Sony Michel Rob Gronkowski Patriots Jets
Sony Michel with a wicked stiff-arm Sunday against New York. Getty Images

The Patriots (8-3) didn’t stomp over the Jets (3-8) the way most thought they would Sunday at MetLife Stadium but there were enough positive signs coming out of the game to believe New England can win one of the top two seeds in the AFC during the final month of the regular season. The Pats dominated the Jets in the second half at the Meadowlands in the two teams’ first meeting of the year and ultimately came away with a 27-13 victory.

Here are three things we learned Sunday.

 

Michel makes a difference

 

Early in the 2018 season, it was clear that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wanted to create a more balanced offense. The team was fresh off Tom Brady having to do it all in the Super Bowl against the Eagles, and – given Brady’s age – it was a mighty good idea to have some sort of backup plan on days Brady was not able to don his Superman cape.

Sony Michel has shown plenty of flashes in his rookie year of giving the Patriots that true type of feature running back they haven’t enjoyed since the days of Corey Dillon, but it wasn’t until Sunday’s win over the Jets that Michel truly came into his own.

Against New York, Michel had the best game of his young pro career so far as he carried the ball 21 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. The former Georgia star also had two catches for 12 yards.

Michel had a nice cut-back for 31 yards to open the second half and he also did the little things that Bill Belichick appreciates most. Backed up on their own goal line in the first half, the Jets brought the pressure as they looked for a safety. But Michel’s five-yard carry quickly put an end to that dread.

Michel also showed his toughness on Sunday after he got contorted into a pretzel by a pair of Jets defenders. After sitting out one series, he stepped back into the backfield early in the fourth quarter and a 33-yard jaunt put him over 100 yards for the day. He also had the Pats’ final score of the game, a one-yard touchdown run in the middle of the fourth quarter.

 

Gronk is alive

The New York Daily News ran a humorous cover this past week, with Brady and Belichick holding up a lifeless version of Rob Gronkowski. The headline read: “Weak End at Gronkie’s,” an homage to “Weekend at Bernie’s” – the story of a dead man that two guys prop up to make look alive (great flick, BTW).

We didn’t see the elite version of Gronk on Sunday, but the big tight end certainly factored in to the Pats’ victory.

He scored the Patriots’ first touchdown of the afternoon when he caught a 34-yard strike from Brady on third-and-12, and he also played the role of a perfect decoy on Julian Edelman’s touchdown late in the third quarter. With two Jets defenders keying in on Gronk, Edelman and Brady hooked up on a relatively easy curl route and Edelman was able to plunge into the end zone to break a 13-13 tie.

Gronk finished the game with three catches for 56 yards.

 

The ‘Do your job’ Defense

After an embarrassing performance at Tennessee where they allowed 34 points, the Patriots held New York to just 13 points on Sunday. The Patriots defense didn’t have to be great on Sunday to beat Josh McCown and company, but the unit also showed flashes that it could have a strong conclusion to the season.

Stephon Gilmore picked off McCown with the Jets threatening, and Deatrich Wise came up with a huge sack on third down early in the fourth quarter to give the ball back to the Pats. The rush defense was outstanding as they held Isaiah Crowell to just 30 yards on six carries.