The Patriots had their hands full with the surprising Jets, but came away with a 24-17 victory that gave them sole possession of first place in the AFC East. Here's a quick look at today's scoring plays.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Dion Lewis took his time in the Patriots locker room following their closer-than-expected 24-17 win over the Jets. He made sure his sock game was tight and his suit game on point. Lewis brushed his hair, turned to face a gathering crowd around his locker and still fiddled with his top button. For the first time this year, and maybe since 2015, the running back was the focal point of the offense and our attention.
“Whenever you get a chance, you have got make plays,” said Lewis. “That’s my job. Whenever my number is called to make plays. I was just happy I was able to go out there, play, move around a little bit and help my team.”
“Dion's so shifty, everybody's at the point of attack when he has the ball,” said his personal escort, fullback James Develin.
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Lewis played 29 snaps, 11 more than his season-high, which came two Thursdays ago in Tampa. The former University of Pittsburgh standout knew he’d get more run today just based on the game plan but - as always - you never know what happens after a series or two. But Lewis was productive, rushing for 52 yards while also scoring his second touchdown of the year. And after normal lead back Mike Gillislee fumbled in the opening quarter to kill a Patriots drive on the edge of the red zone, it was Lewis and James White who found themselves as the only two backs playing over the next 34 offensive plays. That allowed Lewis to find better footing from start to finish.
“I think it’s pretty big, even if you’re not getting the ball, just to be out there, getting used to the game flow,” said Lewis. “That’s pretty big but a series here, a series there, whenever my number is called, I gotta be ready to make a play, show them I’m capable. Whenever I get a chance to do that, I gotta prove it.”
Lewis made it clear to me weeks ago that he felt he proved that he was all the way back from the knee injury that derailed his breakout 2015 season and then slowed him for much of the 2016 campaign. But the Pats incorporated him slowly and - at times - sporadically.
“He's incredibly creative,” said Develin. “Everybody's at the point of attack. You have to make your block and sustain it and let the guy do his thing because he's dynamic.”
“I feel I showed them I was ready to go back in July and August,” Lewis told me as he headed for the door. “But hey, I’m just happy we got a win. It’s always exciting to win. And I’m glad I could help.”
Lewis has made his case. We’ll see where it goes from here.
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts from the Patriots' 24-17 victory over the Jets on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium . . .
1) Rob Gronkowski looked just fine in his return to action after missing last week's win over the Bucs due to a thigh injury. His two-yard score at the end of the first half tied the game, but it was perhaps his easiest grab of the afternoon. Matched up on shorter defenders like safety Jamal Adams (6-foot-1) and Darron Lee (6-foot-1), Gronkowski used his size advantage to pick up big gains that included a long pass-interference call on Adams that set up Dion Lewis' second-quarter score. Early in the third quarter, Gronkowski beat Adams for a short grab that turned into a 33-yard touchdown after he turned on the afterburners to out-race Jets defenders to the front corner of the end zone. On a day when Tom Brady's accuracy wasn't quite what it has been for much of the season, having his big tight end back in the fold made a significant difference for a Patriots offense that struggled to get into the end zone in Tampa.
PATRIOTS 24, JETS 17
2. Dion Lewis finally got his opportunity to run wild. As usual, he looked like the most elusive back the Patriots had in uniform. He consistently found running room when it looked like there was none. Early in the third quarter he spun out of traffic and out-ran a defender for 11 yards. In the second quarter he had a three-yard run that should've gone for zero or less. Once Mike Gillislee fumbled in the first quarter, Lewis took over the lead-back role and produced. Gillislee got back onto the field in the third quarter, but Lewis still beat his previous high this season for snaps (18) and carries (7) easily: He ran 11 times for 52 yards and a goal-line score.
3. Tom Brady's accuracy didn't seem to be quite at the level it has been for much of the season. Hard to tell if he's been hampered by the left shoulder injury that has limited him in practice, but there were a handful of throws that looked uncharacteristically off the mark. Two passes to Chris Hogan over the middle (one of which was caught) were thrown well behind Brady's intended target. He choked one pass to Danny Amendola that fell incomplete early in the second quarter. He was picked by Buster Skrine deep down the middle of the field on a throw to Phillip Dorsett, and he should've been picked by Skrine on New England's previous drive when he missed Gronkowski badly on an out-route. There were really well-thrown passes to Brandin Cooks (a 42-yarder dropped in the bucket to set up Gronkowski's score at the end of the first half) and Gronkowski (a 25-yarder in the second quarter that Gronkowski plucked off of the top of Darron Lee's helmet), but Brady wasn't as consistently pinpoint as he has been for much of the season.
4. The Patriots benefited from an unusual call midway through the fourth quarter when Austin Sefarian-Jenkins appeared to plow over the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown. But the entirety of MetLife Stadium knew something was up when the review -- which happens in New York following every score -- took longer than expected. It was ruled that Seferian-Jenkins lost the football before crossing the goal line and was not able to re-establish in bounds before falling out of bounds with the ball secured. Therefore, it was ruled a fumble out of the end zone, leading to a touchback and a change in possession. Given the time of the game and the score at the time (24-14, Patriots), it was huge swing. Credit should go to Malcolm Butler for punching out the football late in the play. That may end up being one clip that Bill Belichick uses in the future to explain why exactly players can't give up on plays at any point in a given down.
5. While Josh McCown was able to pick apart the Patriots secondary for chunk plays throughout the course of the game, Belichick's run defense was as stout as it has been all season. The Jets came into the contest with a top-15 running game, statistically, yet they were held to about three yards per carry. Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy were particularly effective in terms of swallowing up Jets backs in the middle of the Patriots defensive line, finding themselves involved in multiple run stuffs of two yards or less. The Patriots were 29th in the league in rush yards per attempt allowed (5.0) coming into Sunday.