FOXBOROUGH — No Danny Amendola. No Rob Gronkowski. No Shane Vereen. No Zach Sudfeld.
So many absences meant Tom Brady was on a desperate search throughout the Patriots’ Thursday night game against the Jets for guys that would show up for him, and only one did consistently: Julian Edelman.
The defense stood tall as well, showing for the first time in a long time that it can win a game when the offense struggles. Granted, it was against a quarterback making just his second NFL start, but New England’s defensive backs came up with three key interceptions in the fourth quarter to keep the Jets from putting points on the board in such a close game.
Because of that, New England walked off the rain-soaked field at Gillette Stadium with a 13-10 win in a plodding, unattractive game that nonetheless gave them two wins in two games.
It was the first time since the 2008 season finale against Buffalo that the Patriots won a game in which they scored 13 points or fewer.
All around, it was a night of offensive futility the home team had not seen in quite some time: Brady completed less than 50 percent of his passes for the first time since 2009, and the nine first downs marked the first time since December 1998 that they didn’t hit double digits in that category.
“It’s always good to turn the ball over; always good to turn the ball over,” a still drenched Bill Belichick said. “We competed well as a football team. We played hard, we fought hard, we made them earn everything they got, they made us earn everything we got. But we competed for 60 minutes. I’m proud of them for that.”
It wasn’t until the final interception that the game was sealed. That’s when Aqib Talib ended up with a Geno Smith pass intended for Stephen Hill, returning it 14 yards and high-stepping and dancing out of bounds on his own sideline.
Jets center Nick Mangold dived at Talib’s knees after he was clearly out of bounds, and in a matter of seconds there was a scrum, with Jets left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson throwing punches at Alfonzo Dennard in the middle of everything.
Ferguson and teammate Willie Colon were ejected with less than a minute to play.
“I made the tackle, he was obviously along the sideline, and I thought he was still inbounds,” Mangold said. “I thought it was a good tackle and apparently it was not and it started a little ruckus.”
It didn’t appear at the outset like Brady’s options would be so limited despite missing some of his top skill players. On New England’s first possession, Brady hit Aaron Dobson for a 39-yard touchdown on third and 2 — the team’s lone third-down conversion of the first half.
Nate Solder checked in as eligible on the play, and lined up outside right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, with Dobson lined up a little behind Solder.
No Jet picked up the rookie — who sat out Sunday’s game in Buffalo and was on the field for his first career snap — and Dobson was wide open for the catch and run into the end zone.
“We were being pretty aggressive there in a short-yardage situation,” Brady said. “AD did all the work there. It wasn’t really a good throw.”
New York went three-and-out on its first drive, and New England followed suit.
The first play of the Jets’ second possession began with a nice seam pass from Smith to Hill, who had a step on Talib and made the catch for what would have been a 33-yard gain.
But as Talib tackled Hill, one of the cornerback’s feet kicked the ball out of the receiver’s arms, and Devin McCourty scooped it up, getting all the way to the 8 before being knocked out of bounds.
Given that gift, however, the offense went just 5 yards, on a second-down run by Stevan Ridley. Brady was on the run on third down, and had to throw the ball away, so the Patriots had to settle for a field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.
On the night, the Patriots converted just 4 of 18 third-down attempts, also a rarity for one of the league’s best on the money down in recent years.
Brady couldn’t hide his frustration, at one point screaming on the sideline about players being open after Dobson dropped a third-and-long pass in which he had the defense beat.
“We have a long way to go . . . no one’s coming to the rescue and save the day,” Brady said quietly. “We’ve got to fight through it. We have to do better.”
The quarterback also acknowledged, somewhat surprisingly, that he has to try to keep his emotions in check.
“I think I have to do a better job with my body language and I can improve that,’’ he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a real strong point of mine right now. Just have to keep doing better. That’s what we have to do.’’
Belichick called Brady “probably the best leader I’ve ever been around. I wouldn’t be too critical of him.”
But as he did in Buffalo, Brady had trouble connecting with his young receivers. While he completed 14 of 22 passes toward Edelman (who had 13 catches for 78 yards, a 4-yard carry on a reverse, and six punt returns for 72 yards), James Develin, Michael Hoomanawanui, Leon Washington, and LeGarrette Blount, he was just 5 for 17 when targeting Dobson and Thompkins.
“We have to evaluate and try to get it right,” Brady said. “It doesn’t just magically come together. The passing game is all about anticipation. They have to anticipate what I’m going to do and I have to anticipate what they’re going to do. They’re trying hard and they’re working hard and they have a lot of skill and they’re great kids. We just have to keep at it.”
The one benefit of a Thursday night game is the Patriots now have 10 days to prepare for hosting the Buccaneers Sept. 22.
Jerod Mayo noted the short turnaround for the Jets game meant New England didn’t really have time to correct mistakes from the opener, so he anticipates coaches and players will be going over both games before they start working on preparations for Tampa Bay.