The Patriots escaped with a 13-10 win over the Jets on Thursday night. While any division win is a good win, the offense struggled mightily and gives little faith that it will be able to keep pace with future opponents such as the Falcons, Saints, and Broncos.
The most surprising aspect of Thursday night’s game — substandard performances from the Patriots’ two stalwarts, Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork. It was shocking to see Brady missing so many wide-open receivers and to see Wilfork pushed around by the Jets’ interior offensive line.
Here is a full review of the game after looking at the coaches’ tape:
When the Patriots had the ball
■ Brady got visibly upset at Aaron Dobson for not being in the right spot on a crucial third-down incompletion, and Dobson also couldn’t hold onto a deep pass after beating triple coverage that would have gone for a big touchdown. But Brady deserves a fair portion of the blame for the offense’s struggles because he was uncharacteristically inaccurate.
On the first series of the game, Brady missed a wide-open Julian Edelman, who ran a filthy double move on Antonio Cromartie and would have had an easy touchdown. Brady later could’ve had a big throw to Kenbrell Thompkins, who had three steps on his man and no safety help over the top, but he panicked at the first sign of coverage and threw the ball away. Brady easily could have sidestepped the rusher and hit Thompkins for a big touchdown.
Brady later missed a wide-open Edelman on a 10-yard dig route, threw too wide to an open Dobson on a sideline pattern, and again missed a potential touchdown on a deep pass to Dobson by throwing out of bounds.
In his defense, Brady had a lot of tight windows in which to throw, his receivers didn’t get great separation, and we counted three drops for Dobson and one for Thompkins.
■ The Jets clearly dared the Patriots to beat them with their young receivers. Of the Patriots’ 65 snaps, we counted 21 plays in which the Jets stacked an extra defender in the box to stop the run. The percentage is even higher when you take out the dozen or so red-zone plays, in which defenses generally defend the end zone and don’t stack the box.
The Patriots tried to counter with quick screens to Edelman and Thompkins, but the Jets snuffed most of them out. Edelman did have a career-high 13 catches, but averaged just 6 yards.
Rough day for the offensive line in run blocking, but especially center Ryan Wendell, who got handled pretty well by Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison. The Patriots averaged 2.3 yards per carry, and rushed for just 18 yards on 10 carries up the middle.
Wendell gave up a couple of hurries, and Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins were beaten badly by Richardson and Leger Douzable for a sack.
■ The Patriots again used Marcus Cannon at left tackle for about 18 snaps, and used Nate Solder as a blocking tight end on the right side next to Sebastian Vollmer. It didn’t help create holes for Stevan Ridley or LeGarrette Blount. Cannon in particular struggled with Muhammad Wilkerson and Calvin Pace.
■ Total coverage breakdown by the Jets on Thompkins’s 38-yard catch. Cromartie and Demario Davis both sided on the flat route, and Dawan Landry, playing center field, didn’t get over in time to pick up Thompkins streaking down the left sideline.
When the Jets had the ball
■ Just an exceptional effort by defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who was in for all 71 plays in the humidity and was excellent in run contain while going up against right tackle Austin Howard. Ninkovich finished with six tackles (two for loss), a quarterback hit, and a forced fumble, and his ability to shed tight end Jeff Cumberland and get to Geno Smith for a 1-yard loss was impressive.
■ We counted just nine Patriots blitzes on 41 dropbacks by Smith (22 percent), and he didn’t recognize it well. Too often he ran backward and killed the play instead of stepping up, rolling out, or switching to a quick throw. He also scrambled right into Michael Buchanan for a coverage sack in the second quarter. The Patriots “protected” their blitzes by having Devin McCourty play a lot of deep center field.
But too often the Patriots gave Smith too much time to throw, and he hit three passes of more than 27 yards. The Patriots rushed three and dropped eight in the red zone, and were lucky that Clyde Gates dropped what would have been a touchdown pass.
Smith made a few impressive throws, especially a 27-yarder to Santonio Holmes streaking across the middle. Smith first recognized Steve Gregory creeping into the middle of the field as the “robber,” went through his progressions, delivered a throw while getting crushed by Chandler Jones and Buchanan, and hit Holmes on the money for a big gain.
■ Linebacker Brandon Spikes got bailed out by Aqib Talib’s forced fumble in the first quarter. Spikes was out of position and still communicating with the defensive backs when Smith snapped the ball. He got crisscrossed with Talib and picked his own man, giving Stephen Hill a free release up the seam to haul in a 33-yard pass. Fortunately, Talib punched the ball out and McCourty scooped it up.
■ Strange to see Wilfork so ineffective in the run game. Sometimes he picked the wrong gaps to shoot, and other times he was wiped out by guard Vlad Ducasse and center Nick Mangold, like on Bilal Powell’s 3-yard touchdown run.
The Jets’ game plan was to run right at Wilfork and Tommy Kelly — 17 rushes for 65 yards up the middle, and 14 for 47 yards to the outside.
■ Solid night for rookie Ryan Allen, averaging a net of 42.5 yards on a franchise record-tying 11 punts, but he did have a couple of bad touchbacks. Allen also had a good hold on Stephen Gostkowski’s missed 42-yard kick.
■ Not that you should be surprised, but Matthew Slater was once again an animal on punt coverage, forcing one fair catch and also making an open-field tackle for no gain. Talib wasn’t great blocking the opposing gunner, and his failure to block his man almost caused Edelman to fumble.
■ Interesting that the Patriots kept six defenders up on the front line for kickoff returns, while most teams use five. They clearly didn’t trust the Bills or Jets not to use a little trickery.
Edelman: Touched the ball 21 times — 13 catches for 78 yards, one rush for 4 yards, six punt returns for 72 yards and one fair catch.
Ninkovich: Steadiest member of the front seven hasn’t missed a snap this season.
CB Kyle Arrington: Showed great ability to “recover” on a play, knocking the ball out of Gates’s grasp after getting beaten deep. Also had the initial tip on Talib’s first interception.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.