Report card: Sorry, no A's for effort
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Handing out grades from the Jets' 29-26 overtime loss to the Patriots:
This is what you call running back-by-committee. Six different players carried the ball on designed rushes, including Lex Hilliard and Jonathan Grimes. Who could've figured that a few weeks ago? The Jets were held to 106 yards, but this was a tougher defensive front than last week. Shonn Greene ran hard, but couldn't get to the second level. He scored on a 1-yard run, with a great block from jumbo TE Jason Smith. The short-yardage package was excellent, covering 3-for-3.
Mark Sanchez passed for a season-high 328 yards against a terrible pass defense, carrying the offense with 16-for-20 efficiency after halftime. But he still made a few costly mistakes -- a woefully underthrown interception, a botched handoff exchange that resulted in a safety and the inexcusable fumble in OT. That was a bad, bad drop by WR Stephen Hill, who may have cost his team the game. It's fun to watch WR Jeremy Kerley, who gets better and better every week. He posted a career-high 120 receiving yards. TE Dustin Keller is back to his old form. The pass protection (four sacks) broke down in the end, with RT Austin Howard and RG Brandon Moore surrendering the game-ending sack. It was a rare off day for Moore, who had two penalties.
The Jets allowed 131 yards, 21 yards below the Patriots' average. It didn't look promising early, as they allowed a 14-yard run on the second play of the game. But the Jets adjusted nicely, with their nickel package holding up well against the run. Rookie LB Demario Davis (nine tackles) started in the nickel, replacing Bart Scott, and he played well enough to earn more time. He brings a speed element to the linebacking corps. S LaRon Landry did a nice job in run support, with a team-high 12 tackles.
The Jets played well for 58 1/2 minutes, but they let down on the last two drives -- the final possession of regulation and the first in OT. They caused some trouble for Tom Brady, who seemed to be a loss when he couldn't find WR Wes Welker. CB Isaiah Trufant, in his first extended playing time, was a surprise starter in the nickel. For the most part, he played well against Welker in the slot. Thanks to a few well-executed screens, Welker finished with six catches for 66 yards. The tight ends hurt the Jets, as Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 11 catches for 132 yards and two TDs. Sound familiar? The Jets' biggest problem -- no takeaways by the defense.
This was a game of extremes. The lowest of the lows was the terrible coverage on Devin McCourty's 104-yard kickoff return, the first TD allowed by the Jets since the Ted Ginn nightmare in 2009. On the flip side, the special teams gave the Jets a chance to win in the fourth quarter, Lex Hilliard forcing a fumble on a kickoff return. PK Nick Folk was masterful, making 4-for-4 on FG attempts -- including two clutch 43-yarders at the end of the fourth quarter. A couple of penalties hurts the grade.
No one gave the Jets a chance, and they came oh-so-close to pulling off a major upset. They adjusted their offense to attack the Patriots' weakness (defending the pass) -- and that worked well. The defense prepared well for the Patriots' controversial up-tempo offense, making it a non-issue. The coaches eased up on the gas pedal late in the fourth quarter, playing it too conservatively on both sides of the ball. You can't give Brady that much time -- 1:32 -- needing only a field goal to tie. And if you do, you can't play soft zone coverage, letting him march down the field. It was an unfortunate end to an otherwise fine coaching day by the Jets.