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Four Ups, Four Downs From Patriots' 17-16 Win Over Jets

BOSTON (CBS) -- That was close. A little too close if you're hopeful that the Patriots can win a Super Bowl this year, but in the NFL, every win counts the same.

And though it wasn't pretty, and though it may have been frustrating for fans to watch, the Patriots got the job done, coming away with a win, which boosted their record to 12-3 and guaranteed them a first-round playoff bye. New England is now either one win or one Denver loss away from securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The game certainly had many ups and downs, so let's waste no more time in getting to them. And because this one deserves to end on a positive note, we'll start with the Downs.


Entire Offense In First Half
Why point fingers when the blame can be shared? The Patriots' offense was just putrid to start this game, from top to bottom. The line didn't block, the quarterback didn't have precision, the running backs didn't burst through anybody and the receivers didn't do much.

Add it all up, and the Patriots gained just 20 yards in the first quarter. By halftime, they had gained 52 total yards on 25 plays, and Tom Brady had been sacked four times. For some perspective, he had been sacked four times in the past eight games combined.

The offense recovered, scoring 10 points and gaining 179 yards in the second half, but that slow start nearly proved very costly.

Entire Defense In Second Quarter
Again, there's no reason to pinpoint specific players, considering the Jets, led by Geno Smith, moved the ball at will all over the Patriots in the second quarter.

Let me say that again -- the Jets, led by Geno Smith, moved the ball at will for an entire quarter of football.

The Jets drove 87 yards on 12 plays to tie the game at 7-7 in the second quarter, capped off by a play on which Patrick Chung got caught looking into the backfield, thereby leaving Jeremy Cumberland all alone for a 20-yard touchdown.

The Jets then gained 54 yards on 10 plays, kicking a field goal inside the final minute of the half to take a 10-7 lead.

And they did just about all of that without their All-Pro center, Nick Mangold, who left due to injury in the middle of that 87-yard drive.

In all, the Jets possessed the ball for 10:12 in the second quarter, taking control of the game in the process.

Josh Kline
Much time has been spent lately debating who is the Patriots' MVP. That list typically includes Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis and Rob Gronkowski.

Yet perhaps the triumvirate of Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell ought to gain some recognition as the team's MVP, because whenever that trio is not in the middle of the offensive line, everything goes haywire for Brady's offense.

Connolly missed this game due to a knee injury, and his absence was noticeable. Josh Kline filled in at left guard, and to say he had a bad game would be an understatement. He was beaten badly on several plays, contributing to the aforementioned offensive ineptitude. Notably, Kline got manhandled by Sheldon Richardson late in the second quarter, and the defensive end was able to bully his way all the way to Brady for a sack. That sack forced the Patriots to settle for taking a knee and heading to halftime trailing by a field goal.

This spot on the list is not so much a knock on Kline as much as it is a reality check. If Connolly, Stork or Wendell suffers any sort of injury that keeps them out of a playoff game, the Patriots are in trouble.

Josh Kline
Josh Kline looks on as Tom Brady gets sacked against the Jets. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Jonas Gray
With LeGarrette Blount out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury, Jonas Gray was presented a golden opportunity to step up and stake his claim to some rightful playing time for next week and into January.

Instead, Gray rushed for five yards on six carries.

It's true that Gray was able to punch in a touchdown run from the 1-yard line, but even that run was too close to call, as Gray dropped his own body to the turf on his way toward the goal line, leading to a hard-to-tell replay review that could have gone either way.

By contrast, Vereen was given the same number of carries (6) but was able to gain nearly eight times as many yards (38).

Gray also got beaten badly in pass protection on one play by Dawan Landry, leading to Brady being rushed and throwing incomplete. Whether it was a lack of ability or effort on that play can only be known by Gray, but whatever it was, it wasn't nearly good enough.

Gray was the darling of everyone in New England after that 201-yard performance in Indianapolis, but his performance since then (80 yards on 20 carries) indicates he'll likely be a spectator come January.


Danny Amendola

Danny Amendola
Danny Amendola. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

No Julian Edelman, no problem.

Well, sort of.

Danny Amendola figured to have an increased workload due to Edelman's absence (concussion), and for the most part, Amendola did a more-than-respectable job.

Amendola finished the game with eight receptions for 63 yards. By comparison, he entered the game with just 15 receptions and 113 yards on the entire season. So to say Amendola stepped up would be quite the understatement.

They were important catches, too. Three of those eight catches moved the chains, and two of those first-down pickups came on third downs. That included the somewhat-controversial and very-confusing third-and-7 late in the game that allowed the Patriots to run out the clock.

Amendola also kick-started the first positive swing of momentum for the Patriots, returning a Jets punt 39 yards on the first play of the second quarter. The Patriots would drive the 36 yards required to score a touchdown and take a 7-0 lead on the ensuing drive.

Amendola may not be capable of being relied upon so heavily every week, but this game could go a long way in springing him into a bigger role for the important games that lay ahead.

"You've got a job to do every week. You have a role on the team. If you're suited up, you've got to do your job whatever it is," Amendola said after the game. "Never doubt yourself. Hell no!"

The Hightower-Wilfork Connection
After an unfortunate tipped interception by Tom Brady, the Jets took over in prime position to take a lead late in the fourth quarter. And after picking up six yards on two carries to get to the New England 24-yard line, it was looking like the Jets would just need a short field goal to take a two-point lead.

But Dont'a Hightower had other ideas.

The linebacker blitzed through the New York line of scrimmage and found himself some room, eventually demolishing Geno Smith and taking him down for a sack. The 10-yard loss turned a 42-yard field goal attempt into a 52-yard field goal attempt.

In part due to the lower trajectory of the longer kick, and in part due to Vince Wilfork's craft move to slip through the A gap, the big man was able to reach up and get his hand on the kick. The result was a wobbly curveball that fell well short of the goalposts, thereby keeping the Patriots' one-point lead intact.

In a scene that looked rather dire, back-to-back plays by Hightower and Wilfork flipped the game right back around in the Patriots' favor.

Vince Wilfork
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots celebrates with defensive end Chandler Jones #95 against the New York Jets during a game at MetLife Stadium on December 21, 2014. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Brandon Bolden
He didn't get a ton of carries, but with a chance to win the game, the Patriots turned to Brandon Bolden. And he didn't let them down.

On the drive that followed the tipped field goal, Brady handed the ball to Bolden four times. He had been given just one carry to that point, just a three-yard run early in the second quarter, but he came through in this final drive.

He picked up 12 yards on three carries, all of which helped to set up a third-and-1 from the New York 25-yard line. If the Patriots could just pick up that yard, they'd be able to run out the clock and secure a win. If they got stuffed, they'd have to attempt a 43-yard field goal and then keep the Jets out of the end zone.

Bolden took a handoff from Brady and, recognizing that the Jets were collapsing inside, decided to turn it outside the right end. He turned on the afterburners and burst up the right sideline, picking up 17 yards and ensuring the Patriots would win the game.

Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady
This duo makes the list as a tandem, because neither turned in the type of performance that they've made regular occurrences over the years. Still, each player turned in one memorable play that factored greatly into the outcome of the game.

Gronkowski's came early in the second quarter, courtesy of a well-placed pass from Brady. Gronkowski used his 7-inch height advantage to go up and grab the football before spinning and tapping his toes just inside the boundary. He then popped up and delivered a typically fierce Gronkowski spike. It was so fierce, in fact, that the closest official threw a flag because he believed that Gronkowski had taunted the opponent. As it turned out, Gronkowski was just going crazy while screaming at his own teammate, so the flag was picked up.

Brady's big play came once again via the quarterback's old man legs. He's taken a liking to getting on the move this season, and when he saw the opportunity on Sunday, he seized it.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, with his Patriots trailing 13-10, Brady had nowhere to go with the ball. So he pump-faked before tucking the ball and taking off for an 11-yard gain. His feet-first slide may have been awkward (and slightly dangerous), but his willingness to run through the middle of the field on a day when his body was getting abused (the Jets recorded 11 QB hits) should not go overlooked.

The Patriots scored a touchdown two plays later, and they'd hang on to that league until the game's final whistle.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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