Bizarre as the first half may have been, the Patriots are leaving New Jersey in sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
After falling behind 14-0 thanks to a defense looking as porous as ever, New England (4-2) tightened things up and came alive with a 24-0 run to leave MetLife Stadium with a 24-17 victory over the New York Jets.
“I wish we’d done better, but we won,” Tom Brady said after the game. “Probably a lot to learn from it, I wish we could have played a little better offensively, but we battled, got down early and fought back.”
Far from the best game of Brady’s career, he still finished 20 of 38 passing for 257 yards, the two touchdowns to Gronkowski and an interception to Buster Skrine. His 80.7 passer rating was his second-lowest of the season, ahead of only his 70.0 rating vs. Kansas City in the opener. Still, with his 187th career regular season win, he broke a tie with Peyton Manning and Brett Favre to become the all-time leader in regular season wins by a quarterback.
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With momentum there for the taking, Brady’s most important portion of the game was managing the Patriots to their patented double score at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third.
On the heels of a Malcolm Butler interception with just 39 seconds to go in the first half, Brady drove New England 63 yards in six plays – highlighted by a 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks – culminating in the first of Rob Gronkowski’s two touchdown catches in the game.
Stephen Gostkowski’s extra point tied the game at 14-all heading into the break, and with the Patriots receiving the second half kickoff, Brady embarked on another lengthy scoring drive.
Eight plays and 75 yards later, New England had its first lead of the game. Facing third-and-13, Brady dialed up Gronkowski once more for a 33-yard touchdown pass and a 21-14 lead after Gostkowski’s PAT.
Momentum continued to swing in the Patriots’ favor on a controversial call along the goal line in the fourth quarter. Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins appeared to have caught a touchdown pass that would have brought New York within four, at 24-20. Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass from Josh McCown in the flats on second-and-goal from the 4 and looked to muscle his way through Duron Harmon and a bevy of other tacklers over the pylon. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field.
However, the ball came ever so loose around the 1. While Seferian-Jenkins looked to have regained control of the ball with his arm as he landed, replay officials in New York deemed otherwise and reversed the call on the field to a fumble.
To make matters worse for the Jets, the ruling was that Seferian-Jenkins had fumbled the ball out of the end zone, those giving the Patriots possession at their own 20-yard line.
New England went three and out in response, but the Jets could only muster a field goal on their ensuing series.
McCown had his ups and downs, throwing a pair of interceptions to Butler and Devin McCourty, respectively, but when all was said and done, he became the sixth quarterback in as many games to top 300 yards passing against the Patriots this season. The 38-year-old journeyman finished 31 for 47 for 354 yards and two touchdowns in addition to his interceptions.
New England was without two of its top three cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore (concussion) and Eric Rowe (groin) for the game.
Dont’a Hightower and Malcom Brown had a sack each for the Patriots, while Kyle Van Noy had a pair for New England.
Van Noy’s second sack came in a critical spot for the Patriots, as the Jets were grasping at their last straws down seven with 30 seconds left. On third-and-10, Van Noy blew through the Jets’ offensive line to drop McCown for a 6-yard loss, setting up fourth and even longer. Without timeouts, New York had little time to settle. McCown’s final throw fell harmlessly to the turf and the Patriots won their 11th straight game on the road.
“I thought we did a good job rebounding and realizing the game’s not over,” McCourty said of the final drive for the Jets, on which they converted a fourth-and-12 situation to stay alive. “They made a play, and we did a good job getting back and finishing the game. That was something I think we needed. We haven’t played particularly well in the fourth quarter. I thought this was big for us as a team, to win a game where we had to play well in the fourth quarter.”
In addition to his pair of sacks, Van Noy finished as the leading tackler for New England with seven and also a team-high three QB hits.
A new wrinkle defensive coordinator Matt Patricia unveiled involved some cornerback blitzes, each time featuring Malcolm Butler. While he didn’t get to McCown for a sack on any of the occasions, one of Butler’s rushes led to the McCourty interception.
Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal of the season, a 47-yard attempt with 1:11 to go in the first half. The 13-year pro is now 13 for 14 on the season.
All eyes turn to the rematch of Super Bowl LI, as the Atlanta Falcons are coming to town on Sunday night. After starting out 3-0, the Falcons have lost each of their last two games – including today’s contest to the Miami Dolphins, 20-17. It may not have been a 28-3 lead, but Atlanta did lead Miami 17-0 at one point.
Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. next Sunday in Foxboro and the game can be seen right here on NBC Boston.