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Patriots’ 3-TD stretch ended game quickly

Three TDs in less than a minute ended suspense

Steve Gregory (left) floored the Jets with a 32-yard fumble return to make it 21-0.

julio cortez/associated press

Steve Gregory (left) floored the Jets with a 32-yard fumble return to make it 21-0.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In a New York minute, this game was over.

To be fair, it didn’t even take that long to turn Patriots-Jets into an R-O-U-T, rout, rout, rout.

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Fifty-two seconds was the official elapsed time, the Patriots going from a 7-0 lead to 28-0, sending scores of Jets fans at MetLife Stadium heading for the exits, and viewers back home in New England to a post-Thanksgiving snooze in the La-Z-Boy, smiling as eyes grew heavy, knowing that another victory was in the bag.

All before Thursday night’s game was midway through the second quarter.

There are big plays, and there’s what happened in a four-play span that highlighted the Patriots’ 49-19 win on a comfortable night at the Meadowlands. Three touchdowns, covering all three phases of the game. Just like that, a game that limped along at the start — two punts, a missed field goal — became a laugher.

Usually it’s the New England offense that sparks a high-scoring outburst. It started this one, Tom Brady connecting with Shane Vereen for an 83-yard touchdown pass that doubled the Patriots’ lead to 14-0. It came on the first play after Steve Gregory recovered a fumble on a fourth-down rush by Shonn Greene, who would have been stopped short, turning the ball over on downs at the Patriots’ 17-yard line.

Vereen began the play in the backfield, and when the linebacker covering him was picked by Wes Welker, Brady’s target was all alone running down the sideline, catching the ball in stride and scoring untouched.

“I thought the corner was still on top, but he wasn’t,” said Vereen, who caught two passes for 91 yards, and added 42 yards on 10 carries. “Tom threw it on me, the receiver ran him off, and I was able to finish it.”

Vereen said he was surprised by how open he was, and that he had nothing but green turf in front of him.

“As soon as I turned, the ball was already on its way,” Vereen said. “Tom did a great job, obviously, and I was able to finish it.”

On the ensuing Jets possession, quarterback Mark Sanchez hit Clyde Gates for an 11-yard reception on first down. On the next play, a busted one, Sanchez turned around to hand the ball off to fullback Lex Hilliard or Greene, the tailback. But nobody was there, leaving Sanchez to improvise. He made a run for it, only to run into the backside of guard Brandon Moore, forcing a friendly-fire fumble. Gregory scooped up the gift and took it 32 yards for a touchdown, and NFL Films suddenly had a new go-to clip for its next blooper special.

“I didn’t see the replay yet. I just know the ball popped out and I picked it up,” said Gregory. “That was a lot of points in a short period of time. I think that really set the momentum for the game, we really turned things into a lopsided deal there.”

The Patriots weren’t finished.

After Gregory’s fumble return, Stephen Gostkowski sent the kickoff to Joe McKnight, who fielded the ball 5 yards deep in the end zone and opted to take it out. Bad decision.

McKnight was hit by Devin McCourty, causing another McFumble, which was caught in stride by Julian Edelman, who took this one, improbably, into the end zone for a 22-yard fumble return.

Vereen’s long touchdown catch came with 9:43 left in the second quarter. Gregory scored at exactly 9:00, and Edelman found pay dirt with 8:51 remaining. Three touchdowns — one each on offense, defense, and special teams — redefining what a quick strike looks like.

By that point, the blowout had begun. On a day of giving thanks, the Patriots found plenty of things to include.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.
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