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Monday, December 22, 2014

Patriots Do Just Enough to Squeak By Jets 17-16, Clinch 1st Round Bye

As usual, today's Patriots-Jets game at MetLife Stadium was ugly. Offense was at a premium and neither team could separate from the other but as is usually the case in this rivalry, New England (12-3 overall, 5-3 away) came out on top 17-16 over New York (3-12 overall, 2-6 home). Vince Wilfork helped to block what would have been the go-ahead field goal by Nick Folk in the fourth quarter and the Pats survived what was surely Rex Ryan's last home game as the Jets head coach.

With no Dan Connolly, New England's shaky offensive line was a mess as Tom Brady (23 of 35 for 182 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) was constantly hurried which resulted in one of his worst games of the season. This is what you expect against Rex, his defense almost always shows up particularly when they play New England. In the right situation (with a good quarterback!), Ryan could be a good NFL head coach. Otherwise, he needs plenty of help since he can't coach offense at all. It doesn't help that New York has one of the worst rosters in the league, largely devoid of talent or any game-breakers.

Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount were also out with injuries so New England really struggled to move the ball (231 total yards) against New York's solid defense. Danny Amendola (8 catches, 63 yards; 5 kick returns, 91 yards; 3 punt returns, 63 yards) finally started to earn some of the money from that ridiculous contract. Brandon LaFell (7 catches, 64 yards) was the only other Patriot offensive player that could move the sticks.

After a scoreless first quarter, that we'll agree to never mention again, the Pats got on the board first with a 3-yard touchdown catch by Rob Gronkowski in the second quarter. The Jets responded with a 20-yard touchdown grab by their tight end-Jeff Cumberland from Geno Smith (17 of 27 for 210 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). With 52 seconds left in the first half, Folk hit a 26-yard field goal to hand New York a 10-7 halftime lead.

New England's defense stood tall again in the red zone as they held Folk to a 23-yard field goal in the third quarter that made it 13-7. The Patriots cut it to 13-10 on Stephen Gostkowski's 24-yard field goal. Jonas Gray put the Patriots back ahead for good with a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Of course New York's last points came on Folk's 37-yard kick.

Jamie Collins (11 tackles, 6 solo, pass deflected) had the interception for New England while rookie cornerback Marcus Williams (not the former UConn point guard) can always tell his grandkids about the time he picked off Tom Brady. Dont'a Hightower and Sealver Siliga each had a sack for the Pats. New York combined for four sacks of Brady.

Depending on how Denver does tomorrow night in Monday Night Football at Cincinnati, the Pats would earn the No. 1 seed if the Broncos lose. If Denver wins, New England probably has to beat Buffalo (8-7) next Sunday (1, CBS) at Gillette Stadium in the regular season finale. The Bills pulled off a classic Buffalo sports moment this afternoon as they lost 26-24 at Oakland, thereby crushing their playoff hopes. For our interests, that means I can basically guarantee that Buffalo will have already mailed it in well before they take the field on Sunday.

UPDATE 12/23: Denver lost on Monday Night Football to Cincinnati which handed New England the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

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