EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The final seconds were ticking down and the Patriots defenders were gathered together on the MetLife Stadium visitors’ sideline, hovering near the 50-yard line while their teammates on offense kneeled away that last few seconds of a 27-13 win over the Jets. They streamed onto the field and mingled into the obligatory victory handshakes, but it was a celebration with a decidedly muted tone.
This was one of those Sundays to remind you they don’t give style points in the NFL, and that only one stat really matters at the end of 60 minutes — the final score. And the unscientific poll of players and coaches after this one came to two consistent conclusions. We’ll take the win. And we’ve got plenty to work on.
“That’s what we’re here for, to win games,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “I’m trying to be a part of as many of these as I can and I love being out there with my teammates and working hard, trying to figure out how to get the job done each week. It’s not easy, but we’re just here to win.”
On the road, in the division, following a loss, after the bye week, and behind a quarterback who missed the final practice of the week due to some combination of injury and illness, the Patriots were more than content to leave with that win. But with a full complement of healthy players (the entire starting offensive line, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and running back Sony Michel were all back in action), against the dead-coach-walking, three-win Jets and their journeyman quarterback Josh McCown, and in the middle of a race for the AFC’s top seed that is threatening to get away from them with every Chiefs or Steelers win, they were just as ready to concede they can do better. Starting with the 11 penalties that cost them 105 yards Sunday.
“You’d love to be perfect out there,” Brady said. “When you win you feel really good and obviously a couple weeks ago [in the Week 10 loss at Tennessee], we did everything the opposite of what we needed to do. I think we’re doing a better job taking care of the ball, and that gives us a better chance to win games. Scoring more points, converting on third down, scoring in the red area, all those are important. We made some plays, we certainly left some out there today. We’ll take it.
“In every area I think we can do a better job. We’re not where we want to be. We’ll keep building for it.”
They did some of that construction work across halftime Sunday, when seven penalties already had cost them 75 yards, one of them leading directly to an early 7-0 deficit when Deatrich Wise’s roughing the passer penalty erased a third-down stop and gave McCown the chance to hit Jermaine Kearse for a 16-yard TD. Though Brady would answer by finding Gronkowski on a beautiful over-the-middle strike that would put the tight end in the end zone for the first time since Week 1, the teams were still knotted at 13 when the Jets kicked a field goal with four minutes left in the third quarter.
That’s when the Patriots found their best footing. Four plays later they were back in the end zone, three of them for more than 20 yards (a 27-yard pass to Chris Hogan, a 27-yard run by James White, and a 21-yard score to Edelman). Edelman didn’t just take the sideline pass from Brady and stop inside the 5 where he caught it, but barreled his way through a few defenders into the end zone. Much as Gronk had done earlier in holding onto the ball despite a huge hit in the end zone, Edelman refused to be stopped. The echoes of Dion Lewis’s angry postgame comments at his former team two weeks ago were impossible not to hear.
“I just had to let our team know that these guys are beatable,” Lewis said after his new team, the Titans, crushed the one that chose not to re-sign him, 34-10. “I know those guys. I know that [if you are] physical with them and let them have it, they’ll fold.”
Seems the Patriots heard him.
“For sure we had a nasty taste in our mouth and we were just ready to get out here and play better, play harder, and get a win,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, it’s always hard playing here. We knew we would have to grind it out. We made a couple of adjustments and were able to make some plays in the second half.”
It wasn’t pretty. But sometimes that doesn’t matter.
“Definitely felt good to win, just winning on the road period,” receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “We need to do that to get where we want to be. A game in the division, this feels really good.”
One of those weeks to remember the NFL doesn’t award style points.
“We have to get some things straightened out,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Certainly there are plenty of things we need to work on and things we could have done better today, but overall our guys competed hard. . . . We had too many [penalties] today and made ourselves go backwards too many times. We were able to overcome some of them but overall 10 or 11 penalties is not what we do. Hopefully we can trim that down.”