EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Quick-hit thoughts and analysis following the Patriots’ 17-16 win over the Jets Sunday at MetLife Stadium:
■ First of all, let’s credit the Patriots for escaping a feisty Jets team that has given them problems the last few years. This is the fourth straight game between these teams decided by 3 points or fewer. Winning on the road is never easy, and doing it without four key players — Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount, Kyle Arrington and Dan Connolly — is an accomplishment. The Jets were out for blood, and the Patriots held them off.
■ The Patriots’ offensive line quietly was an issue against the Packers, Chargers, and Dolphins. Well, it’s quiet no more. The offensive line has reverted to form from the first four games of the season, when it couldn’t give Tom Brady any time in the pocket or open any holes for the run game. Yes, they were missing Connolly, forcing Josh Kline into the lineup (and then Cameron Fleming after halftime when Kline was terrible). But the offensive line has been getting pushed around for four straight games now, and Sunday’s performance was its worst since the Chiefs game. The Jets have a very good defensive front, and the Patriots surely missed Julian Edelman, but this did not look like a playoff-caliber offensive line on Sunday.
What’s equally disconcerting is after 16 weeks, they’re still mixing and matching personnel, with Nate Solder coming in and out of the game because he is being used as an eligible receiver. Marcus Cannon has not done a good job justifying his contract extension, and Solder and Ryan Wendell were pushed around on Sunday. Brady’s four sacks tied his season-high (Week 1 against Miami), and if not for some escapability by Brady, the Jets would have had several more.
■ Not impressed with the defensive game plan, especially in the first half, when the Jets gained 176 yards and Geno Smith had all day to throw in the pocket. The Patriots went big on the defensive line to defend the run, using Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga on a majority of snaps, but they couldn’t generate any pressure with their front four and gave Smith a clean pocket to find his receivers. When the Patriots started blitzing in the second half, they finally got pressure on Smith. Dont’a Hightower saved the day with his 10-yard sack on Smith on third down midway through the fourth quarter.
■ The Patriots’ defense does deserve credit, though, for making several key stops in the red zone. The Jets reached it three times, and came away with three field goals. The defense has been carrying the offense the last several games.
■ Bad day for Patrick Chung in coverage, who got beaten badly by Jeff Cumberland on the Jets’ touchdown and on several other passes. Chung has never excelled in coverage, and the Patriots have done a good job of hiding his deficiencies this season, but the Jets exposed him on Sunday.
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■ Danny Amendola did have eight catches for 63 yards, including a crucial reception for a first down with 3:10 left in the game, but he’s no Edelman. The Patriots missed Edelman’s ability to get separation and move the chains. Brandon LaFell quietly had a good game, with seven catches for 64 yards and a few key first downs. He bobbled the ball on Marcus Williams’s interception, but that was more on Brady’s accuracy than LaFell’s hands.
■ The offense finally got going in the second half when they spread out the Jets and went up-tempo. Not sure what took them so long to switch. The power run game simply was not going to work with the Patriots’ shaky offensive line and the Jets’ stout defensive front. Shane Vereen had much more success running out of the spread formations than Jonas Gray did behind a heavy offensive line.
■ Gotta love seeing big Vince Wilfork get up and tip Nick Folk’s 52-yard field goal attempt. That was the Patriots’ fifth blocked/tipped kick of the season. This one may have saved them from the No. 2 playoff seed.