Just how difficult is it to stop TE Rob Gronkowski?
"When he's covered, he's open," head coach Rex Ryan said of the Patriots' 6'6", 260-pound tight end who made his season debut during our 30-27 overtime thriller today.
That being said, the Jets decided to go ahead and try their best to cover him anyway, and Ryan and coordinator Dennis Thurman decided on second-year S Antonio Allen as the man for the job.
"He's a guy that's a long body," Rex said of his own 6'1", 210-pound safety. "He has playmaking skills. I know he was a Sam linebacker at South Carolina. But he's a baller. The guy's a football player.
"We thought about [5'8" Isaiah] Trufant," Rex joked, "but we were like, 'Oh, maybe not.' We had to go with some length on him and that's really why we made the move."
Allen was up for the task, though he conceded it was his most difficult assignment of the year.
"You've just got to be physical with him at the line of scrimmage," Allen said, "just play with your feet, make sure your eyes are in the right spot and just play. He's a big physical guy. I knew he'd be getting a lot of balls so I knew I'd have an opportunity to make a couple big plays."
The precise number on "a lot" turned out to be 17 targets, more than twice the amount of the next-highest New England receiver.
"A couple of big plays" turned out to be a pair of first-half pass defenses along with what ended up being perhaps the biggest play of the game, a 23-yard pick-six of QB Tom Brady not even one minute into the second half.
"It's always in my mindset to come out with a big play," said Allen, who added he was "sort of, kind of" baiting Brady on the play. "Every game I'm trying to get a pick somewhere, but coming out of halftime, we just knew we needed to do something to shift the momentum. I came out and made a play and it was pretty big for us."
It was more than pretty big.
"It was huge," QB Geno Smith said, "to put points on the board, to cut the deficit to four. The defense came out that second half and played a phenomenal game. My hat goes off to them because they really sparked us."
Gronkowski finished with eight receptions and topped the century mark with 114 yards, but Allen and the defense made the stops in the crucial moments as the Pats ended the game 1-for-12 on third-down conversions.
For just the second time in the last 55 weeks, QB Tom Brady was held without a touchdown pass, and for only the third time in the last eight years, a defender returned one of his rare interceptions for six points.
"I guess I'm feeling pretty good about how I played at the end of the day," the 25-year-old safety said.
And so is the rest of the team.
"Double-A, man, I'm proud of him," LB Calvin Pace said. "He's young, he's finally getting his shot and he's making the most of it."
"He's a physical specimen," CB Antonio Cromartie said of Gronkowski. "He's a guy who can go out over the top and catch the ball. He knows how to use his body to try to catch the balls underneath. But Antonio did a heck of a job just playing him the way we needed to play him."
Of course, Brady almost pulled a Brady.
Starting from his own 8-yard line down three with 2:10 left in regulation and all three timeouts remaining, the future Hall of Fame quarterback marched his team down the field into Jets territory, setting up 1st-and-10 from the 26 with just over 30 seconds remaining.
Gronkowski sneaked past Allen on a seam route up the middle toward the goalpost. Brady's throw hit him in the right hand, but it was overthrown just a bit as he couldn't bring his surgically repaired left arm around quickly enough to reel it in, and MetLife Stadium exhaled in a temporary sigh of relief.
"I'm mad at myself," Gronkowski said of what would have been a spectacular stick-to-the-mitt, one-handed grab. "I had it, I brought it in, then I dropped it."
Allen's status as one of the game's many heroes was preserved, the Pats had to settle for a field goal, and the rest is history.