The New England Patriots traveled to New Jersey to face the New York Jets on a beautiful autumn afternoon in week seven of the NFL season. New England came into the game missing four of their best defensive players as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo were lost for the season to injury. In addition, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and shutdown cornerback Aqib Talib were not in the lineup. The Patriots certainly missed the quartet of defenders.
On offense, the Patriots welcomed back tight end Rob Gronkowski as he returned to the lineup for the first time this season. Gronkowski, however, was not the solution for the Patriots offensive woes. Without wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Shane Vereen, the Patriots offense remained in a rut. In fact, the offense again struggled to consistently run the ball, protect the quarterback, and convert on third down and extend drives.
The Patriots leapt out to a 21-10 lead at halftime with rushing touchdowns by running backs Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley. Add in the pick-six returned by rookie Logan Ryan and the Patriots had momentum and the ball coming their way to start the third quarter. Instead, it was the Jets who made adjustments at half-time and came out with renewed vigor on both sides of the ball.
The Jets took the opening kickoff and marched eighty yards in twelve plays to start the game; however, New England answered with a ten play eighty yard drive of their own to knot it at seven. After Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith’s attempted pass to wide receiver David Nelson was returned for a touchdown by Logan Ryan, Smith brought the Jets back down the field to kick a field goal. Ridley rumbled for a seventeen yard two drives later and the game was half over with New England in control.
The Patriots set the tone for the rest of the game when on the second play of the half, quarterback Tom Brady tried to force the ball into tight end Rob Gronkowski which was returned by safety Antonio Allen for a touchdown. Instead of burying the Jets, the Patriots let them back into the game.
The poor play continued throughout the third quarter as New England went three-and-out three consecutive drives while the Jets offense awoke. New England picked up their first first down of the third quarter with forty-one seconds remaining on a short pass to Julian Edelman. Whether it was third-and-one or third-and-twelve, New England could not move the ball. The Jets scored seventeen unanswered points to take a 27-21 lead to the fourth quarter.
After opening the fourth quarter with a field goal, the Patriots almost let the Jets put the game away before the defense came up with a few timely stops. Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called passing plays on second down with 2:29 remaining and again on third down with 2:23 to play. Rather than running the clock under two minutes, the Jets allowed the Patriots with time to drive and tie the game at the end of regulation.
In overtime, New England won the toss but after a sixteen yard completion to Rob Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady tossed three incompletions and forced a punt. After the Patriots defense forced a 57 yard field goal attempt by kicker Nick Folk that was no good, as they prepared to take over with great field position, a fifteen yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on defensive lineman Chris Jones for pushing a teammate into the line of scrimmage. Although it had no effect whatsoever on the play, the referees gave the ball back to the Jets much closer to the uprights and Folk converted shortly afterwards for the Jets 30-27 victory in overtime.
As controversial as the call may have been, the Patriots had no business putting themselves in the position of being in overtime. Quarterback Tom Brady continued to miss open receivers downfield and either was off-target or simply over-or-under-threw them multiple times. New England only rushed twenty times (for ninety yards, a 4.5 yard average) but in overtime the backs never got a chance to grind out much needed yards.
In addition, the return of Rob Gronkowski failed to resolve third down problems on offense, as the Patriots were one-for-twelve for the game. On defense, the Patriots allowed the Jets to convert eleven-for-twenty-one third downs. With the turnovers equal with each quarterback throwing an interception returned for a touchdown, the Jets ability to control the clock and convert on third down swung the game their way.
New England had their chances, and they frittered the game away. The Jets defense played an excellent game and held down the Patriots when they had to, and the Patriots defense could not get their offense back on the field all day. With an almost two-to-one advantage in time of possession, it was clear that New England did not perform well enough to win the game.