It's unfortunate that much of the talk following the Jets 30-27 victory over the New England Patriots was centered on the NFL rules rather than their performance. Then again, it's not every day that a team gets a second chance due to a penalty that has never been called before.
Kicker Nick Folk had a missed 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime negated when New England's Chris Jones was flagged for pushing a teammate into the offensive formation. It was the first time the rule, just instituted this season, had been enforced, and carried a 15-yard penalty that automatically gave the Jets a first down and pushed them closer into field goal range. Given another opportunity from a closer distance, Folk nailed a 42-yard kick and gave the Jets the victory.
To his credit, Jones held himself accountable. However, given the minute nature of the violation and the importance of the situation, it was a questionable time to make such a call. The official did his job but no one would have noticed the penalty, or even known the rule existed, had he not thrown his flag.
Nonetheless, the Jets deserve some credit as well. After digging themselves in an early 21-10 hole thanks to an inconsistent first two quarters and a Geno Smith interception that was returned for a touchdown, the team did a remarkable job of turning things around.
Gang Green increased the pressure a bit on quarterback Tom Brady, recording three second half sacks and an interception returned for a TD, but largely defended him by dropping back into coverage. The move flustered Brady, as he completed just 11 of 28 throws after halftime.
As expected, the Pats were heavily reliant on the returning Rob Gronkowski. The tight end caught eight passes for 114 yards and was targeted a career-high 17 times by Brady. But the play of Jets safety Antonio Allen prevented Gronkowski from having an even bigger day. Allen, who hadn't broken up a pass all season, intercepted the throw intended for Gronkowski and brought it all the way home, which kickstarted the Jets' second half resurgence. He also had three passes defended.
Not long after the Allen interception inspired the fans, the stadium was whipped into a frenzy late in the third quarter once Smith scrambled for an eight-yard touchdown to give them their first lead since the opening minutes.
Smith, who rebounded nicely after his first quarter interception, used his legs as part of a Gang Green rushing attack that ate up the clock most of the afternoon. With the absence of Patriots defenders Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, the Jets committed to a grinding ground attack. Running back Chris Ivory had his prayers of running the ball more answered as the team ran 52 times for 177 yards. Ivory himself gained 104 yards on a career-high 34 carries.
Wide receivers Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson took advantage of cornerback Aqib Talib not playing. Kerley recorded eight receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown, while Nelson had four catches for 80 yards on a day where Smith targeted the two on more than half of his passes.
In his debut with the Jets, return specialist Josh Cribbs gave life to a previously non-existent return game. While his big play of the day was only a 21-yard punt return, he at least provided hope and an air of excitement on each play. Whenever Cribbs steps on the field, it seems like he's capable of making something happen. He even got involved on offense, lining up in the wildcat three times and rushing for 14 yards.
The contributions by Cribbs and so many other Jets are what put them in position to benefit from the controversial penalty call. This is a franchise that throughout history hasn't had much luck so it's about time they caught a break. The better this team continues to play, the more breaks they'll find.
Rather than wilting away and dropping to below .500, the Jets fought back. With a road game up next against the 5-2 Cincinnati Bengals, followed by a meeting with the 5-1 New Orleans Saints, a loss to the Patriots could have left their season in a tailspin. Instead, Gang Green now finds themselves just one game behind first place New England for the division lead.