EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you take away the controversial penalty on Chris Jones on Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime, there was still so many reasons to be troubled by what occurred in the Patriots' 30-27 loss to the New York Jets.
The penalty certainly gave the Jets new life, a second, easier field goal attempt after they were awarded 15 yards. But the Patriots put themselves in that situation before then. Let's try to keep that in consideration as we look back at the game.
1. The penalty -- It was the first time it was ever called. Let that sink in. The new penalty, just installed in 2013, calls for defensive players to withhold from pushing their teammates from behind into the offensive formation on field goal and extra point attempts. It was something that was clearly articulated to each team before the season. At that time of its announcement, Chris Jones was with the Houston Texans. So when he said he didn't know, or at least was unaware of the rule, maybe it says more about the Texans than it does about the Patriots, who are well known for their preparation in all phases of the game. However, the 23-year old was gracious in taking responsibility for the error. He just didn't know at the time. It's safe to say this is the worst way to learn that lesson.
2. Gronk strong -- It was a fantastic effort for the big tight end in his first game back. He caught eight passes for 114 yards. It would be too easy to zero in on the catches he didn't make (like the one-handed grab in the fourth quarter), but that would be an injustice to what he was able to accomplish after more than nine months away. He was a weapon that needed containing. What's more concerning is that he was probably too heavily relied upon. He was targeted 17 times. Only Julian Edelman, who had been targeted 18 times in the Patriots' first meeting with the Jets, has seen more balls thrown his way in a game. The Patriots' passing attack is at its best when the ball is spread around. It was most glaring on third down, where the Patriots were 1 of 12 on conversions. Edelman caught five passes, Aaron Dobson caught three, and Kenbrell Thompkins caught two. While you don't want to go and put limits on how many targets any one player should have, some consideration should be put to how much the team's winning formula (5-1 without Gronkowski) changes with just one player added to the mix.
3. The third quarter issue -- The Patriots were outscored 20-6 Sunday once the third quarter began. In this order, they were intercepted, punted three times in a row, settled for a field goal, punted again, and were able to get one last field goal with 16 seconds left in regulation. After winning the coin toss in overtime, they had four plays going for 16 yards (on the first play) before having to punt again, setting up the Jets' game-winning drive. Meanwhile, the Jets were able to get two touchdowns and a field goal in the third quarter, thanks to Antonio Allen's 23-yard interception return for a touchdown and Geno Smith's eight-yard scramble to the end zone. This is part of a larger issue. The Patriots have scored nine points in the third quarter this season. Clearly second-half adjustments are an issue.
4. What does it mean to lose so many starters on defense? -- Maybe it didn't jump out at you, but the Patriots defense gave up 177 yards rushing, 29 of which came in overtime. That's the most they've allowed all season. They gave up 11 first downs rushing, another season high. Jets running back Chris Ivory finished with 104 yards on 34 carries. Again, first 100-yard rusher against this team. And then you look at the passing defense and you may be thrown off by Logan Ryan's 79-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was a great play by the rookie. But by almost every other way you measure it, the Patriots defense struggled against the Geno Smith led Jets. Smith was a modest 17 of 33 for 233 yards and a touchdown. But he was able to get loose on occasion, scrambling for 32 yards including a touchdown. He made Jeremy Kerley (8 receptions, 97 yards, 1 TD) look fantastic and the just recently signed David Nelson (4 receptions, 80 yards) like a steal. With the cumulative loss of Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Aqib Talib, it was no wonder the Patriots couldn't match up well in certain spots. But from Week 2 to Week 7, the difference was glaring.
5. What are the positives? -- Besides leaving MetLife Stadium relatively healthy, the Patriots should be enthused about the play of their defensive line. Chandler Jones had two sacks and Chris Jones (of newfound infamy) also had two sacks. They're both playing at an extremely high level despite notable penalties. They combined for 21 total tackles and five tackles for a loss. And in addition to Gronkowski, Matthew Slater returned from a wrist injury after missing the past four games. He recorded a tackle on special teams.
6. Leftovers -- Brady is really struggling throwing the deep ball. He had Dobson down the sideline for a deep pass with 1:16 to go that would have surely been a touchdown. He missed Austin Collie on a throw out he back of the end zone. Targeting plays down the sideline has been a consistent issue for him this season. It's a concerning trend. … Gronkowski now has more 100-yard receiving games than any other tight end in Patriots history. After Sunday's game he has 10, one more than Ben Coates. … The last time a Patriots rookie took their first interception to the house was in 2005. James Sanders went 39 yards for his first career interception. … Stevan Ridley now owns the team lead in rushing average, qualifying after recording more than 450 attempts in his career. He has a 4.45 yards per carry average, better than Corey Dillon (4.22), Craig James (4.22), Kevin Faulk (4.17), and Laurence Maroney (4.17).