EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The chants were muted at first. And then they gradually grew over the course of three hours.
Initially starting as “Bray-dee, Bray-dee,” they eventually morphed to “MVP, MVP.’’
The louder the cheers got, it seemed, the better the two-time MVP played. What made it all so improbable was that these shouts were coming from the stands at MetLife Stadium.
Tom Brady shook off a shaky first half and a balky right knee to throw a pair of touchdown passes to rookie Malcolm Mitchell, the second coming after the two-minute warning, to propel the Patriots to a 22-17 win over the Jets.
It was the 200th win of Brady’s career, tying him for the top spot in league annals with Peyton Manning.
On this afternoon, however, the noise from the heavy Patriots presence in the seats might have been tipping their cap to the defense, which turned in an MVP performance just when they needed it most.
“I don’t know, is that sarcasm?” safety Devin McCourty asked with a smile when the possibility was posed that maybe the MVP shouts were for the guys on his side of the ball and not Brady. “I don’t know man. Probably for the whole team. Maybe Brady though.’’
Chris Long clinched the win with his strip sack (recovered by Trey Flowers) on New York’s final possession.
It was a crushing blow for the Jets and it set off a huge show of emotion for the Patriots, a team that was starved for a turnover and got two on the day.
“It felt good. Came in the two-minute [drill]. It gave us a chance to win the game,’’ said Long, who recorded the only sack of the day. “We know if we got off the field we might not have to go back on. We just stayed at it.’’
The Patriots were stuck in neutral on their first three drives and Brady looked increasingly uncomfortable on each possession.
The hosts marched eight plays and 41 yards on their initial possession, with Nick Folk’s 51-yard field goal giving them a 3-0 lead.
New York increased its lead to 10-0 on the first play of the second quarter as Fitzpatrick hit Brandon Marshall on a 1-yarder.
The Patriots answered on the ensuing possession, with a 10-play, 65-yard march that culminated in Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yard field goal.
New England tied the score moments later after forcing a rare turnover.
Malcolm Butler, who was beaten on the play, stripped Robby Anderson and then recovered it at midfield.
“We worked really hard [to create turnovers] and it just hadn’t gone our way,’’ said Long. “And Malc just did a great job on the play. You could really feel that was a big play for us and that’s why he’s one of our best players.’’
Brady found his groove on the drive. He hit Julian Edelman with an 18-yarder (to go over 60,000 passing yards for his career) to start the march. He hit Mitchell (after the ball bounced off Julian Edelman’s hip after the snap) with 4-yard touchdown pass to finish it.
“It’s not how we drew it up, but it worked,’’ said Brady, who completed 30 of 50 passes for 286 yards.
Despite looking ragged for most of the first 30 minutes, New England actually could have headed to the locker room with the lead, but Gostkowski’s 39-yard field goal attempt leaked left. It was his fourth miss of the season.
New England took its first lead on a Gostkowski 29-yard field goal in the third.
The Jets regained the lead on Quincy Enunwa’s acrobatic 22-yard TD catch before New England closed the scoring on Gostkowski’s 41-yarder and Mitchell’s clinching 8-yard TD.
Other observations from the game, in which the Patriots improved to 9-2 and kept pace in the AFC East, where the Dolphins and Bills also won:
■ Butler continues to fight till the last second — his forced fumble and recovery being the latest example.
“Never give up man,’’ he said. “That’s why I’m here today, so never give up. There you go.’’
The Pro Bowl corner said he was disappointed in his play — he gave up a touchdown to Brandon Marshall in addition to a 32-yarder to Marshall and a 40-yarder to Enunwa.
“My standards are very high. I don’t want to give up any touchdowns. I don’t want to give up any long balls, but, hey, it’s going to happen,’’ said Butler, who finished with five tackles. “The biggest thing is to learn from it, be pissed off about it, and get after it next week.’’
■ Jabaal Sheard enjoyed a nice bounce-back game after being a healthy scratch last week.
He finished with three tackles and held his ground against the run and provided some pressure on Fitzpatrick.
“I’m happy to be back with my team, obviously, and to get a win, that’s the most important thing about today,’’ said Sheard. “We fought it out for four quarters and that’s what coach preached about all that, that’s what it was going to come down to.’’
■ Logan Ryan continues to be an underrated player in the Patriots’ secondary.
The physical corner had a team-high seven tackles and a pair of passes defensed, and he took on big receivers Marshall and Enunwa.
The interior guys were stout in the middle, holding the Jets to 64 rushing yards on 23 attempts. Matt Forte, who came in as the Jets top rusher, had just 27 yards on 13 carries.
Malcom Brown (seven tackles) and Alan Branch (six) were at the head of this class, using their big bodies to clog lanes.
“[Malcom was] competitive, made a lot of big plays,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “I thought we were competitive in the run game. Branch, as usual, does a good job of eating up a couple of blockers. He piles stuff up inside.’’
■ Ryan Allen was the team’s best player in the first half.
He blasted punts on each of the Patriots’ first three possessions — including a 55-yarder — and kept the Jets pinned in their end. He finished with just four kicks for a 45.8-yard average (43.3 net).
Video: Ben Volin and Jim McBride on Patriots-Jets