The New England Patriots were able to beat the rival New York Jets 29-26, but it took game-winning field goals during overtime and at the end of regulation to give the Pats the victory. If a win can be classified as disappointing, then it would be this one. But it is a bit annoying to see the NFL experts on a national scale taking this opportunity to pounce on the Pats and write posts about how this is “not the same team as in years past”.
Anyway, on to five things of note.
1. Shane Vereen a quality change-of-pace back
The Patriots have so much depth at the running back position, and Vereen was the lone Pats back who shined in this game. He rushed for 49 yards on eight carries in a bright performance that was certainly needed given the way Stevan Ridley struggled in this game. Ridley was extremely disappointing against a Jets run defense that has been down this season and is without DTs Sione Pouha and Kendrick Ellis.
Vereen missed a chunk of the season with a foot injury that was sustained in the preseason, and this is the first game in which he has looked lively. He can be a quality change-of-pace running back for this team, and his running ability and explosiveness are unique. Danny Woodhead is a better third-down back, but Vereen is clearly the better option on first and second downs.
2. Rob Ninkovich shows his value
The fumble he forced to seal the Patriots victory wasn’t the only example of Ninkovich’s proficiency in this game, and he continues to take advantage of poor right tackles. While he isn’t good enough against better competition as a pass rusher, he feasts upon weak competition and recorded 1.5 sacks against Austin Howard. He was the most consistent pass rushing source for the Pats, as Chandler Jones was shut down by solid LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
Ninkovich’s big play was certainly needed, and he continues to be one of the best run-stopping forces on the team this season.
3. Stephen Gostkowski and Tom Brady get their clutch back
Stephen Gostkowski and Tom Brady were criticized by many for not performing up to the level that they usually do in the clutch, and both players answered in a big way today. Brady was excellent on the game-winning drive and controlled the passing game by hitting his tight ends and making do without Brandon Lloyd (I’ll get to him later).
Gostkowski was even more impressive, and he showed why he is one of the best kickers in the game by nailing a 43-yarder to send the game into overtime with no time left and then draining a 48-yarder in OT. Now that’s called clutch kicking.
4. Antonio Cromartie is legit, Brandon Lloyd shows his flaws
Antonio Cromartie has only allowed about a third of every pass thrown at him to be complete after this dominant performance against Brandon Lloyd, in which the Patriots star receiver only managed a six-yard catch on eight targets. He nearly made a spectacular grab before dropping it (a completely misleading drop at that).
Lloyd is a great downfield receiver who commands the full attention of the opposing cornerback and is arguably the best receiver in the league at making acrobatic catches, but something is missing. It isn’t the rapport with Brady, but rather his age. He’s getting older, and it is evident that he isn’t as adept as getting separation against quicker corners like Cromartie who can lock him down. That’s something to keep an eye on going forward, and I think some people had unrealistic expectations of him coming into the season. The biggest asset he brings is his ability to command the attention of the other team.
5. Pats underneath game on D of concern, bench Arrington
Dustin Keller was targeted seven times and came away with seven catches for 93 yards. That’s an average of 13.3 yards per attempt for Mark Sanchez when throwing it to his tight end, and that’s an unacceptable total to allow. Jeremy Kerley is an underrated receiver who is adding an outside game to his solid slot receiving play, but there is no way the Pats should be giving up 120 receiving yards and an average of 17.1 yards per catch to him. Kerley is a solid receiver, but he isn’t a 100-yard receiver who averages an insanely high Y/C.
Kerley received most of his yards against Kyle Arrington, who continues to struggle this season. He was terrible on Sunday, and he’s the team’s fourth best cornerback at this point behind Ras-I Dowling and Alfonzo Dennard. By the way, I was impressed with Dennard who took advantage of a terrible throw from Sanchez and did a more than credible job in coverage. To be blunt, Arrington was getting burned all day. He needs to be benched.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.