- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quinton Coples' right arm became a talked about body part Tuesday, with speculation swirling (thanks to Bill Belichick) that he used it to push teammate Muhammad Wilkerson into the Patriots' field goal formation. By now, you know that's a no-no. Alleged push aside, Coples' right arm may have been the difference in the game.
It's the arm he used to strip the ball from QB Tom Brady on the first play of the third quarter, beating LT Nate Solder. On the next play, the biggest play of the game, Coples used that long arm (33 1/4 inches) to get a hand in Brady's face just as he released a pass to TE Rob Gronkowski. Coples may have distracted Brady just enough to force an off-target pass. You know what happened next. Safety Antonio Allen undercut the route, made the interception and returned it for a touchdown.
Allen deserved all the credit he received for his game-changing play, but it was Coples who made that sequence possible. His first-down sack put the Patriots in a second-and-16 situation. They went with three receivers. The Jets one-upped them, going with six defensive backs in a 4-1-6 alignment. It was a theme all day for Rex Ryan, who rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. The strategy worked brilliantly on this play, with Coples once again having his way with Solder.
The perfect quarter: The defensive performance in the third quarter was one for the ages. Chew on these numbers: The Patriots ran 11 plays for minus-5 yards and no first downs. The Jets recorded a pick six and two sacks against one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. What can they possibly do for an encore?
Tom Not-So-Terrific: Remember the days when Ryan had to dial up exotic blitzes to get after Brady? Not anymore. Ryan let his big fellas do most of the rushing. In fact, the Jets sent more than four pass-rushers on only six of 50 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There was no need to send extra pressure because they were doing the job with a conventional rush. Against four or fewer rushers, Brady was 2o-for-41, with one interception and three sacks.
"AA" spark plug: Wherever Gronkowski went, Allen went. Gronkowski was targeted a career-high 17 times, and he was covered by Allen on all but three of those. Considering his lack of experience in pass coverage (he was basically a linebacker in college), Allen did an outstanding job, holding Gronkowski to five catches for 67 yards on 14 targets.
Allen caught a break on the Patriots' game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. The Jets sent a six-man rush at Brady with "zero" coverage, meaning no safety in the middle of the field. Gronkowski created separation against Allen, but the throw was high and behind him. Gronkowski almost made a one-handed catch that probably would've gone for a 23-yard touchdown. He was visibly angry with himself on the sideline; he knows he should've caught it.
It was the Jets' only blitz on that drive. Mostly, they stayed conservative with three- and four-man rushes. When they brought the heat, they almost got burned.
Mr. Third Down: WR Jeremy Kerley was a machine, recording six third-down conversions. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg moved him around the formation, making it harder for the Patriots to match up.
Three receptions came out of a bunch formation, two came when he motioned into the slot and one came when he was split left. He beat Kyle Arrington four times, Alfonzo Dennard twice. On two plays, TE Jeff Cumberland ran a "pick" for Kerley, allowing him to find space. In fact, they tried to run Kerley off a Cumberland pick on Geno Smith's 8-yard touchdown run, but he slipped. Two receivers went down, so Smith took off and made a great run.
It was clever stuff all around, along with some great route running by Kerley, who has the best change of direction on the team.
The eyes have it: Geno Smith played a solid game and made good decisions, especially knowing when to tuck it and run. Ah, but there was that one disaster of a play, the pick- six by Logan Ryan. Smith stared down WR David Nelson, who got roughed up at the line of scrimmage. For some reason, Smith didn't go to his next progression. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich beat RT Austin Howard for a pressure, making Smith hurry a throw he never should've made.
What's up with Brick?: LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson usually is one of the most reliable pass protectors in the league, but he allowed two sacks. That brings his total to four, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2012, he quietly had a terrific year (two sacks), but he seems to have regressed. All four sacks Sunday came from the left side of the line, as rookie LG Brian Winters also surrendered two. He'll need to get it together quickly because Cincinnati Bengals stud DT Geno Atkins is up next.
Odds and ends: CB Antonio Cromartie completely blew containment on Stevan Ridley's 17-yard touchdown run. Cromartie got caught in the backfield, leaving an open side for Ridley. Otherwise, I thought Cromartie played well. ... WR Stephen Hill was on the field for 80 plays and caught only one pass. That's not a terribly efficient afternoon. ... Finally, as for Coples' alleged push on Stephen Gostkowski's late field goal: Yes, he gave Wilkerson a one-handed shove from behind, but it didn't appear to be a designed play. Why would they run an illegal play after alerting the officials to watch for the same thing from the Patriots?