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BEN VOLIN | ON FOOTBALL

Jets’ lack of pressure let Patriots off the hook

The Jets rushed mostly three and four defenders at Tom Brady on Sunday, and the Patriots quarterback was hit just four times on 50 throws.Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

The Patriots’ 22-17 win on Sunday was about Tom Brady toughing out a knee injury, Malcolm Mitchell introducing himself to the rest of the world, the Patriots’ run defense finally coming to play, and the Patriots showing mental toughness as they came from behind to win on the road.

At the same time — what a strange defensive game plan from Todd Bowles and the Jets.

Facing a wounded Brady, who barely could move in the pocket, the Jets blitzed Brady only four times on 50 dropbacks, choosing instead to rush three and four defenders and drop everyone else into coverage. While Brady had his lowest average yards per attempt this season (5.7), he also had a clean pocket for much of the day, and clear windows to find his receivers.

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Watching the game live on Sunday, it felt like Brady was hit repeatedly and under constant pressure. But Brady was hit only four times on his 50 throws, with the last hit coming with 11:38 left in the second quarter.

The Jets rushed three defenders on 10 of Brady’s throws. In those situations, he went 7 of 10 for 83 yards and four first downs, including an 18-yarder to Julian Edelman, a 23-yarder to Chris Hogan, and a 16-yarder to Dion Lewis on the Patriots’ final touchdown drive.

You’d think that the Jets would want to get after Brady with the blitz, force him to scramble with his bad knee and pound him into submission. Heck, the Jets didn’t even hit Brady when he ran out as a lead blocker on LeGarrette Blount’s 10-yard run.

And on the rare occasion the Jets did blitz, they picked the wrong time to do it. Backed up against the goal line late in the fourth quarter, they sent six rushers at Brady. He unleashed a quick out pass to Mitchell, Darrelle Revis had no help, and the result was Mitchell’s winning touchdown catch.

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The Jets were able to slow the Patriots on Sunday, holding them to their second-lowest point total of the season. But they also let a wounded quarterback sit back and pick them apart in crunch time.

Other observations after rewatching the tape:

When the Patriots had the ball

■  Brady obviously wasn’t himself, though he appeared to move around better in the second half (would love to know what Brady did at halftime — he was the last person out of the locker room). We counted five throws that he sailed over his receivers’ heads that he normally completes, and Brady said Monday that he rushed some of his throws, ostensibly because he didn’t want to get hit. There was one first-down pass on which Brady had a clean pocket, yet still rushed a throw to James Develin in double coverage.

But the knee injury was most notable in the way that Brady wasn’t able to avoid the rush.

Usually he slides and sidesteps and steps up in the pocket, but for most of the day he simply ran backward and threw the ball away.

The first time he stepped up in the pocket came in the fourth quarter, when he threw a 23-yard dart to Hogan. He did it again later in the drive, sliding to his left and finding Lewis on the sideline for a key 16-yard gain.

■  Brady adjusted throughout the game by calling for quick, defined reads — a simple hitch or slant pass underneath when the Jets played off-coverage, making sure to get rid of the ball quickly. He didn’t always see the field well — for instance, missing a wide-open Edelman on third and 5 . . .

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. . . and firing to Mitchell on the sideline, who made a great grab high and away from his body.

But Brady did a good job of reading the defense, getting the ball out quickly, and, most importantly, not turning the ball over.

■  Of the four hits Brady took, two came on the first two snaps of the game. Sheldon Richardson got them both, against David Andrews and Joe Thuney. The other two hits came on play-action passes on which the unblocked defender — Lorenzo Mauldin and Leonard Williams — didn’t bite on the fake and got a clean hit on Brady.

But the offensive line held up pretty well against a good Jets front. Three of the four hurries Brady faced also came from unblocked defenders on play-action passes.

■  Richardson and Williams both caused problems — Richardson had two hits and a run stuff against Andrews, while Williams had a hit, four pressures, and a run stuff, getting the better of Marcus Cannon a few times. Williams had a hand in Brady’s face on Mitchell’s first touchdown catch.

■  Really liked how Josh McDaniels used a new wrinkle to set up several plays: motioning a wide receiver into the backfield.

First he motioned Edelman into the backfield, and while the play resulted in only a 3-yard run for Lewis, it set up the Hogan double pass in the second quarter.

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The Jets didn’t exactly bite on the double pass, with three defenders back in coverage, but it resulted in a 31-yard pass interference, and gave the Jets something to think about.

On the Patriots’ next series, Hogan motioned into the backfield, drawing the attention of Jets cornerback Buster Skrine.

Brady handed the ball off to Lewis for an inside run, but Skrine followed Hogan out of the backfield, pulling himself out of the play and opening up the defense for a 15-yard scamper by Lewis (with great seal blocks from Nate Solder and Andrews). The Patriots called the wide receiver motion play two more times, resulting in a first-down run for Lewis and a stuffed run for Blount.

■  A sad sight — Revis consistently giving 8 yards of cushion at the line of scrimmage and playing zone defense.

He couldn’t fight through a legal screen from Hogan on Mitchell’s first touchdown catch, and couldn’t catch up with Mitchell on the second touchdown, a quick out pass at the pylon. Revis Island has been fully developed with condos, shopping malls, and snarling traffic.

When the Jets had the ball

■  The Patriots had a true rotation going at their hybrid defensive end/linebacker position. Out of 57 snaps, Trey Flowers played 36, Rob Ninkovich 32, Shea McClellin 31, Chris Long 30, Kyle Van Noy 28, and Jabaal Sheard 25. Long’s snap count was a season low, but perhaps helped him stay fresh in the fourth quarter, when he beat Jets left tackle Ben Ijalana to the outside with a power move and stripped Ryan Fitzpatrick to save the win.

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■  Sheard seemed to get the message with last week’s benching in San Francisco, doing a good job of holding his edge in the run game and combining with Malcom Brown on a couple of nice run stuffs. Van Noy was also active in the pass rush and had a couple of pressures on Fitzpatrick.

■  Elandon Roberts only played four snaps, as Dont’a Hightower played all 57 snaps and McClellin and Van Noy took on a bigger role in the defense. Roberts did have an impressive stuff on a run blitz, but his snaps have decreased from 58 to 11 to 4 in the last three weeks.

■  Like the Jets, the Patriots barely blitzed. We counted one four-man zone blitz that resulted in an incomplete pass, a five-man blitz that forced Fitzpatrick to throw it away, and a five-man blitz on a 23-yard catch from Quincy Enunwa in the fourth quarter.

Conversely, the Patriots rushed three on seven of the Jets’ 11 third-down attempts, and rushed only two on another third and 4. The tactic mostly worked, with the Jets converting a first down on only 2 of 7 attempts, plus on the two-man rush. Long’s strip-sack came on a three-man rush.

And that was a perfect deep sideline throw by Fitzpatrick into zone coverage. Even when the Patriots drop nine into coverage, they can’t cover every inch of the field.

■  The Patriots showed a lot of Cover 2 looks with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, and alternated between playing two-deep safety and bringing one of them down into the box. McCourty had another nice game in run support.

■  Hightower had only three tackles — one solo — but not all plays show up on the stat sheet. On second and 10 late in the first quarter, Hightower and Flowers got great pressure up the middle, forcing Matt Forte to the outside, where he was stopped by Eric Rowe for a 1-yard gain.

Rowe got the tackle, but Hightower and Flowers made the play.

■  Not much Malcolm Butler could do on the Jets’ two touchdowns, where he was simply boxed out by Brandon Marshall and Enunwa, two bigger, physical receivers who have several inches on him — almost a half-foot in Marshall’s case. But Butler was beaten cleanly off the line of scrimmage by Enunwa on a 40-yard reception.

■  A couple of plays resulted in huge momentum swings. The first was Butler’s heady strip and recovery of Robby Anderson after a 25-yard gain midway through the second quarter. The Jets were leading, 10-3, at the time and would have had first down at midfield. The second was a holding penalty on right tackle Breno Giacomini on the first play of the second half, which put the Jets behind the chains at first and 20 and pretty much ruined any chance of them scoring right after halftime. The Patriots kicked a field goal on the subsequent possession to go up, 13-10.

■  The Patriots apparently did their homework. It was interesting to hear Fitzpatrick scream “Kill! Kill!” in the first half, and someone on the Patriots respond with “Forte! Forte!” The Patriots stuffed Forte at the line of scrimmage.

■  Not the best game for Alan Branch, who may have had his four-game suspension on his mind. The Jets rushed two straight times up the gut for 10 yards as Branch was handled by backup center Wesley Johnson, and Branch later jumped offsides on third and 1.

Special teams

■  Still don’t understand why Bill Belichick didn’t call time out before Stephen Gostkowski hooked a 39-yard field goal wide left before the end of the first half. Gostkowski didn’t start lining up his kick until there were 12 seconds left on the play clock, and the whole operation seemed rushed.

■  And I don’t understand declining the holding penalty on the Jets’ first offensive possession, either. The penalty would have put the Jets at third and 18, and the spot for a 61-yard field goal. Seems like a win-win for the Patriots.

■  Branch and Vincent Valentine got good interior push on the blocked 54-yard field goal, but the block seemed to mostly be a function of a low kick.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.