FOXBOROUGH — Two-hundred and thirty-one minutes and 34 seconds — nearly four hours of game clock — had elapsed since the Patriots last gave up a touchdown, so it figured it was going to take something out of the ordinary.
Just before the end of the third quarter Sunday, Jets punter Lachlan Edwards booted a ball 39 yards to the Patriots 12-yard line, where undrafted rookie receiver Gunner Olszewski had signaled for a fair catch.
“I lost focus,” Olszewski said. “I didn’t look it all the way in and it went through my hands.”
Olszewski muffed it. The ball scooted back toward the end zone where Jets cornerback Arthur Maulet slid on top of it. Touchdown, Jets.
It was the first Jets touchdown of any kind at Gillette Stadium since Week 7 of 2015. New York did not score on offense, but found the end zone again via a Jamal Adams pick-six off Jarrett Stidham later in the game.
“We’ll look at the film,” coach Bill Belichick said. “There will be a lot of things we can do better there — coaching, playing. There’s room for improvement from everybody. Hopefully we’ll all get back to work this week and try to take another step forward.”
The Patriots defense still has not allowed a touchdown and has given up 3 points in three games but the Patriots writ large lost their streak. The play had no impact on the outcome of the game but, for Olszewski, it was a bad moment. Olszewski, a converted cornerback out of Division 2 Bemidji State, achieved a kind of cult hero status during the preseason and ultimately was the last player included on the 53-man roster on cutdown day, making the team after the Patriots initially told him he was getting cut. So, Olszewski knows his roster spot isn’t exactly the safest on the team. And, as the saying goes, ball security is job security.
“It won’t ever happen again,” Olszewski said. “I’ve just got to prove to coaches they can trust me back there.”
He picked his head up pretty quickly, bringing his next punt return out 11 yards to the Patriots 45-yard line. Olszewski also played a bit on offense when both Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman were getting medical attention. After the game, Olszewski sat in his locker for a while, scrolling through his phone. At one point, he got up to get an extra towel and walked by teammate Ted Karras, who gave some encouragement: “3-0,” Karras said, patting Olszewski on the shoulder.
“He’s an asset to this football team and everyone in this locker room has a lot of faith and confidence in him,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “Mistakes happen. No one knows more about muffin’ balls as a returner than I do. We support him, stay positive, and just get ready for Buffalo.”
So, that was how the Patriots allowed their first touchdown in 245 days. The last player to score a touchdown against them was Damien Williams of the Chiefs on a 2-yard run with 2:03 left in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game. The Rams, Steelers, and Dolphins were all shut out of the end zone between that game and Sunday’s.
And while the defense wasn’t at fault, captain Devin McCourty said they can’t claim a shutout.
“They got 14 points on the board,” he said.
Coincidentally, that’s one point for each of the 14 quarters (plus one overtime period when their opponent didn’t get the ball, not to bring up a sensitive topic) the Patriots went without giving up a touchdown. It was the longest streak in team history, and incredibily impressive. It was bizarre to see it end the way it did.
If anyone had a Gunner Olszewski muffed punt as the reason it would, go play the lottery.