The New England Patriots were held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time this season, but would use 35 second-quarter points, scoring touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams to take a 35-3 lead into the halftime of their 49-19 win over the New York Jets on Thursday night.
New England had multiple opportunities to score in the first quarter, but Stephen Gostkowski's 39-yard field goal attempt with 10:09 to play in the opening period sailed wide to the left. Following the Gostkowski miss, the Jets were also position to score in the opening period, riding five Shonn Greene carries for 32 yards to drive down to New England's 23-yard line. The Jets' drive would come to abrupt halt as Mark Sanchez locked onto wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, allowing safety Steve Gregory to undercut the route for an interception.
The Patriots made good on Gregory's interception, slowly marching down to the Jets' nine-yard line with forty seconds remaining in the opening quarter, but two runs by Shane Vereen gained six yards before the team would change sides for the second quarter. On the opening play of the second quarter, Tom Brady hit Wes Welker for a three-yard touchdown, capping off a 15-play, 84-yard drive that chewed six minutes off the clock. Following a 37-yard kick return by Joe McKnight, the Jets would grind their way to the Patriots' 31-yard line, setting up a critical fourth-and-one decision for head coach Rex Ryan. Instead of attempting a 49-yard field goal, Ryan went for it on fourth down and Shonn Greene was stuffed by Brandon Spikes, with the ball popping loose and Gregory pouncing on the loose ball.
The Patriots offense showed its quick-strike capabilities when Brady hit Vereen on an eight-yard swing pass that the second-year back out of Cal took 83 yards for a touchdown that increased New England's lead to 14-0 and kicked off a sequence where the Patriots score three touchdowns in a span of 52 seconds and may sealed the fate of several of the top decision makers in the Jets' organization.
Following a touchback by Gostkowski and a quick 11-yard pass from Sanchez to Clyde Gates, miscommunication between Sanchez and fullback Lex Hilliard would result in a costly turnover. There's some confusion about what was supposed to happen, but in what was clearly a busted play, Sanchez was left without anyone to hand the ball to. In an attempt to slide and end the play,Sanchez ran into the backside of right guard Brandon Moore, who was being pushed back by nose tackle Vince Wilfork, causing the the ball to pop loose and onto the MetLife Stadium turf. Gregory would alertly scoop the ball up and run 32 yards for a touchdown.
The Jets' "Keystone Cops" imitation would reach its zenith as a hit on McKnight by Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty on the ensuing kickoff would cause the ball to pop into the air and into the arms of Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who ran untouched into the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown that increased New England's lead to 28-0.
On their next possession, the Jets would be forced to punt the ball back to the Patriots offense, which showed no mercy on Thursday night as it played without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins and potential Pro Bowl right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Brady hit Brandon Lloyd for 12 yards before the team ran the no huddle to gain six more yards on a run by Stevan Ridley. Two plays later, Brady and Edelman hooked up a 56-yard touchdown down the left seam to take a 35-0 lead with just over three minutes to play in the first half.
The Jets would add a 32-yard field goal by Nick Folk with two seconds remaining to avoid the first-half shutout and had an opportunity to begin chipping into the 32-point deficit in the third quarter. After a hit on Edelman by LaRon Landry forced a fumble — and Edelman's departure from the game due to a head injury — the Jets drove down to the Patriots' one-yard line before coming away empty-handed as Spikes once again stuffed Greene for no gain on a fourth-and-one play. The Jets would get a safety on the Patriots' first offensive play as Ridley would be called for a chop block in the end zone, resulting in a safety. After the free kick, a 39-yard connection between Sanchez and Jeff Cumberland, a 14-yard run by running back Bilal Powell and an 11-yard pass to Kerley would set up a four-yard touchdown run by Powell to cut the lead to 35-12 at the end of the third quarter.
That would be the closest the Jets would get as Brady capped off a 17-play, 87-yard drive that ate nearly eight minutes of the game clock with a one-yard touchdown plunge. On their first play after the Brady touchdown, Jets receiver Chaz Schilens was stripped by rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard after a 22-yard reception, with linebacker Rob Ninkovich recovering the fumble. The Patriots struck quickly as Brady hit Welker for 28 yards before Ridley scored from nine yards out, giving him eight rushing touchdowns on the season and one rushing touchdown in each the last four games. With just over two minutes remaining in regulation, Sanchez tossed a one-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Keller to close out the scoring.
Even without Gronkowski and 40 percent of their starting offensive line, the Patriots were able to rack up 475 yards of total offense on the night, including 152 yards on the ground. Brady was 18-of-28 for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Brady was not sacked once on the night, though the Jets did pressure Brady into an intentional grounding penalty on the game's opening play. As expected, Welker continued to be Brady's go-to receiver, catching a team-high seven passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. In his first game back after missing three weeks with an ankle injury, Aaron Hernandez caught two passes for 36 yards, mostly on an impressive 28-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter. New England's emerging backfield duo of Ridley and Vereen combined for 31 carries and 139 yards as the Patriots picked up 12 of their 25 first downs on the night via the ground game.
The Jets also topped 400 yards of total offense, but committed four turnovers, including a fumble on of the two failed attempts to convert a fourth-and-one in New England's territory. Sanchez completed 26-of-36 pass attempts for 301 yards, taking all the snaps on offense as No. 2 quarterback Tim Tebow dressed, but did not play due to two ribs he fractured in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 11.
With the win, the Patriots improve to 8-3 and could emerge from the weekend with a four-game lead over both the Buffalo Bills (who they swept this season) and Miami Dolphins (who they'll play twice in the final five weeks) in the AFC East. The Jets fall to 4-7 and will likely need to win out to have any chance of sneaking into the AFC Playoffs.
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