In the end, the Jets are going to Jet. And Belichick is going to Belichick. And just when you think you have wasted three hours of your life, the Patriots reward you with one of the most exciting plays in sports; an 84-yard, last-minute, game-winning punt return by a player who is unknown to most New England sports fans.
The Patriots beat the Jets, 10-3, Sunday and Jones won the game.
Not quarterback Mac Jones.
Not ballhawk defensive back Jonathan Jones.
Not Dalton Jones, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Popeye Jones, Adam Jones, Tom Jones, nor Me and Mrs. Jones.
Marcus Jones; a 5-foot-8-inch, 175-pound defensive back from Enterprise, Ala., and the University of Houston won the game. That’s Marcus Jones, last spring’s third-round draft pick who started his college career at Troy University in Troy, Ala.
Not since Malcolm Butler intercepted a pass at the end of Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale have this many Patriot-watchers done a quickie Google search on an unexpected hero.
Truth be told, this was one dreadful day of football in the 59½ minutes of non-action that preceded Jones’s electric play. The gales of November had their way with the football for four full quarters. A sharp crossfire wind impacted punts, passes, field goal attempts, and strategy. The message from both sidelines was — don’t trust your quarterback, don’t turn over the ball, and don’t do anything risky, or entertaining.
So we saw a boring string of sacks and punts; a game won by special teams play; a game only Bill Belichick could love.
“Great team win today,’’ said the Hoodie. “ . . . We did a poor job finishing our drives. We got to find a way to do that better, but it’s good to do it from a win.’’
Let no one tell you they were enjoying themselves before the fantastic finish. For three hours you’d have been more entertained watching Franchy Cordero taking grounders, watching the best of “The Mad Fisherman,” or perhaps waiting out the Ticketmaster queue for Taylor Swift tickets.
The Patriots were clearly the better team, but season-long offensive woes plagued them. Every time they got into scoring position, they took a sack or a holding call and moved backward.
Fortunately, the Jets’ offense was worse. Zach Wilson made Mac Jones look like Tom Brady. I’m pretty sure I heard Jets fans chanting, “We want Zappe!’’
Never discount the Jet factor in all this. The Jets had a chance to go into first place in the AFC East, but they are constitutionally incapable of beating the Belichick Patriots. Go back to the Tuna Bowl, the Butt Fumble game, or Sam Darnold seeing ghosts. It’s still the same old story.
The Belichick Patriots are 37-11 since BB resigned as HC of the NYJ in 2000. The Pats have not lost a regular-season game at home to the Jets since November of 2008. They have won 14 straight against the Jets.
New England outplayed the Jets for most of Sunday, but struggled in the red zone and a couple of wind-skewered field goal misses by Nick Folk kept the game tied, 3-3, until the final minute. We were all ready for overtime when Braden Mann dropped back for his 10th punt of the game on fourth and 3 from his 32.
A lot of folks expected Jets coach Robert Saleh to order a punt out of bounds. Eliminate all risk.
These are the Jets.
Mann kicked a liner and Jones was ready. Both of his parents were in the stands for the first time in his pro career and he wanted to give them a memory. It was the first punt return TD in the NFL this season.
“I thought they were going to kick it out of bounds due to the time on the clock,” said Jones. “But the first thing was to try to follow my teammates blocking. Then, if I make them miss, I should be able to go the distance.’’
He caught the punt at the 16, broke to the right sideline, cut left, then streaked the distance to the end zone, looking almost Gump-like as he broke free and crossed the goal line alone. I half-expected him to tote the ball up the lighthouse ramp and onto Route 1 North.
“We all know if you make a couple blocks, Marcus can do the rest,’’ said captain Devin McCourty. “I’ve never been a part of anything like that.’’
“Without my teammates, that would have been a hard play to make,’’ said Jones. “I’m happy for the divisional win. Now I’m on to next week.’’
Next week is Thursday (Thanksgiving) night in Minnesota. It’s the second of three games in 12 days for the 6-4 Patriots.
We all know they are going to have to be better if they want to hold playoff position. They are going to have to protect Mac Jones (sacked six times) and get their offense in order. They are going to have to start beating good teams. They can no longer rely on the kindness and ineptitude of the New York Jets.