Three things we learned in the Patriots 24-17 victory over the Jets Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
1. Replay ridicule. In one of the more bizarre overturned calls in NFL history, the referees not only took away a Jets touchdown that would have cut the Patriots’ lead to three with just over eight minutes remaining in the game, they also transferred possession of the ball after ruling Austin Seferian-Jenkins fumbled out of bounds in the end zone. By official rule, that is a touchback and Patriots ball. But replays never showed conclusive proof that Seferian-Jenkins failed to re-gain possession of the football, never mind less than definitive proof that he actually lost possession of it in any grand fashion. It turned out to be the difference in the game, as the Jets would tack on a field goal with less than four minutes remaining, meaning the Patriots were playing with a seven-point lead on their final drive of the game, not tied with the chance of overtime looming. The Jets got jobbed. CBS commentator Dan Fouts even called it, “One of the worst calls I’ve ever seen.” Yup.
2. Whew? Not that Patriot fans should have expected total domination of the New York Jets, who entered Sunday tied with New England for second place in the AFC East. But what transpired in the first half at the Meadowlands was prime for sounding the panic alarm. In taking a 14-0 lead over the Patriots, Jets quarterback Josh McCown punished an already-beleaguered Patriots defense that seemed to almost be turning in the last straw in its first divisional contest of the season. But unlike the faint praise defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and company received following an uneven performance in Tampa Bay a week ago, maybe it’s safe to — finally — suggest that the Pats’ defense showed some semblance of life? Despite the auspicious beginning, the Patriots did manage slowed down the bleeding after New York built a two-touchdown lead. Cornerback Malcolm Butler, burned early in the game when McCown found receiver Jeremy Kerley for the Jets’ first touchdown, came up with a huge interception with 40 seconds remaining in the first half. That allowed just enough time for Tom Brady to find Brandin Cooks with a deep, 42-yard pass into the red zone, followed by the first of two touchdowns caught by tight end Rob Gronkowski to go into halftime all tied up. You might even say that the D ate the Jets alive in the final minute of the game, with New York fighting in desperation. The bad news: Josh McCown joins the club of 300-yard passing quarterbacks (354 yards) against the New England defense this season. Josh McCown. Oh, and the high-powered Atlanta Falcons are on on tap. Yikes.
3. Running back into your sights. Mike Gillislee didn’t help his own cause with a fumble lost in the first half, a matter that helped Bill Belichick keep him off the field for the next six series, but this was Dion Lewis’ game from the start anyway, the kind of performance that makes one think that he has taken the torch to be considered New England’s No. 1 running back. Lewis dashed for 52 yards on 11 carries, including a goal-line touchdown that would have figured to go to Gillislee if not for his butter fingers earlier in the game. Despite all the new blood, the Patriots have had a difficult time finding consistency in their running game. Turns out, it may have come from the guy who has been here the longest anyway.