The Jets defense did something in the team's 22-17 loss to the Patriots Sunday that very few units in the NFL have done this season — slow down New England's offense.
The 22 points surrendered was the Patriots' lowest output since QB Tom Brady's return from suspension in Week 5. In Weeks 5-11, New England was on a tear, averaging 32 points and 414 yards per game. Brady also finished with a season-low 89.2 passer rating compared to his average of 123.3. He dealt with a lot of pressure early and often, especially from DL Leonard Williams.
"He gets the ball out fast. Even though I was in his face a lot, he still gets the ball out," Williams said. "Overall, our goal was just to get him off of his spot. He's more of a pocket passer, so once we get him moving a little bit, he's not as good a passer. There were a few times I got some pressures on him and he tried to get rid of the ball and it was incomplete."
DL Sheldon Richardson helped set the tone early as he knocked Brady down on the first two plays of the game, both resulting in incompletions. In the first half, the Jets held the Patriots to 152 total yards, the second-fewest Brady and his unit have registered in the opening 30 minutes.
The Jets and Pats went into intermission locked in 10-10 dogfight that featured three lead changes. New England ended up with 377 total yards, its third fewest since Brady's return. One of the primary reasons for the Green & White's defensive success: they were effective in situational football on third down and in the red zone.
The Jets held Brady and company to seasons lows of 29% on third down (4 of 14) and 40% inside the red zone (2 of 5). To put things into perspective, entering Week 12, the Patriots had converted touchdowns in the red area at a rate of 70.4% with Brady under center and also had converted at least 50% of third-down plays in five of their last six games. The Jets defense has been heating up lately inside the 20 with their backs against the wall. Since Week 9, the unit leads the league in red zone defense, holding opponents to a 25% (3-12) conversion rate.
However, the Patriots scored when it mattered most. Down one point with 5:04 remaining in the game, Brady led the visitors on a nine play, 83-yard touchdown drive capped off by a Malcom Mitchell touchdown in the back of the end zone. That score gave New England a 22-17 lead that they would not relinquish.
"Zero coverage. We have to protect the inside," CB Darrelle Revis recalled of the touchdown play. "There was no middle safety on the field. We protected inside and they ran out-routes — great execution by those guys, seeing what coverage we were in. They basically executed better than we did on that play."
Despite the defense's strong performance to slow down perhaps the top offense in the league, the players lamented about a game that was close to having a different ending.
"We just have to learn how to finish," CB Buster Skrine said, who tallied three total tackles. "As a team, we have to finish. Every game we played this year it has come down to the wire, and we've been letting them go. As soon as we learn how to finish, we'll be dangerous. But for now, we're not finishing and that's why we're 3-8."
"Toe-to-toe isn't good enough for us," S Marcus Gilchrist said. "We want to come out victorious. We didn't do the things that we needed to do to come out with a win. Regardless of toe-to-toe, it means nothing without a win."