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Seven Defensive Plays That Won The Game For Patriots

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- We should institute a new game show in New England where Patriots fans have to sit in front of a live studio audience as a host (Wayne Brady?) reads their early-game tweets aloud to an audience of millions watching at home.

The spectacle would be can't-miss programming.

On Sunday, for example, when the Patriots' defense looked truly as bad as can be, the commentary in sports bars, in living rooms and on the internet was scalding hot, and nobody was safe. Pink slips were in order for Matt Patricia, Tom Brady was washed up, and it was time to start wondering if a head coaching change might be in order. Things were that bad.

(In defense of everyone making these claims, the Patriots' defense really did look that bad. They truly, truly did.)

But there was a distinct turnaround. After Jeremy Kerley waltzed into the end zone less than three minutes into the second quarter to give the Jets a 14-0 lead, the home team did not score for the next 38-plus minutes. It wasn't until just 3:40 remained in the fourth quarter that the Jets were able to change their number on the scoreboard.

Yes -- yes -- that's in part because a touchdown was taken off the board on a controversial replay review. But the Patriots also made a play to force that overturn.

It was interesting how in just a couple of hours on Sunday, the Patriots' defense was able to stablize and completely change the narrative coming out of this game.

Offense gets all the glory, because touchdowns are fun. But defense deserves its day, too -- even after a game like this one.

Here were the seven plays -- ranked in 100 percent indisputable order -- that led to the Patriots' win.

7. Late third quarter, fourth-and-1: Devin McCourty picks off Josh McCown

Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty celebrates his interception with Duron Harmon. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

It was an interception, technically speaking. But it lands on this list because first and foremost it was a fourth-down stop.

And it was made thanks to Malcolm Butler, blitzing off the left side of the defense and slipping right past Brandon Shell to get to Josh McCown. Butler wrapped up McCown, who slipped free but had a flying Dont'a Hightower immediately coming at his face. McCown hurried a throw to an open Eric Tomlinson, and it sailed just wide. McCourty made the pick and forced the turnover. The Patriots kept the 21-14 lead which they held at the time, and they would use the ensuing offensive drive to extend that lead to 10 points.

6. Early second quarter, third-and-3: Devin McCourty tackles Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty tackles Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Screen shot from

This was the play when everything turned around. Defensive captain Devin McCourty -- who led the way with 11 solo tackles in Week 5 vs. Tampa when the Patriots' defense needed a leader -- took it upon himself to force the Jets to punt just two minutes after New York had taken that 14-0 lead.

Just after officials picked up a flag following high contact from McCourty on Robby Anderson, McCourty perfectly read the quick pass to Seferian-Jenkins. McCourty burst to the line of scrimmage with the big tight end in his sights and made the stop for no gain.

The Jets punted, and the Patriots scored on the ensuing drive en route to 24 straight points. It was a case, again, of leaders leading.

5. Late fourth quarter, third-and-6: Patrick Chung tackles Matt Forte

Patrick Chung
Patrick Chung tackles Matt Forte. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Jets trailed by 10 and were driving deep into Patriots' territory. On third-and-6 from the 7-yard line, McCown ran backward to avoid the rush of a blitzing Duron Harmon and then Deatrich Wise. He threw off his back foot across his body to an open Matt Forte.

Patrick Chung was the only Patriot in position to stop Forte from picking up a first down. He absolutely had to make this tackle. And he did. Chung wrapped up Forte five yards shy of the line of scrimmage and hauled him down for a loss of three.

The Jets had to settle for a field goal, which in turn forced them to need a touchdown on their final drive. Huge, underrated play from Chung, who's as sure a tackler as they come.

4. Late fourth quarter, second-and-10: Dont'a Hightower sacks Josh McCown

Dont'a Hightower
Dont'a Hightower sacks Josh McCown (Screen shot from

With the Jets trying to drive for a tying touchdown in the final two minutes of the game, Dont'a Hightower flat-out decided he was going to sack the quarterback.

Hightower rushed right at the chest of right tackle Brandon Shell, pushing him all the way back into McCown. Hightower shed his man and dropped McCown for a loss of seven yards. Most importantly, the sack forced the Jets to burn their final timeout.

3. Late fourth quarter, third-and-10: Kyle Van Noy sacks Josh McCown

Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy sacks Josh McCown (Screen shot from

The Jets actually converted a fourth-and-12 and were threatening to score that tying touchdown on the final drive of regulation. But Kyle Van Noy ensured that wouldn't happen.

Van Noy ran a simple stunt with Hightower and ended up getting a free lane to the backfield. He tracked down McCown from behind and actually forced the quarterback to lose a handle on the football. (It wasn't ruled a fumble, for any rules aficionados who are questioning the goal line fumble.) Not only did it cost the Jets six yards, but it forced them to scramble to the line and hurry a fourth-and-16. Unsurprisingly, they were unable to pull off a conversion under such circumstances.

2. Mid-fourth quarter, second-and-goal: Malcolm Butler and Duron Harmon force fumble from Seferian-Jenkins

Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Austin Seferian-Jenkins loses control of the ball before crossing the plane of the goal line against the Patriots. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Again, the rulebook and the application of the rules came under question on this one. But the effort of Harmon and Butler to force the fumble with just inches to spare before the runner crossed the goal line should not go unnoticed.

And I say it was both Butler and Harmon, because it really was. Butler alone didn't provide enough force to jar the ball loose, but Harmon continued pulling at the tight end's arm while riding him toward the goal line.

Bill Belichick was asked if that particular type of play is practiced: "Absolutely. Absolutely. Yup."

Plays like that are no coincidence.

1. Late second quarter, second-and-12: Malcolm Butler picks off Josh McCown

Malcolm Butler
Malcolm Butler intercepts Josh McCown (Screen shot from

After Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard field goal with just over a minute left before halftime, it appeared as though the Patriots had lost their chance to score prior to the break.

But Malcolm Butler changed the story. He had Robby Anderson covered step-for-step up the right sideline, and when it came time for the receiver to stop his route and come back to the ball, Butler beat him to it.

Butler made the pick at the Patriots' 36-yard line, and four players later, Tom Brady connected with Brandin Cooks on a 44-yard pass that set up a Rob Gronkowski touchdown. It was a tremendous swing in the game, all started with the Butler interception.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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