FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 21: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts to fans after a 29-26 win over the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
This game says more about the Jets than the Patriots, but coach Bill Belichick won't quibble with the result or how it was achieved. New England outlasted New York in a hard-fought overtime battle, 29-26, and now have sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
But the outcome was anything but certain until replay confirmed that Mark Sanchez fumbled in overtime. Until then, another late-game collapse was still a possibility, especially since the Jets scored 13 unanswered points in a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter that gave them the lead. The low-point for the Pats: A Devin McCourty fumble on the kickoff with 2:06 in regulation, a play after New York had tied the score 23-23 and four plays before they would take the 26-23 lead.
Tom Brady a minute and change on the clock to drive the Patriots down for the game-tying field goal. And as we've seen countless times before, that's exactly he did.
26-26 and overtime.
"That was a big two-minute drive," coach Bill Belichick said. "It was a big stop for us defensively to hold them to a field goal and be able to stay in the game. Yeah, that was a big drive. Again, there were things that certainly could have been better, but in the end we did enough good things to win. Certainly that was a big drive, taking it down the length of the field, big kick to get it into overtime. That was good. Some of the things that we did to put ourselves in that position obviously need and hopefully can be better."
New England won the coin toss in overtime, got the ball first, and got to work. A 12-play, 54-yard opening drive set up kicker Stephen Gostkowski for a 48-yard field goal.
“We executed better (on those final two drives),” Brady said afterwards. “I think that’s what it is. It really wasn’t our best day of execution in terms of assignments we have to nail those things down. A lot of those inconsistencies, you don’t score points, and we didn’t score as many as we needed to. And those last couple of drives, we moved the ball better. I wouldn’t say they were great drives, but they were good enough.”
And while Brady was Brady -- at least when it mattered most -- Gostkowski was Sunday's MVP. He smoked a 43-yarder to send the game to extra time and calmly did it again moments later, for what would eventually be the decisive kick.
"Steve came through big," Belichick said. "He hit some big kicks and he kicked off well. Yup, did a good job. We got plays from every unit. We had so many people step up and play well. And the Jets played well too. They did a good job. Tough, hard-fought game, came down to a few plays, luckily we made a few more than they did. I thought it was as competitive as it could get. That’s usually the way it is with the Jets, they’re always hard-fought games."
And while most Jets-Pats get-together are hard fought, this Jets team was -- on paper, anyway -- decidedly undermanned. The offense had struggled to score points and most weeks quarterback Mark Sanchez found himself at the wrong end of a QB controversy with Tim Tebow. But Sanchez looked to be his old self Sunday -- good but not great -- and the Jets' defense did a decent job of slowing Brady and New England's offense for most of the game. Unfortunately for New York, it only takes one series -- a handful of plays -- to change the complexion of the game. And that's all Brady (and Gostkowski) needed.
As it stands, New England is 4-3 and headed to Old England (more commonly known as London, England) to face the Rams. New York, meanwhile, falls to 3-4 and play the Dolphins before heading to their bye week.