EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Sony Michel’s back.
Sure, the rookie returned to the field in Tennessee two weeks ago, but that was only at about half-speed. He was at full force on Sunday.
Michel shook off a second-half back injury and helped propel the Patriots to a 27-13 win over the Jets on a picture-perfect Sunday in the Meadowlands.
Michel juked and jived for 133 yards on 21 carries, the most by a Patriot since Jonas Gray’s 201-yard performance against the Colts in 2014.
The Patriots better make sure Michel’s alarm is set because if he can continue to run like he did Sunday, he will help them achieve the offensive balance coaches dream about.
“That’s just being able to play Patriot football,’’ Michel said. “We want to be physical. When you’re physical, you can run the ball, you can throw the ball. It’s almost like you control the line of scrimmage and do what you want to do. [Offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels has a great plan and we’re excited to go out there and just execute it.’’
Michel’s bounce-back game highlighted a day in which the Patriots put up 498 yards of offense and had to overcome 11 penalties — including several costly ones in the first half — for 105 yards.
The Patriots rushed for 215 yards, with James White chipping 73 yards on just nine totes.
“It always helps when you can run the ball,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “It always opens up everything else.’’
Not to be lost in the offensive fireworks was the play of the defense, which kept the Jets, who fell to 3-8, out of the end zone after Jermaine Kearse’s first-quarter touchdown.
The defense allowed just 338 total yards and made its last stand its finest. With the Jets poised to make it a one-score game, Brian Flores’s group stiffened in the red zone with Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty knocking away passes in the end zone on third and fourth downs to ice th win.
RETURNS OF THE DAY
Rob Gronkowski (ankle/back) and Shaq Mason returned after two-game absences and made immediate impacts.
Gronkowski had three catches for 56 yards and his first touchdown since Week 1. His score was New England’s first and it came on a 34-yard seam strike from Tom Brady. Gronkowski punctuated the play with a spike that may have rattled Jimmy Hoffa’s bones.
“It felt good [to score] but what feels better is getting that win,’’ Gronkowski said.
Mason was his road-grading self, helping to bore holes in a defense and allow the backs to pile up 215 yards.
Rob Gronkowski’s touchdown came one play after James White was whistled for pass interference on third down. The Jets decided to accept the penalty, giving the Patriots third and 12 instead of fourth and 2.
Jets coach Todd Bowles defended the move despite the outcome.
“Third and 12 were good odds for us,’’ he said. “We’ve been pretty good at third and 12. We knew they would have gone for it on fourth and 2. We figured if we back them up we had a chance [for them] to kick a field goal and it didn’t work out.’’
The Jets boast one of the top return men in the game in Andre Roberts, who is at the top of the league in both kickoff and punt returns. He was held virtually in check by the Patriots.
He did have one 35-yard kickoff return but had just 1 yard on one punt return. Bill Belichick credited Ryan Allen, who punted two balls deep and out of bounds to keep Roberts in mothballs.
“Ryan hit the ball well with some good distance and hang time,’’ the coach said. “He just had one bad one on a touchback, but he gave us some good field position today.’’
PLAY OF THE DAY
Julian Edelman capped a NASCAR-like four-play, 75-yard drive with 21-yard catch-and-run from Tom Brady that gave the Patriots a 20-13 lead — and finally some breathing room.
Edelman caught a quick rip from Brady, received a nice block from Rob Gronkowski, and then bulled his way into the end zone.
“I just tried to get in the end zone and protect the ball,’’ Edelman said. “Ball security is job security here.’’
Perhaps honoring his teammate for the assist, Edelman performed a classic Gronk spike in celebration as his teammates went nuts on the sideline.
“Oh yeah,’’ said Duron Harmon when asked about the hooting and hollering. “Any time anyone scores you react strong because that’s your teammate who you see each and every day putting in the effort to be able to come out and make plays and score touchdowns on Sunday so we were excited. It was a tight game at the time we knew it was going to be a battle.’’
Referee Shawn Hochuli and his crew lived up to their reputation as one of the most “active” group of penalty callers in the league.
There were a combined 19 accepted penalties — though it felt like 119 — and the amount of laundry on the field prevented either team from establishing much of a rhythm in the first half.
Certainly presnap penalties have to be called, but some of the holdings and interferences seemed a little ticky-tack.
“It was called kind of tight,’’ said Patriots left tackle Trent Brown, who was called for a pair of questionable holding calls, only one of which was accepted. “On my two — I don’t know about the others — but on my two, it was kind of iffy,’’ Brown said. “Because it was stuff I’ve been doing all season and now it’s like . . . whoa, whoa, whoa.’’
Most of the Patriots said avoiding penalties was the big key to the second-half surge that finally allowed them to put some distance between them and the Jets.
“We had penalties [in the first half] and it was hurting us,’’ Julian Edelman said.
The Patriots were whistled for just three infractions in the second half.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I tell you what, he doesn’t say much but his presence is felt every week. He’s a tremendous player,’’ Duron Harmon, on teammate Trey Flowers, who had a sack, four quarterback hits, and an untold amount of pressures.
Sony Michel’s back was twisted around blender style during a third-quarter run that forced him to the sideline for short stretch. “Just got tackled, got tweaked up a little bit,’’ Michel said. “It’s part of the game.’’ He returned in the fourth quarter and ripped off a 33-yard run on his first carry, his longest of the day.
Tom Brady downplayed what he called a “little scrape” he sustained on his thumb. “It’s fine,’’ he said.
Brady, who missed practice Friday with an illness, casting a little doubt (very little, actually) on his availability.
“I’m feeling better today,’’ he said.
The Patriots wrap up the NFC North portion of their schedule when they host Minnesota Sunday.
The Vikings are led by quarterback Kirk Cousins and are in the thick of the playoff race, sitting second behind the Chicago Bears in their division.
New England is 2-1 against the black and blue division, losing to the Lions in Week 3 before bouncing back to beat the Bears and Packers.