EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If Danny Amendola needed one more sign that Sunday was going to be his day, it came on the fourth play of the game’s final drive.
Lined up in the slot position typically occupied by injured receiver Julian Edelman, Amendola was the unlikely recipient of a Tom Brady pass that was deflected by Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. The batted ball came right to Amendola, whose 7-yard catch on the play before, when it was third-and-7, helped the Patriots run out the clock and beat the Jets at MetLife Stadium, 17-16.
Amendola played his best game of the season, a timely development since Edelman, who leads the team with 92 catches, missed the game with a concussion. Amendola was targeted 11 times and caught eight passes for 63 yards. His previous high this season had been three catches, and he had only 15 on the season coming into the game.
He also had a 39-yard punt return, an Edelman-like chunk play on special teams that set the Patriots up at the Jets’ 36 to start the second quarter, after a first quarter in which they punted on all three possessions. They turned the good field position into a touchdown.
One week after barely seeing the field against the Dolphins, Amendola was one of the offensive stars as the Patriots (12-3) clinched a first-round bye.
“You’ve got a job to do every week; you have a role on the team. If you’re suited up you have something to do within the game plan and you’ve got to do your job, whatever it is,” Amendola said. “We just wanted to come in and make as many plays as we can. Jules is a great player, and not having him out there is . . . you know, it is what it is. Just wanted to make as many plays as we could.”
There was maybe no play bigger than the third-down conversion Amendola made on third-and-7, which came with less than five minutes left near midfield and the Patriots clinging to a 1-point lead. Jets coach Rex Ryan challenged the spot given to Amendola — which the referees ruled was barely a first down — and a video review confirmed the call on the field. It gave the Patriots their first down and cost the Jets their second timeout.
“It was close. I thought the spot, it was going to be close,” Amendola said. “It came to a review, and apparently it was enough to get a first down. We’ll take it.”
The final statistics didn’t amount to much – 24 carries, 85 yards — but the Patriots ran the ball successfully when they needed to, especially at the end of the game. Brandon Bolden converted a third-and-1 just after the two-minute warning that allowed the Patriots to run the clock out. That run went for 17 yards, and came two plays after Bolden hurdled 5-foot-11-inch Jets cornerback Marcus Williams, part of a 6-yard gain.
“The corner was unblocked. I saw him getting ready to go low, and I decided to go up. It’s a play that just kind of happened,” said Bolden, who had 32 yards on five carries. “I made the decision the moment I saw his eyes close.”
Without LeGarrette Blount, who missed the game with a shoulder injury, the Patriots evenly split the rushing attempts: Bolden had five carries, with Jonas Gray (5 yards) and Shane Vereen (38) each getting six. Tom Brady was actually the team’s leading rusher in terms of attempts, with seven. Gray scored on a 1-yard run that gave the Patriots the lead for good. It was his first touchdown since a 37-carry, 201-yard, four-score game against the Colts on Nov. 16.
“It’s a nice feeling. Those guys up front, to get that push and that power up front, they were doing a great job,” Gray said. “Right after I scored I was looking for them, I was looking for each one of them, because they pretty much paved the way.”
Injuries and inactives
Despite Blount and cornerback Kyle Arrington not making the trip because of injury, James White and Alfonzo Dennard still couldn’t crack the 46-man game roster. White, a rookie running back, and Dennard, a third-year cornerback, were inactive against the Jets; neither had been on last week’s lengthy injury report.
It was the seventh straight game that White has been inactive, and the sixth time in the last eight games that Dennard has been a healthy scratch.
On Saturday, the Patriots ruled Blount (shoulder), Arrington (hamstring), and Edelman (concussion) out. The other two inactives were offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Jordan Devey. Connolly left last week’s game with what the Patriots announced as a neck injury, and was limited in practice last week with what the team listed as a knee injury.
Devey, who started the first three games of the season at right guard, has been inactive for eight consecutive games. Offensive lineman Cameron Fleming, who had missed nine of the past 10 games, was in uniform, as was tight end Steve Maneri, who re-signed with the team Wednesday. Maneri, along with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and defensive end Zach Moore, were the only Patriots who did not get into the game.
Show of solidarity
Jets veteran center Nick Mangold did something that doesn’t happen very often: He brought the Patriots and Jets together in a unified show of support and solidarity. Mangold, who has spent his entire nine-year NFL career with the Jets, suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter. With the oncoming cart a signal that Mangold’s injury was serious, a number of players from both teams walked over to Mangold and offered words of encouragement. He gave a thumbs-up to the crowd as he was being carted off.
One of the players who came over to Mangold was Vince Wilfork, the player he’s spent so much time over the years blocking.
“As a player, I’m very appreciative when a guy that you’ve gone against 20-something times shows you that kind of respect,” said Mangold, who added that more tests would be done on his leg on Monday, but didn’t rule out the possibility of playing in the season finale.
The Jets also lost receiver Percy Harvin in the third quarter to a rib injury. Harvin still led the Jets with four receptions for 44 yards. The Patriots announced no injuries during the game.
Blocking out the boos
Playing for the second time in his career as a visitor at MetLife Stadium, former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis certainly heard it from the home fans, who booed him every time his name was announced. He was able to block that out, a sign of the mental toughness he pointed to after the game as a team strength.
“Through a season there will be ups and downs. When we played the Jets in the first game it was tough. During tough games you need mental toughness, and we show it,” said Revis. “It comes down to the wire sometimes, and that’s when the great teams win those games.”
Fast work for Kraft
With 250 wins as the team’s owner, Robert Kraft tied George Halas for the fewest number of games needed to reach that number. The Patriots have had 250 wins in just 368 games . . . Trivia: Sunday was the 112th time the Patriots have met the Jets. The teams have faced each other in four states: Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and where? Answer below . . . With a 5-yard false start penalty on offensive lineman Marcus Cannon in the fourth quarter, the Patriots set a season team record for most penalties. It was their 115th, one more than the old mark of 114, set in 1985 . . . The Patriots have won at least 12 games in five straight seasons, two behind the NFL record held by the Colts (2003-09) . . . Defensive tackle Alan Branch made his first start of the season for the Patriots . . . The Jets observed a moment of silence prior to the national anthem for the two New York Police Department officers who were killed on Saturday . . . Jets linebacker David Harris was recognized early in the game for making his 1,000th career tackle . . . Trivia answer: The fourth state is Alabama. On Sept. 22, 1968, the Patriots opened their home schedule by playing the Jets at Legion Field in Birmingham. It was the sixth straight season that the Patriots were using Fenway Park as their home stadium, but Fenway was unavailable on Sept. 22. So the game was moved to Legion Field. Birmingham had been rumored to be an expansion destination for the Patriots, and Jets starting quarterback Joe Namath was a former University of Alabama star. Namath threw two touchdowns that day as the Jets won the game, 47-31, and led the Jets to a Super Bowl upset four months later.