FOXBOROUGH — It was a rock fight.
And then Marcus Jones launched the biggest boulder of the day.
The rookie return specialist brought back a punt 84 yards to the end zone with just five ticks left Sunday, vaulting the Patriots past the crushed Jets, 10-3, sending an already frozen fan base home with the chills.
It was a most unexpected ending on a day when neither offense could find the end zone and overtime seemed inevitable.
Jones’s journey was set up by some big early blocks by Brenden Schooler and Raleigh Webb as he tiptoed down the right sideline before turning on the turbo boosters, cutting back toward Main Street, and cruising in with a convoy of blockers in tow.
Mack Wilson, who delivered the final block on Justin Hardee, had a front row seat.
“I saw him running down the sideline — he was close to going out of bounds, but he just kept running,’’ said Wilson. “So, that’s when I got on my horse and tried to catch up. I was trying to block whoever showed up.’’
Hardee had an outside shot, but Wilson took care of him with a clean shoulder shot from the side.
“My teammates said it was pretty close, but I felt like I was in front of him, and I felt like it was pretty clean, but I was going to be super disappointed if they would’ve called us. I’m just glad they didn’t.’’
The Jets and punter Braden Mann, who had sent several punts out of bounds to keep it out of Jones’s hands, made the strange decision to put it in the rookie’s hands with time winding down.
“I thought they were going to go ahead and try to kick it out of bounds due to the time on the clock,’’ said Jones, whose parents made their first trip to Gillette Sunday. “The first thing I was trying to do was to make sure that I follow my teammates blocking. I saw the punter and I was like, ‘If I make him miss, then I should go the distance.’ ’’
Jones’s touchdown was the first punt return for a score in the NFL this season and secured the Patriots’ 14th straight win over the Jets.
“I’m still in disbelief. Marcus Jones, I know him from college, he went to Houston. Hell of a punt returner and they gave him a chance,’’ said New York’s D.J. Reed. “He is a great punt returner and he got his touchdown. Credit to them for doing that. I’m in disbelief, it’s a tough loss.”
Defense in concert
And you thought getting into a Taylor Swift concert was tough? Try getting into the end zone against these Patriots.
New England’s “Ticketmaster” defense (you know, you might get in the queue, but eventually everything crashes around you) kept Zach Wilson and the Jets in limbo all day.
New England allowed just 103 total yards while closing off running lanes and passing lanes with equal proficiency. It was the fourth-fewest yards allowed by the Patriots in franchise history.
Bill Belichick’s charges stifled the Jets in the second half, allowing a measly 2 yards on seven possessions. The previous low for a half was 25 by the Rams in the first half in 2016.
“Complete domination,’’ was how Deatrich Wise Jr. termed it.
Zach Wilson was an abysmal 9 for 22 for 77 yards. Take away one 34-yard connection with Denzel Mims and the Jets QB was 8 for 21 for 43 yards.
Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson said it was “definitely” clear that Zach Wilson was playing tentatively.
“If you look at our game from [Oct. 30 when Zach threw three interceptions], it’s like night and day,’’ said Mack. “He looks like he’s trying to push the ball down the field but he’s not really trying to make mistakes.’’
The Jets quarterback, who was nearly picked twice (by Devin McCourty and Jonathan Jones), said the Patriots didn’t drastically change their defense this time around.
“No, it was the same,” Zach Wilson said. “I think you got to take into account it’s windy as hell out there too, guys. There’s times where you can’t just completely try and take these shots down the field. But I got to find a way to make the easy ones on the sideline and try and let my guys get on the outside and run. It really comes down to execution.’’
More from sack exchange
Matthew Judon had another strong game, registering 1½ sacks to raise his league-leading total to 13 — a career high.
Judon deflected credit for his success the way he deflects blockers.
“It’s my teammates … They push me, they challenge me every day. When we go out there, they have so much confidence in me to get the job done,’’ he said. “They run a lot of games and a lot of stunts for me to free me up. It’s not me, it’s really not. It could be anybody in this situation, it’s really my teammates.”
Andrews, Wynn injured
The Patriots again had to shuffle their offensive line because of injuries.
Center David Andrews, who returned after missing two games with a concussion, suffered a thigh injury that NFL Media has reported is potentially season-ending.
Isaiah Wynn, who got the start over Trent Brown at left tackle (Belichick said it was a “coach’s decision”) left with a foot injury. He was replaced by Brown.
Streak alive at home, too
The win also was the Patriots’ 14th straight over the Jets at Gillette Stadium … Kyle Dugger registered his first career sack … Mac Jones’s completion percentage of .851 (23 of 27 for 246 yards) was the highest of his career … Wise said the Patriots will not spend much time dwelling on this game. “For us, turning the page is very important. We did a great job today, but we have a game on Thursday. We are going to celebrate today and come back tomorrow, watch what we did right, watch what we did wrong, and then head onto the Vikings.”
Read more about the Patriots-Jets game: