The Patriots’ holiday vacation won’t begin until next Monday but we know now that it will be an extended break. The Pats will be resting on wild card weekend (Jan. 3-4) but will host a divisional round game on either Jan. 10 or Jan. 11 thanks to their narrow 17-16 victory over the Jets Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
If the Patriots (12-3) plan on going anywhere in the postseason, however, they will certainly have to perform better than they did Sunday at the Meadowlands as they struggled to dismiss Rex Ryan’s Jets. Ryan – likely coaching his final home game at MetLife Stadium as the head man in New York – gave New England fits for old-times’ sake as Tom Brady mustered just 182 yards through the air and the Pats totaled just 85 yards on the ground.
The Jets, now 3-12 this season, held a 10-7 lead at halftime and a 13-7 late into the third quarter.
Early on, New York quarterback Geno Smith was as efficient as he was in the Jets’ 27-25 at Gillette Stadium in Week 7. Smith found a wide open Jeff Cumberland on a 20-yard post-pattern for a touchdown with 5:59 left in the second quarter. Field goals by Nick Folk late in the second and midway through the third gave New York a six point lead and it felt as though Ryan and the Jets were going to go out with a bang by upsetting the AFC East champs.
But one major Smith mistake late in the third quarter proved costly for the Jets. With Chandler Jones applying pressure, Smith underthrew Jace Amaro and Jamie Collins took advantage by grabbing a momentum-shifting interception.
On third-and-10 just prior to the end of the third, Brady hit Brandon LaFell for 10 yards and a first down. Like he did last week against Miami, Brady scrambled for a relatively large gain against the Jets – lumbering and then sliding down to the Jets 2-yard line for an 11-yard rush. The two plays by Brady set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Jonas Gray, which gave the Pats a 17-13 advantage.
Danny Amendola had his best game of the year for the Patriots, busting out a 39-yard punt return that set up the Patriots nicely in Jets’ territory early in the second quarter. That drive ultimately ended with Brady hitting Rob Gronkowski for a 3-yard touchdown that gave New England the early, 7-0 lead.
Amendola handled the kick return and punt return duties with Julian Edelman (concussion) out and was targeted, as a receiver, 11 times by Brady. Amendola finished the day with a team-high eight catches for 63 yards. Brandon LaFell had seven catches for 64 yards.
The Patriots’ most impressive drive of the day came midway through the third quarter and featured a heavy dose of Shane Vereen. The drive, which was 13 plays for 81 yards and ended with a 24-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal, was supported with Vereen having ground gains of eight, 15, four and five. Vereen finished with 38 yards rushing on six carries. It was his highest rushing total since the Oct. 16 win over the Jets (43 yards on 11 carries).
The Patriots can lock up the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC if Denver loses Monday (8:30 p.m., ESPN) at Cincinnati or if the Pats simply beat the Bills this coming Sunday at Gillette in their regular season finale (1 p.m., CBS).