Danny Amendola was the Patriots best weapon against the Jets on Sunday, gaining 214 combined yards in the win. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots special teams again played a big part of a victory when Vince Wilfork got a hand on a 52 yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter as the Pats held on for an ugly 17-16 win in Met Life Stadium in New York.
With the win, the Patriots secured a bye for the Wild Card weekend of the playoffs. Depending upon how Denver does on Monday Night Football in Cincinnati, will decide on whether the home field is sewn up for NE or they must beat the Buffalo Bills on the final weekend.
Twice this season, the Patriots have beaten the Jets on late FG blocks, in October it was Chris Jones, this time it was Wilfork who came up the A-gap against Nick Mangoldâ€™s replacement Dalton Freeman.
The Patriots special teams have been outstanding all season and on Sunday they were again. Wilfork had the block and Danny Amendola had a big punt return to set up the first New England touchdown of the game.
Other observations include:
Offensive Line a Huge Red Flag: Forget all the talk about â€śthis is just what happens when NE plays Rex Ryanâ€ť, the Jets lined up ran stunts, blitzes and overload schemes and the New England offensive line couldnâ€™t matchup.
Opponents in the future (see Buffalo next week) will be lining up to do the same thing and the Patriots can ill-afford another performance like this either in the regular season finale or in the playoffs. Because they wonâ€™t face a secondary as weak as the one they faced today again this season.
The offense finally made some adjustments late in the third quarter and went to an uptempo attack which caught the Jets unable to match up and the team began to move the ball well. But giving up four sacks in the first half is unacceptableâ€¦by any standards.
Where Was Shane Vereen?: In the first meeting against the Jets, Vereen was the Patriots leading receiver and it took advantage of the Jets subunits.Â Very surprisingly, Vereen was only targeted twice and had one catch for 12 yards.
With Julian Edelman out with a concussion, the prevailing thought that was the onus of his production would have to be spread out between Vereen, Amendola and TE Tim Wright.
The decision to ignore Vereen in the passing game, who ignited a moribund Patriots running game has to go down as a head scratcher by the coaching staff. Tim Wright had only one target as well, a 12 yard catch. And the coaches had a few, which weâ€™ll get to in a bit.
Player of the Game â€“ Amendola: No brainer hereâ€¦ With Julian Edelman out, it was a given that Amendola would get a lot more snaps on offense, and he was productive, being the teamâ€™s leading receiver with eight catches for 63 yards making some tough catches in dangerous places on the day.
Amendola gave the team a huge spark with the 39 yard punt return that set up the Patriots first touchdown. He had a big game with 3 punt returns for 63 yards, as well as five kickoffs for 91 yards. A 217 yard total effort game from Amendola.
Thatâ€¦ladies and gents is called stepping up when you need to.
Honorable mention goes to Wilfork with the field goal block.
Curious Coaching Moves: As we mentioned before, the Patriots made adjustments with the offense, but they didnâ€™t make them until there was less than six minutes to go in the third quarter. Very slow adjustments by Josh McDaniels.
Perhaps the bigger head scratcher was the decision to go passive on Geno Smith until the fourth quarter. Even with Nick Mangold out at center, the Patriots waited until the fourth quarter to bring A-gap pressure on Smith. As a result, Smith was very comfortable in the pocket and was able to make plays down the field, finding his secondary receivers.
It seemed that the coaches were too afraid of Smith making plays with his feet and allowed him too much respect, instead of forcing the issue and making him turn the ball over as heâ€™s done for much of the past two seasons.
Once they did bring pressure from the A-gap, Dontâ€™a Hightower sacked Smith on a huge third down play which resulted in a 52 yard field goal attempt instead of another chip shot. Wilfork came up the A-gap (surprise, surprise) and got a hand on the field goal and the team was able to run out the clock.
Weâ€™re On To Buffalo: Despite an ugly performance for the most part, the Patriots were once again able to win and improved on the season to 12-3, another 12 season for Bill Belichick who moved past Curly Lambeau with 230 victories in his career.
The defense again stepped up when they had to, and held the Jets to just six second half points and havenâ€™t allowed a second half touchdown in the past five games. Going back ten weeks, the thought that the team would be 12-3 after starting 2-2 would have been a stretch.
The rush defense was much better this time against the Jets, in the first meeting they gave up 218 yards. This time they gave up 116 and the Jets as a team averaged only 3.6 yards per carry.
So now the team will have to prepare to play a Buffalo team whose defense has been on fire lately and still has an outside shot at the playoffs. Buffalo, like the Jets will be hungry but unlike New York, will actually have something to play for. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.