In the snow globe that was Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon, a defensive tug-of-war appeared to be a certainty in the regular-season finale for the Jets and the Patriots. And that's exactly the game the Green & White played in their 17-3 victory.
"We knew they weren't going to pass the ball as much [30 attempts]," said captain C.J. Mosley, who had 7 total tackles in the game and increased his season total to a team-leading 151. "We knew the run game was going to be really important for us to stop. Especially with the snow coming down we knew they were going to run it more and we felt like we really dominated that part. And at the end of the day we had a lot of fun. It was great."
From New England's first drive of the game, when DL Solomon Thomas tipped a Bailey Zappe pass not once, but twice on the line of scrimmage, to the game's waning moments when Tony Adams snatched an interception, the Jets' defense was ferocious and fierce in limiting the Patriots to 119 total yards while allowing them to convert only once in 14 tries on third down.
"It was a really good effort from the team today," HC Robert Saleh said in his typically understated fashion.
And the defense was really, really, good in every aspect.
The Jets (7-10), in winning for the third time in the past five games, got 2 of their 7 sacks of Zappe in the first quarter leading to Greg Zuerlein's 21-yard field goal. Early in the second quarter, second-year safety Adams notched one of the Jets' 10 passes defensed when he pried the ball out of the hands of Patriots (4-13) TE Mike Gesicki in the end zone before NE tied the score with a field goal. It was Adams' fourth PD of the season and set the tone for the rest of the defensive backfield -- from Pro Bowler Sauce Gardner to reserve Ashytn Davis and veteran D.J. Reed.
Adams also had a late interception (the Jets' second of the game), falling to the turf to protect the ball with the score 9-3- that squelched any hope the Patriots still had. On the next play, Breece Hall scampered 50 yards around left end for a 17-3 lead after he also scored the 2-point conversion with under a minute left in the game.
Asked about the tenor in the locker room after the game, second-year CB Sauce Gardner said: "It feels great. A true blessing. It's the little things that matter. That's a part of history if you ask me, the 15-game losing streak on our end, that's another blessing. I wouldn't want to do it with any other guys, any other coaches."
Before Sunday's victory, the Jets had been saddled with that losing streak to HC Bill Belichick and the Patriots dating to 2015. The last five of those losses have come under Saleh, whose teams now have a 4-14 record against AFC East opponents.
Gardner added: "I told NFL Network that I'd be lying if we didn't talk about that [the streak] in the locker room. Should be some more history, something to talk about down the line. This was my first game in the snow, that's what makes it even more iconic."
Though the weather clearly had an impact on both offenses through the wind and the snow, the Jets' defensive line was relentless in pressuring Zappe (10 QB hits) and taking him to the snow-covered turf (another 10 times). While Jets running back Hall amassed 178 rushing yards, the Green & White held the Pats' ground game to 88 yards.
"Just finishing strong, finishing strong for my team, finishing strong for the organization," said Quinnen Williams, who finished the season with 5.5 sacks. "I know it isn't like we wanted to, but we wanted to come out here and finish strong for the fanbase, the organization, myself and the team. And beat the Patriots. I'd never beaten them in my career."
Overall, the Jets' 7 sacks added up to 57 yards. Bryce Huff was credited with 2 sacks for 13 yards to increase his team best to 10 this season, Quinnen Williams, who was named to back-to-back Pro Bowls, bulled his way to two (16 yards) more. Jermaine Johnson, rookie Will McDonald (16 yards) and Jalyn Holmes each had a sack.
"That was a team win," Mosley said. "It was fun out there, the elements, the weather. I loved it, just watching the snow fall." He added: "Just the opportunity for our team, organization and city. What a great win."
See the best game action photos during the 2023 season finale in New England.