What we learned in the Patriots’ 29-26 win over the Jets on Sunday:
Lack of finish
An interception, a stupid personal foul on a Zoltan Mesko punt and a safety on a botched Jets handoff gifted the Patriots three possessions in the second quarter alone. Yet the two points on the safety were all they could muster. They needed only a semi-sustained drive late in the fourth quarter to seal the win, yet went backwards in a brutally fast three-and-out. So continues a pattern in which New England has left points on the field and/or failed to close games the way we’ve come to expect it. Simply put, this high-powered offense has sputtered at times. Consider that between the second quarter of the Seattle loss and the third quarter of the New York win it scored exactly one offensive touchdown in a span of nearly 83 minutes, or roughly a game and a half.
Gronk, the savior
The one offensive touchdown in the middle of that slump was a nice diving grab by Rob Gronkowski in the first quarter Sunday. The one that ended it was an easy TD toss to Gronk late in the third. That gave the big tight end his first multi-touchdown game of the season after he had seven such efforts in 2011. He also was the key to the game-tying drive at the end of regulation, catching back-to-back passes for 27 yards in a span of seconds to get the ball rolling. Gronk has 12 catches for 139 yards in the last two games and is showing signs of dominating in the passing game once again.
The time is now
Much has been made of the jumbled AFC East, as well as the Patriots uneven play, but they have an opportunity in front of them to grab this thing by the throat. Not only are they in first place and the only team unbeaten in division play, but they have a string of winnable games on the horizon. Including the Jets game yesterday, New England plays six straight games against teams that entered Week 7 at .500 or below. Also, the Pats don’t play a true road game again until Thanksgiving, when they visit the Jets — the London game next week is a road game, but one being played in a neutral venue that will have more New England fans on hand. In addition, when you watch the other quarterbacks in this division perform on a weekly basis, it’s almost impossible to imagine any of them winning more games than Tom Brady. Mark Sanchez did some nice things Sunday, but holy mackerel did he do some bad things.
Return to sender
The Pats have struggled in the return game for a few years. They finished 18th in return yardage in 2010, 29th in 2011 and ranked 28th in the league entering this one. Devin McCourty’s 104-yard TD return in the first quarter Sunday will change that, but his fumble on a return late in regulation, which allowed the Jets to kick a go-ahead field goal, virtually erased it. New England was fortunate that New York could not put the ball in the end zone after McCourty’s drop, but the return game remains an issue.