- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Almost every time Rob Gronkowski took the field Sunday, lining up mere feet away from him was Jets safety Antonio Allen. The second-year safety had the unenviable task of shadowing Gronkowski in the tight end's season debut, often times in man-to-man coverage.
"We already know he's going to get the ball. When I heard he's activated I already knew what time it was," Allen said. "Get your feet ready, get hot."
While Gronkowski caught eight passes for 114 yards, Allen's play earned rave reviews from his teammates and coach in the Jets' 30-27 overtime win over the Patriots on Sunday. Gronkowski caught less than half the balls thrown his way, and Allen's interception return for a touchdown on the second play of the second half proved to be the momentum changer in the Jets' upset.
"We have tremendous confidence in him. It showed," safety Dawan Landry said. "All the incompletes they had. You knew Gronk was going to be a feature today and [Allen] did a great job."
Allen, at 6-foot-1, 210 lbs, gave up five inches and more than 50 pounds to Gronkowski, but the Jets went with him because they liked his length. The Jets used linebackers early to shadow Gronkowski, but they primarily used the second-year safety in their attempt to slow down the tight end.
Gronkowski caught his fair share of balls, but Allen did a good enough job pestering the tight end that only caught eight of the 17 balls thrown his way were hauled in. Allen said the key was to get his hands on Gronkowski and break as soon as he saw the tight end making his move.
"He'll push off from time to time. I tried to absorb it, I guess, and stay on his hip," Allen said. "That's what I was doing all game."
On the second play of the second half, Allen provided the turning point of the game when he intercepted Brady and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown to slice New England's lead to 21-17.
Allen said he recognized the three-by-one formation, seeing what he described as "Yogi," and there would be a hot route. Brady threw behind Gronkowski and Allen took advantage before somersaulting into the end zone. The Jets played better overall after Allen's interception.
"He made a statement by taking it to the house and that was a big momentum changer for us," Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson said.
Allen felt he was due for an interception after failing to bring home two interceptions in the first half.
"I should have got those two but it was unfortunate," Allen said. "I got one so it was good enough."
As Allen's teammates spoke his praises after the game, Allen was very nonchalant after perhaps the best game of his career. The Jets gave him the toughest assignment Sunday, and Allen came through with a very solid performance in the Jets' biggest win of the year.
"I know what type of player I am: play maker," Allen said. "Make plays when the ball is thrown in the air."