FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ offense was stymied when it mattered most in Sunday’s 29-26 win over the New York Jets, with only 14 plays in the fourth quarter before scrambling for a possible go-ahead drive with less than two minutes remaining.
The Jets ate up the clock, taking 6:58 on 14 plays while driving 92 yards. They chewed up another 2:13 of clock on six plays, and picked up a total of 10 points on two drives on a 7-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Keller and 43-yard field goal by Nick Folk. The game was tied with 2:11 left, 23-23.
Then the Patriots faced what should be deemed the worst-case scenario: Devin McCourty fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Jets the ball with 2:01 left at the Patriots’ 18-yard line.
The sequence of events had disaster written all over it.
“I just knew in my heart we had seven right there, I really did,” said Jets linebacker Calvin Pace. “But it just didn’t happen for us. That would have been it right there. It just wasn’t meant to be I guess. As tough as it is, give them credit, they stood strong and they found a way to get the win.”
The Patriots defense came alive after that play, keying on the need to support their fellow teammate after such a dispiriting play.
“If one guy goes down, all of us go down,” Patriots defensive lineman Kyle Love said. “We always want to encourage guys don’t worry about [a bad play], on to the next play.”
The Patriots held the Jets to a three-and-out, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower sacking Jets QB Mark Sanchez for a 10-yard loss. Nick Folk kicked his second field goal of the quarter and fourth of the game to give the Jets a 26-23 lead with 1:42 remaining.
McCourty, who had returned a kickoff for a 104-yard touchdown earlier in the game, returned the next kickoff for 19 yards.
But the offense sputtered. The Patriots were unable to convert on a deep pass to Brandon Lloyd with 22 second left and settled for a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. In the extra period, with the ball in their hands to start, the Patriots failed to convert on third downs twice, needing the help of a pass interference call to keep the chains moving before an incompletion set up Stephen Gostkowski’s eventual game-winning 48-yard field goal.
The defense came alive again.
Rob Ninkovich managed to get in the backfield and tackle Joe McKnight for a 2-yard loss and Vince Wilfork stuffed McKnight on a run up the gut. On second-and-10 from the Jets’ 40-yard line, Sanchez dropped back and was hit by Jermaine Cunningham and Ninkovich, causing a fumble that Ninkovich recovered to end the game. It was short of miraculous how quickly the defense had bailed out the McCourty and the offense.
“My teammates saved my life today,” McCourty said. “A bad mistake in the fourth quarter, I just have to do a better job on holding the ball. This was just a total team win. We just kept fighting. Things didn’t go our way the whole game. Today, we made enough plays when we needed to for the win.”