A Patriots defense that entered Sunday ranked last in statistical categories like passing yards, first downs and yards per play – and tied for next-to-last in points allowed – ceded its sixth consecutive 300-yard passer, conversions on 9 of 17 third downs and failed to generate much of a pass rush until late, when New England knew the Jets would be throwing to catch up. Three of the Jets’ seven longest plays came on their opening drive, and in the fourth quarter they capitalized on breakdowns to torch New England for gains of 44 and 32 yards.
Even as they kept winning last season, the Patriots endured defensive problems — though not to the extent they’ve seen so far this year. On Sunday, they left open Austin Seferian-Jenkins on his first-quarter score, and Malcolm Butler, one of New England’s more reliable cornerbacks, misjudged a pass to Jeremy Kerley that resulted in the Jets’ second touchdown.
“We might bend, but we don’t break,” Butler said.
It was Butler who jumped in front of Robby Anderson to intercept McCown in New England territory late in the first half, preventing the Jets from adding to their 14-7 lead. When the Jets next had possession of the ball, after Rob Gronkowski touchdown catches from Brady on either side of halftime, the Jets trailed by 21-14.
It was also Butler who dislodged the ball from Seferian-Jenkins on what was initially adjudged a 4-yard touchdown reception. Dragged down by Butler and Duron Harmon, Seferian-Jenkins bobbled the ball and then appeared to reclaim possession as he crossed the goal line. The down judge, Patrick Turner, signaled touchdown, though the league office in New York was already reviewing the play.
What happened next befuddled the Jets, who never saw a replay that matched the account from referee Tony Corrente.
By rule, Corrente told a pool reporter, Seferian-Jenkins needed to maintain clean possession when he hit the ground in the end zone. Since Seferian-Jenkins started juggling the ball again out of bounds, Corrente said, that created a touchback, giving New England the ball at its 20.
“I don’t think it does anything for me to come up here and blast the official, blast the rule or anything like that — the rule is a rule,” Seferian-Jenkins said.
He still felt like he had scored, and so did many of his teammates.
“I’m pretty sure everybody’s going to look back and say that was a B.S. call,” receiver Jermaine Kearse said.
Even some of the Patriots seemed to agree.
“I didn’t know which way it was going to go,” New England safety Devin McCourty said.
In the end, it went the Patriots’ way, as most things do when they play the Jets. New England has won 11 of the teams’ last 13 meetings, and when they reunite on Dec. 31 in the regular- season finale, it is quite possible that the Patriots will be gearing up to defend their championship as the Jets prepare for a busy off-season.
But for now, after lamenting a chance to vanquish their overlords and slide into first place, the Jets focused on the moment, which meant frustration and exasperation as they processed an opportunity lost.
“We’re not trying to close the gap,” Jets Coach Todd Bowles said. “We’re trying to win.”
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