By Art Martone
FOXBORO -- A look at the stats leaves you wondering: How was the game this close?
The Patriots had 446 total yards to the Jets' 255. Twenty-six first downs to the Jets' 14. A 50 percent efficiency ratio on third down, compared to 27 percent for the Jets.
Scoring, summary, statistics
But the Pats left points on the board. ("A lot of points," said Tom Brady ruefully.) They twice settled for field goals instead of touchdowns when they couldn't convert third-and-shorts (once stalling at the New York 3). They missed a TD when Aaron Hernandez, in the end zone, let a pass from Brady slip through his hands and into the arms of Antonio Cromartie on the last play of the first half .
That's why, instead of being comfortably ahead, they found themselves with a precarious 27-21 lead with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter. They took possession of the ball at their own 22, wanting to score but needing, more than anything, to run down the clock.
Enter BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
"It's always the challenge," the Pats' main running back said of the need to gain yards and use up time when the game's on the line, "and you always want to be able to step up to the plate and knock it out of the park."
Home run? This was a grand slam.
Green-Ellis carried the ball 10 times during a 13-play march, gaining 59 of his career-best 136 yards. He started the drive with an eight-yard run, gained 15 yards two plays later, and would later take a direct snap and run for 14 yards on third-and-four, pretty much slamming the door on New York's comeback hopes. The Pats took 6 minutes and 12 seconds off the clock, and when Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 28-yard field goal with 1:06 left, the Patriots had themselves a crucial 30-21 victory over their suddenly reeling division rivals.
Green-Ellis' heroics helped the Pats seal a deal that could have been sealed a lot earlier if not for . . .
Failure to convert a third-and-four on the Jets' 28 early in the second quarter. A pass from Brady to Deion Branch only gained two yards, and New England instead settled for a 44-yard field goal by Gostkowski and a 10-0 lead.
An inexcusable Hernandez flub of a perfectly thrown Brady pass on the last play of the second quarter. Instead of a touchdown and a 17-7 halftime lead, the ball caromed directly to Cromartie and kept the score at 10-7.
Inability to punch it in from the Jets' 6 early in the fourth quarter, again getting a field goal instead of a touchdown and only increasing their lead to 27-14 instead of 31-14.
"Yeah, I thought we could have done a lot better offensively," said Brady.
But no one could have done better than Green-Ellis at the end.
"Benny ran well, of course, like he always does," said coach Bill Belichick. "Runs hard, gets a lot of runs after contact."
"He ran great, he always does," raved Brady. "He's a tough runner, he's a real smart runner, he's patient, he sees the holes . . . When we call upon him, we need him and he makes the plays. That was great."
It was a measure of the final drive's importance that the two touchdowns Green-Ellis scored in the game were almost an afterthought.
His first came in the first quarter, capping a five-play, 64-yard drive and giving the Pats a 7-0 lead. They increased it to 10-0 with Gostkowski's second-quarter field goal, but the Jets -- finally getting their offense untracked after a dismal first quarter -- went 78 yards in 13 plays and cut the Pats' advantage to 10-7 when Shonn Greene ran it infrom the 3 with 3:21 left in the half.
Hernandez' drop kept the score at 10-7 heading into the second half. But the Patriots came out in the third quarter and bookened the period with a pair of long scoring drives, taking a 24-14 lead.
The first drive went 80 yards, and they covered the ground quickly as, on the first play of the half, Wes Welker slipped behind the defense and reeled in a bomb from Brady. He was caught from behind by Darrelle Revis, but the 73-yard play gave the Pats a first-and-goal at the 7.
The drive seemed doomed when Branch lost the ball after catching a Brady pass at the 2, but the replays showed he was down by contact before the ball came loose and the referees overturned their on-the-field fumble ruling. On the next play, Brady received outstanding protection from the offensive line, allowing Branch to slip free from Cromartie and catch a pass in the wide-open corner of the end zone for a 17-7 advantage.
Joe McKnight took the ensuing kickoff eight yards deep in the end zone and ran it out 88 yards to the New England 20. Three plays later, Mark Sanchez passed 11 yards to Jeremy Kerley for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 17-14. But late in the quarter, the Pats ran their no-huddle offense to perfection during an 11-play, 77-yard drive that gave them their 10-point lead back, 24-14. They converted two third downs during the march -- including a 17-yard, Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski pass on a third-and-13 -- and got to the 3 on a 13-yard swing pass from Brady to Green-Ellis. On the next play, Green-Ellis ran it in for his second touchdown of the game.
A 24-yard field goal by Gostkowski early in the fourth quarter put New England in front 27-13, but the Jets made it 27-21 with an 11-play, 85-yard drive capped by Mark Sanchez' 21-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.
That drive, and the earlier one for their first TD, was pretty much all the offense the Jets could muster.
"I think every week we've been getting better and better and better," Vince Wilfork said of the defense. "Is everything perfect? No. There's a lot of things we could do better. We have to continue to grow, continue to get better, but we definitely did a good job tonight."
The Jets have now lost three in a row and fell to 2-3this season. The Pats, conversely, are 4-1 and remain tied with Buffalofor first place in the AFC East.
"Definitely a great win," said Hernandez.
And, as much as anyone in what Belichick (correctly) called "a good team win," they have Green-Ellis to thank.
Art Martone can be reached at email@example.com.