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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The ground-and-pound approach was back on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The surprise was which team rode that style of play to victory.
The New England Patriots beat the New York Jets at their own game in a 30-21 victory, turning to a bulldozing ground attack led by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
|BenJarvus Green Ellis (136 yards, 2 TDs) gave his teammates, including Kevin Faulk (right) who is on IR, plenty to celebrate.|
In many ways, what the Patriots accomplished was what they couldn't in the playoffs in January. They proved they could win on the ground when the Jets loaded the field with smaller defensive backs.
"Any time they get in that personnel, you have to take advantage of it," All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins said. "They're daring you to do it, and if you don't, you're playing into their strength, which is covering because they have so many guys there."
The Patriots rushed 35 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that a road-grader like Mankins appreciates. When the offense totals 25 rushes or more under coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots are 107-19.
This was an attitude-type win, which was reflected on the Patriots' final drive that even caught Jets coach Rex Ryan off guard.
In that telling sequence, the Patriots got the ball at their own 22, their lead trimmed to 27-21 with 7:14 remaining. The game plan was to jam it down the Jets' throat and the Patriots did just that, with one of the big plays Green-Ellis taking a direct snap and rumbling around left end for 14 yards on third-and-4.
"The guy ran the ball kind of hard at the end, kind of surprised me. I thought Brady would throw it there," said Ryan, who wanted his own offense to get back to its ground-and-pound roots. "We did have a loaded zone over there, but he found a way to get through and get that first down."
The run extended the final drive, which covered 69 yards, and more importantly chewed up 6 minutes, 12 seconds. After Stephen Gostkowski's 28-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining put the Patriots up 30-21, the Jets had been pounded into submission.
While Mankins and his fellow blockers up front would have preferred to run out the clock, the final drive still made a loud statement, showing that the Patriots are more than just an air-it-out, Brady-led machine.
They can go the balanced route too. They've done it two weeks in a row.
"We want to run and throw," said Mankins, who felt a physical full-pads practice Thursday set a strong tone for the week. "But if you're not running the ball effectively, it's hard for the guys to call it. You have to give the play-caller confidence."
It helps when the hard-charging Green-Ellis, now in his fourth season, gets going like he did Sunday. His 136 yards were a career-high, and he once again showed he's a bull near the goal line with two touchdown runs of 3 yards apiece. Green-Ellis has scored 18 rushing touchdowns since the start of the 2010 season, a league-high over that time.
On Sunday, the Jets had six or fewer defenders in the box on 58 of 79 snaps, according to ESPN's Stats & Information tracking. The Jets were basically daring the Patriots to run. Green-Ellis made them pay with 99 of his rushing yards against the lighter box.
That was a change from the first four weeks of the season, when 35 of Green-Ellis' 50 carries came against a seven-man box or more.
"He's a great guy to block for, he's going to give you everything he's got," Mankins said. "He's going to find the holes, and ball security, he's great at that. Blocking for guys like that makes it a lot of fun."
"He ran great, he always does," added quarterback Tom Brady, whose ability to check into favorable running plays based on the ever-changing defensive alignment also was key. "He's a tough runner, a real smart runner. He's patient and he sees the holes. That was a big part of the win."
The performance was Green-Ellis' fourth career 100-yard game and marked the most yardage for a Patriots back since Sammy Morris ripped off 138 against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 20, 2008. Green-Ellis also saw his role as a pass protector expanded, playing in place of injured Danny Woodhead in the team's two-minute offense.
His effort helped round out the Patriots' attack (35 rushes, 33 pass attempts), as balance has been the buzzword the past two games.
"Obviously, our passing game is doing well, so we want to be an offense where we can be able to do whatever we want to do -- run or pass and complement our defense," Green-Ellis said. "You have to be ready for anything in all situations. I think we're doing a good job of whatever they're giving us, we're taking it and moving the ball down the field."
That didn't happen last year in the playoffs, the Jets' plan to load the field with extra defensive backs proving successful. They tried something similar this time around, and the Patriots -- turning to ground and pound -- had the answer.
"You have to give them credit," Ryan said. "They are running the ball hard and it seems like they are more balanced."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.