting Brady, going so far as to say that he is no longer an elite quarterback, that his status had fallen to that of a game manager…
…but not on this night. Brady coolly drove his team down the field not once, but twice. On this night, he found enough zip on his passes to fit them into Rob Gronkowski’s bread basket on the final drive of regulation. On this night Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez happened to catch perfectly thrown balls to set up Gostkowski’s game tying field goal as time expired.
Yes, on this night when the New York Jets defense played the Patriots offense as well as any team has all season and only gave up 20 of New England’s 29 points, Brady “managed” to make a balanced attack work to grind out a physical victory.
Rex Ryan and his staff were able to not only take away the Patriots wide receivers for most of the game, but they also took away the running game for good chunks of time as well. And to the credit of the New England coaching staff, they stayed with their game plan and continued to run the ball and to go deep to Lloyd when they felt they had the tactical advantage – while Brady patiently worked the middle of the field, eventually softening up the defense in time for his last minute heroics.
The Patriots’ defense showed up in crunch time as well, as Dont’a Hightower sacked Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez on 3rd and 7 from the Patriots’ 25 yard line, forcing a Jets’ field goal attempt. Had New York converted that 3rd down, they could have run down the clock and there would have been no time left for Brady to work his magic.
New England sacked Sanchez again on their next possession in overtime, this time with Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham going high/low on Sanchez, forcing a fumble that Ninkovich recovered to seal the win.
A statement game? Absolutely. In the land where steamed lobsters and clam bakes are standard fare for tailgating parties, there could be no better statement than for the Patriots to smack their guests in the mouth.
After all, turnabout is fair play.