Monday, November 28, 2016

Patriots Ground Jets Playing Clutch, Complementary Football

James White was a hero, then a goat, and then let off the hook.

So went the day for the New England Patriots.

It was enough that the Patriots were at MetLife Stadium and playing an arch-nemesis New York Jets that always plays New England tough, but to add a hobbled quarterback Tom Brady to the equation meant that the rest of the team had to pick up the slack - and they did.  Barely.

Facing a fourth and four at the Jets' 37 with just under three minutes to play and playing from behind a one-point deficit, Brady floated a short pass to White on a quick out - White took the pass on his inside shoulder, spun to square his shoulders upfield, and absorbing a hit from Jets' linebacker Darron Lee, White stretched as far as his 5' 10" body would go, picking up the vital first down.

From the spot where the play started, to settle for a field goal in that situation would mean entrusting shaky place kicker Stephen Gostkowski to nail a 54 yard field goal, but neither miss-or-make circumstance was plausible.
Long, silencing the crowd, ended the game with his strip sack

If Gostkowski missed, the Patriots would have been down by two points and the Jets would have taken over the ball at their own 44 and the Patriots with only two time outs to work with - but had he made it, the Patriots would have taken a one-point lead, but left Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets' offense nearly three minutes to drive for a game-winning field goal.

So it was all on White's shoulders to gain the first down.

"He made a great play because the ball was thrown short of the sticks" Brady said of White, "and if we don't make that play, it's hard to win the game - it was a game-winning play, a championship-type play that James made. He did enough to shake off the tackle and get the first down."

A deep pass to wide open receiver Chris Hogan on the ensuing play took the ball down to the Jets' eight yard line, and then Brady hit rookie Malcolm Mitchell for a touchdown pass at the left pylon to give the Patriots a five-point lead - then White took a motion handoff from Brady and crossed the same pylon for a two-point conversion to give the Patriots a seven-point lead...

...the only problem being, while White's body crossed the goal line before going out of bounds, the ball never did, so the Patriots were left clinging to that five-point margin and kicking the ball back to Fitzgerald and the Jets' offense with just under two minutes left.

But defensive end Chris Long stripped the ball out of Fitzgerald's hand two plays later and the ball was recovered by fellow defensive end Trey Flowers which meant that White and, indeed, the entire Patriots team, were let off the hook, leaving MetLife with a victory in a 22-17 street fight.

The Patriots, were expected to set scoring records this season - what with the virtual plethora of extraordinary talent at Brady's disposal - but after running roughshod over their opponents to take a 7-1 record into their week-nine bye, New England has stumbled out of their off week, looking sluggish for long stretches of each of their three contests, losing a heartbreaker to Seattle before posting a 30-17 win over San Francisco last week and winning by five points over New York.

The only thing that has been consistent in any of the three has been the Patriots' clutch play when it counted the most.

Brady looked every bit the hobbled old warrior on Sunday afternoon, his already limited mobility reduced to sloth-like trudging, but after throwing away the ball on five attempts simply because the Jets were sending extra rushers to force Brady's hand, and after overthrowing wide open receivers at least as many times, the quarterback that many consider the greatest to ever play the game summoned up his clutch nature on the last two possessions of the game.

Considered a game-time decision, Brady's right knee was so sore and swollen during the week that he didn't attend practices, and it was clear that the knee was still bothering him, and accounted for the seemingly endless collection of overthrows - when the quarterback can't push off well with his right knee, it affects not just the follow through, but also the release point of the ball, which will be slightly higher...

...but as the game reached it's pinnacle, Brady was able to adjust his mechanics to compensate for his bum knee, throwing strikes on the last two critical possessions, and at the same time earning him his 200th career victory, tying him with Peyton Manning for most all-time - and Brady can break that record with a win against the Los Angeles Rams next week in Foxborough.

Brady - who threw the ball a ridiculous fifty times, completing thirty for 286 yards and two scores - went four-of-six on an eight-play, fifty three yard drive that produced a field goal to get the Patriots within one point, then after the New England defense forced a punt after a short Jets' possession, Brady went five-of-nine on the game winner to take his team to a 9-2 record.

Rookie Wide Receiver Malcolm Mitchell hauled in both of Brady's scoring tosses, snatching a dart at the back of the end zone to cap a seven-play, fifty yard drive after the Patriots' defense forced a Jets' fumble at midfield in the second quarter to tie the game at ten, then the gamer to bring his touchdown total to three in the past two games as his playing time has increased due to injuries in the pass catching ranks...

...while power back LeGarrette Blount ran the ball eleven times for 67 yards and is closing in on 900 yards for the season with five games to play, scatback Dion Lewis adding 24 yards on six carries, including a nifty 15-yard job deep in Jets' territory that featured his trademark cut-on-a-dime elusiveness.

While the Patriots' offense again looked sluggish for much of the game, for the third straight week the defense has seemed lost in a fog until one takes a look at the stat sheet.

Giving up 17 points, which is one fewer than their season average, the New England defense held New York to 5 of 11 on third down conversions, forced four punts, caused two turnovers and allowed the Jets to venture into the red zone just one time - giving up plenty of yardage between the twenties, but hardly anything in scoring position.

The bend-but-don't-break philosophy that the Patriots defense has employed causes frightful tremors among their faithful, but the fact that it works for them is a huge consolation.

On the season, New England has surrendered 197 points on defense, good for third in the NFL, while giving up a whopping 3900 yards, which places them 13th in the league - the spread between these two stats probably have Patriots' fans reaching for bottles of Xanax, but it does indicate how very clutch the defense is when the game is on the line.

And no defender in recent history has been more clutch than cornerback Malcolm Butler, though he took his lumps against the Jets' gigantic wide outs, giving up six catches on as many targets for 106 yards and both of Ryan Fitzgerald's scoring throws - but the difference between what happened to Butler on Sunday and just plain getting toasted was verbalized by Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick after the game.

"Look, we're going to play against good receivers and good quarterbacks every week. That's what the National Football League is." said Belichick on his Monday morning conference call from Gillette Stadium, adding, "Malcolm competed hard, which he always does, and tackled and was competitive on a lot of those plays and was close. They made some plays and he made some."

They made some plays, and he made some.  The Jets made some plays and the Patriots made some.  Imagine that.  The Jets made plays all over the field, made plays that totaled 333 total yards on 56 plays, but only 18 of those yards and four of those plays came inside the red zone - otherwise, Fitzgerald hooked up with receiver Quincy Enunwa on a 22 yard miracle touchdown in the back right corner of the end zone that Butler couldn't have covered any better...

...and one Nick Foles field goal.  The rest of the Jets' ten possessions were a testament to the competitiveness that Belichick keeps speaking of, with the aforementioned punts and forced fumbles, and also an Alan Branch blocked field goal on a 54-yard Foles attempt.

That is the very definition of complementary football.  Can things be better? Rhetorically speaking, absolutely.  The offense could run the ball a little more to give the defense a bit more rest, and the defense could pressure more to perhaps give the offense a little better starting field position.

Other than that, your Patriots are fine, and are on to Los Angeles.

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