The Jets and their fans were fired up to beat their rivals and continue their stretch-run playoff push. New England was hobbled with two starting wideouts, two starting safeties and a starting G inactive.
Sound easy? It's never easy for the Jets against the Patriots. But after taking a 17-3 lead and then seeing the defending champs tie the score at 20-all with 1:55 left in regulation, the Jets roared back for a 26-20 overtime victory on Ryan Fitzpatrick's 6-yard fade pass to Eric Decker on the first possession of OT after the Patriots won the toss and chose to kick off.
"It was thrilling. Those are moments you cherish," Decker said of his gamewinner on only his third catch of the game. "The game was big to us to keep us in the playoff hunt. The way we all finished — I love this team."
Photos from Sunday's AFC East Matchup Against New England
Seconds after that catch over CB Malcolm Butler, the Ravens' 20-17 home win over the Steelers was in the books and the Jets, at 10-5 and with their fifth straight victory, returned their playoff destiny to their own hands.
"That's all you can ask for," said head coach Todd Bowles, who's presided over the Jets' first five-game win streak and first 10-win season since 2010. "Three of the last four weeks, we've been fighting and winning these types of games, so it helps out to win one against a quality team at our place."
Here are 11 observations about this heartpumping, satisfying Jets win over the now 11-3 Patriots:
1. Gronk Watch
The Jets defense kept the New England offense under wraps for a while, but you knew Tom Brady would find Rob Gronkowski sooner or later, and he did with Gronk, split wide and covered by CB Antonio Cromartie, making a juggling 30-yard catch that kept the Pats moving to Stephen Gostkowski's tying 35-yard field goal with 8:46 left in the first half. Gronkowski rose up a few times more, especially late in the game.
2. Fitz Long
OC Chan Gailey and Fitzpatrick tried several times to get a big downfield chunk of yardage with a longball against the Patriots' banged-up secondary. Each time the throw was just a little too long. But the effect may have been worth it as Chris Ivory (knee), Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley combined for 93 first-half rush yards and the Jets held the first-half yardage edge, 193-113.
3. Brandon Watch, Part I
Brandon Marshall caught a 5-yard pass early to break the Jets' franchise mark of 93 receptions in a season by Al Toon in 1988. But the big first half Fitz-to-Brandon play was a little 2-yarder off of Marshall motion to the left pylon. Since it came at the Patriots 2-yard line, that meant touchdown and a 10-3 lead with 1:57 to play in the first half — the Jets' largest lead at home over New England since 2001.
4. Un-Pats-Like First-Half Finish
The Patriots got the ball back with 1:57 left in the half, and they were set up (after deferring on the opening coin toss) to try to score on the last drive of the first half and the opening drive of the second, one of their specialties. But Bill Belichick opted not to try to move the ball after Keshawn Martin's kickoff return got to only the Pats 16. They ran out the clock and the Jets took their biggest halftime lead over the Patriots since the 2010 AFC Divisional Round game (14-3 lead en route to the 28-21 victory).
5. Revis Pickpockets an Old Friend
Darrelle Revis got the game's first turnover against his former New England teammate, Brady, when TB was trying to find Gronkowski deep in Jets territory. It was Revis' fifth interception of the season and his team-leading eighth takeaway.
"It was a great call by Coach [Bowles]," Revis said. "The line was able to get a lot of pressure on Brady. We wanted to get pressure on him and force him to make a decision he didn't want to make." And that decision and pick led to ...
6. Brandon Watch, Part II
Think Nos. 14 and 15 were done after three short first-half completions? Not likely. After Revis' pick, Fitzpatrick guided the Green & White to the NE-33, from where Fitz lofted a pass on the post to Marshall, who outjumped S Duron Harmon in the end zone for a 17-3 lead, tied for the Jets' largest lead over the Pats at home since the 1998 regular-season finale.
"He played big," Bowles said of Marshall, who broke the NFL record with his sixth 100-catch season after his seventh catch. "He stepped up big in a big game."
Marshall, after spreading praise around to Decker and his teammates, had to admit, "It feels good to have 100 catches."
7. Fitz's Big Giveaway
Fitzpatrick had been protected well all game, but his only sack was a costly one as DE Jabaal Sheard hit his arm before he started his passing motion and LB Jamie Collins scooped it up and took it 14 yards for the Pats' first TD of the game. It was the first defensive fumble return TD by a Green & White opponent since Karl Klug turned the trick for Tennessee in '13, and it cut the hosts' lead to a more precarious 17-13.
8. Bullock's Big Kick
In need of more of a cushion, the Jets moved into Patriots territory before stalling and calling on Randy Bullock to hit his longest field goal as a Jet, from 49 yards out. Bullock did that, dropping the ball over the crossbar in the East end zone for a 20-13 lead.
9. Hang On Tight
The Jets and their fans were on their feet as the final 10 minutes of regulation wore down. "Let's Go Jets" broke out after the Pats crossed midfield with just under 8 minutes to play. Big pressures forced Brady into some off-line throws, including by Sheldon Richardson that went incomplete to drop the Patriots to 1-for-8 (en route to 1-for-10) on third down and forced a punt with 7½ minutes to play.
10. Fourth-Down Frustration
The Patriots roared back, as we knew they would. They faced fourth down twice on their last long drive of the game, with Brady converting 4th-and-1 on an 8-yard toss to Gronkowski and 4th-and-9 on a 26-yarder to Gronk to the Jets 9. Then Brady found RB James White breaking free off of contact for an unmolested TD pass and Gostkowski's extra point tied it up. An exchange of point-less drives produced overtime, with the Patriots calling heads, winning the toss ... and choosing, as they did on the opening toss, to kick.
11. The Sweet Roar of Victory
Fitzpatrick (26-for-41 for 296 yards) and the O was slowed somewhat at times during the second half, but he came out firing in the extra session, hitting WR Quincy Enunwa on a career-long 48-yarder, then Marshall for 20 yards to the Pats 6. One more play was all it took and Fitz was not high on this one, lobbing the fade to Decker on the right side of the East end zone for the game-winner.