By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) -- For the fourth time in six contests this season, the Patriots won a game by one possession in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated.
That being said, this was no doubt the closest one yet, as the Jets held a four-point lead at Gillette Stadium through the midway point of the fourth quarter before Tom Brady and the Patriots pulled away. The Jets successfully kicked a late field goal and recovered an onside kick, but their hopes fizzled out in the final seconds, thanks to poor clock management and a penalty.
By the end of Sunday's affair, the Patriots were 6-0, comfortably atop the AFC East. As Bill Belichick said after the game, it certainly wasn't the Patriots' best performance, so here's a look at the Ups and the Downs from the 30-23 win.
On a day when the Patriots had a severe case of drops-itis (more on that later), Danny Amendola was without a doubt the Patriots' most reliable option.
Amendola gained 86 yards on eight receptions, none bigger than his leaping grab at the goal line halfway through the fourth quarter to give the Patriots a 23-20 lead with just seven minutes to play. It came on a third-and-6 at the Jets' 8-yard line, and it gave the Patriots a lead they'd hold on to until the final whistle.
On a day when making simple catches proved difficult for Patriots receivers, Amendola managed to come down with this one.
Amendola also had 83 kick return yards on three attempts as well as an 11-yard punt return to set up the Patriots on their final scoring drive.
It was a complete game from Amendola, and it's not a stretch in the least to say they would not have won this game without him.
Likewise, the Patriots might not have won the game if not for Dont'a Hightower's return from injury. The Patriots might have really never had the ball if not for Hightower, who was instrumental in limiting the Jets' run game with Chris Ivory.
After missing last week's game due to a rib injury, Hightower returned to lead the team with 10 solo tackles. Five of his tackles came on Ivory, who gained just 10 yards on those five rushes. And on two instances, Hightower manhandled the 222-pound running back, tossing him to the ground with relative ease.
He also recovered a fumble forced by Chandler Jones on the Jets' second play from scrimmage, leading to a quick three points for the home team.
The picture for Tom Brady's protectors was not pretty heading into Sunday's game. Nate Solder was already on IR, and Marcus Cannon (toe) and Shaq Mason (knee) were inactive due to injuries. That left Sebastian Vollmer playing out of position at left tackle, rookies Tre' Jackson and David Andrews working with Josh Kline on the interior, and the right tackle spot being occupied by Cameron Fleming, who was signed off the practice squad last weekend.
And the final result? Not bad.
Granted, it wasn't perfect, but considering they were facing a somewhat ferocious front seven from the Jets, the offensive line deserves credit for making it work.
Brady did take three sacks on the day, and there was absolutely no running game to speak of. But the latter fact looked to be more by design than by ineptitude on the line.
Rob Gronkowski, who set a career high with 11 receptions and who scored the game-sealing touchdown late in the fourth quarter, deserves recognition for helping out as an extra pass blocker on a number of plays, too.
It's a bit trite to put the quarterback on this list, but it'd be improper to leave him off.
Brady missed on a number of throws and watched as his receivers dropped more than a half-dozen passes. Yet unlike in years past, he never lost his cool on the sideline or berated any teammates. He just kept working.
And by the end, he had a 355-yard day, throwing two touchdowns and zero interceptions. That brings his season numbers to 68.8 percent passing for 2,054 yards, 16 touchdowns and one interception.
When the Patriots' offense took over with a three-point lead and 5:32 left in the game, Brady went 7-for-9 for 65 yards and a touchdown. He was, as usual, ice.
He also -- remarkably -- led the team in rushing with 15 yards and a touchdown.
Brady was asked to do more than usual on Sunday. He was up to the task.
Honorable Mention: Justin Coleman
It may not go down in Patriots lore, but the play made by the cornerback after the Patriots took the fourth-quarter lead went a long way toward securing the victory. The Jets faced a third-and-7 near midfield with 5:44 left in the game and the Patriots leading by three. The Jets' previous two drives went for 151 yards over a combined 11:15. The New York offense was having little trouble moving the football.
Yet Coleman stayed stride-for-stride with Devin Smith up the left sideline as Ryan Fitzpatrick launched a deep ball, hoping for either a game-breaking reception or at least a pass interference penalty. Coleman made sure that neither happened, forcing the Jets to punt.
The Patriots would take over and drive the length of the field to ice the victory, and it was made possible by some solid coverage by Coleman.
The second-year cornerback remains feisty and competitive, but he struggled mightily in coverage, mainly against Eric Decker.
Decker caught six passes for 94 yards and also drew an 18-yard pass interference penalty on Butler.
For his part, Butler seemed unshaken after the game, saying that receivers are going to catch passes, and that he thought he played well.
He may not be on the money with that assessment, but that's the mentality needed at that position. And fortunately for him, he only has to wait a few more days to get another chance in game action.
The receiver was a reliable option for Tom Brady last year but missed the first six weeks of the season this year on the PUP list. He had sent out numerous tweets since the summer which noted that this weekend was circled on his calendar.
Yet this probably wasn't the return that LaFell pictured in his mind, as he dropped six passes.
He made no excuses after the game.
"If I had to give myself a grade," LaFell said, "it would be an 'F.'"
LaFell did manage to make an incredible catch while getting simultaneously walloped by Calvin Pryor late in the second quarter to set up a field goal, so his day wasn't a total loss. But seeing him drop pass after pass (after pass after pass) was difficult to watch.
By all measures, Julian Edelman had a tremendous day. He caught five passes for 54 yards, and he returned two punts for a total of 27 yards. Not bad.
Yet, Edelman contributed to the Great Drop Problem Of 2015 himself, and he lands on this list for the high standard which he set for himself.
The drop came on the Patriots' opening drive of the second half. Edelman burned Darrelle Revis with an inside move and was running along the goal line when Brady put a pass right into the receiver's chest. He dropped it. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal when they should have had six.
Had the drop not come one week after a bobble in Indy led to a pick-six, Edelman might not have been on the list. But it did, and so he is.
It's worth noting that Edelman made up for the miscue in a big way on the Patriots' final drive, coming up with a 27-yard reception up the seam on a third-and-17. Chances are, he'll be just fine. But that was a tough drop.
Bill Belichick (Briefly)
Almost every single week, we see the Patriots' sideline coach circles around the opponent. But some mismanagement at the end of the first half was notably peculiar from Bill Belichick.
After stopping Ryan Fitzpatrick for a short gain on a second down, Belichick opted to not take a timeout with the Jets facing a third-and-3 from their own 26-yard line and 1:14 left on the clock. The Patriots held a 13-10 lead at the time, and the worst-case scenario for calling a timeout would have been the Jets marching down the field in less than a minute. But the Jets' offense isn't really built for quick strikes, so the risk was minimal.
Nevertheless, the clock ticked down, and Jamie Collins sacked Fitzpatrick for a 12-yard loss on third down. The Patriots did call a timeout at that point, but just 24 seconds remains in the half.
After an Edelman punt return, the Patriots took over at their own 46-yard line with just 12 seconds left. LaFell did drop a pass near Stephen Gostkowski's field-goal range, and the Patriots allowed a sack on the final play of the half when the Jets rushed just three. A prayer of a field-goal attempt from the strong-legged Gostkowski might have made more sense there, too.
In all, it was an odd sequence from a team that usually functions like a well-oiled machine in such situations. It didn't come back to haunt them, but it certainly made the struggle more difficult in the second half.
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