FOXBOROUGH — This is what you can call an ugly win for the Patriots.
The team didn’t get any lucky bounces. Instead, the defense earned the win after momentum halting sack shared by Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham in overtime.
The 29-26 victory over the New York Jets was an anomaly compared to the Patriots’ other three wins, which were marked by mostly one thing: A 100-yard rusher. Stevan Ridley finished with 65 yards on 17 carries. With Shane Vereen’s 49 yards and Danny Woodhead’s 17, the team totaled 131.
Here are some thoughts from Sunday’s game:
1) Mark Sanchez had a good game — Or did the Patriots secondary have another poor outing? With Devin McCourty playing safety for Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson in for the injured Steve Gregory, Alfonzo Dennard starting at corner in place of McCourty, and Ras-I Dowling seeing renewed playing time in sub packages, the secondary was more garbage pail than lunch pail as usual. Sanchez tallied 328 yards on 28 of 41 passing, throwing only one spectacularly ugly ball, a gimme interception for Dennard. But he also had a key drive where he was a cool 9 of 10 passing before hitting Dustin Keller for a 7-yard touchdown. The Patriots gave up six pass plays of 20 yards or more, good for 39 in the NFL. That’s the most in the league. It’s tough to give Sanchez the credit for his seventh career 300-yard game (53 starts) when he was facing one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.
2) Jermaine Cunningham is becoming an every-down player — This is Cunningham’s year. He has the speed and now it appears he has the strength to deal with tackles on a regular basis. His overtime sack with Ninkovich was just a matter of who got to the quarterback first. In this instance, it was Cunningham. He was providing pressure all game and has shown that he’s tough to handle for opposing tackles. He’s certainly come a long way from last season’s healthy nine-game appearance in which he recorded a total of one tackle.
“Jermaine worked hard, he had a good offseason, he was one of our offseason award winners,” said Bill Belichick. “I think that’s indicative of his work ethic. We’ve played him at several different positions this year, both outside and inside, both ends, both tackles. He’s been a versatile guy for us, as well as some plays in the kicking game. He’s been productive for us. We’ve asked him to do a lot of different things and he’s done a good job.”
3) The return of Julian Edelman means nothing — It feels like centuries ago we were engrossed in a conversation about preferring Edelman over Wes Welker. After one half of play, you might have still been worried. Both had been targeted only once for a reception each. But as the game wore on, and its intensity grew, the Patriots reverted to their core group of skill players (Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and Danny Woodhead) for their hurry-up offense. Welker finished the game with six catches for 66 yards. Edelman finished with two grabs for 2 yards. his hand looked good to me.
4) The Patriots run defense continues to be impressive — The secondary may have a confounding rotation of characters, but the front seven is undoubtedly superb. The Patriots held the Jets to 106 rushing yards on 33 plays. It’s a tick upward of the 88 yards per game the team was holding opponents to prior to Sunday, but it’s still pretty good. The defense seems predicated on having Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love swallow up double teams, allowing for Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo to make plays while edge rushers are allowed to get after the quarterback. As simple as it sounds, it works to perfection time and time again. Spikes and Mayo combined for 21 tackles Sunday and rookie Dont’a Hightower added seven more as well as a 10-yard sack.
5) Small bites — Devin McCourty’s 104-yard touchdown was the first TD of his career. It was also the second longest kickoff return touchdown in Patriots’ history behind Ellis Hobbs’ 108-yard return against the Jets in 2007. … Rob Ninkovich’s forced fumble on Mark Sanchez in overtime was his fourth of the season. Only Mike Vrabel (5) had more in one season than Ninkovich. … The Patriots are 6-0 when wearing their throwback red jerseys at home. … When Mark Sanhez kicked the ball through the back of the end zone in the second quarter, it marked the first safety for a Patriots defense since 2006 when Ty Warren sacked Buffalo’s JP Losman. … Wes Welker has recorded a reception in 101 straight games, good for fourth all-time. Ahead of him are Tony Gonzalez, Larry Fitzgerald, and Reggie Wayne. … It was Dennard’s first career start. He nabbed his first interception on a lame throw from Sanchez, too. … The Patriots have tied the Rams for the most consecutive games with at least 350 yards of total offense at 16. The Rams streak ran from 1999 to 2000.