Patriots put to the test in win over Jets

Stevan Ridley of the New England Patriots is pushed to the ground by Antonio Cromartie (top) of the...

Stevan Ridley of the New England Patriots is pushed to the ground by Antonio Cromartie (top) of the New York Jets during their game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday.(Getty Images/AFP)

Bill Lankhof, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:40 AM ET

The New England Patriots aren’t what they used to be — but they’re still good enough to shut up Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.

But the gap — and we’re not talking about the one between Ryan’s lips — is closing. Fast.

The Jets waged a war of words all week. Sunday, the Patriots replied with a little overtime blitzkrieg of their own, to win the on-field battle.

But the fun in this one definitely was in the journey ... not the final score. New England won 29-26.

But it took them overtime to do it.

The end came when Tom Brady marched the Pats 12 plays to set up Stephen Gostkowski for a 48-yard field goal to open the overtime.

With Sanchez getting a chance to tie, the Patriots blitzed. Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich broke through, knocking the ball loose.

Ninkovich fell on it. Game over. But, for the Pats, like much of this season, it was anything but easy.

Sanchez took a bit out of Brady’s book of late-game heroics, leading his team back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter.

Only a last-play field goal by Gostkowski had saved the Patriots from defeat in regulation time.

Nick Folk had given New York a 26-23 lead with a 43 yarder of his own with 1:37 to play — New York’s first lead since their opening drive. But it left just enough time for Brady to set up Gostkowski’s heroics.

The Jets had made numerous mistakes in the first half, but they kept hanging around.

Sanchez, with 328 passing yards, matched Brady, with 259. Devin McCourty ran a kickoff back 104 yards for a Patriots touchdown.

Sanchez struggled at times but was also 9-of-17 on third down, converting several times on key fourth quarter drives that wiped out New England’s lead. These clearly are not the dominant Patriots of yesterlore. They don’t have the same killer instinct — unless it’s for suicide. Their three previous losses were by a combined four points.

And they let the Jets back in this one, too.

The evidence?

Leading 23-20, with a chance to put the Jets away Brandon Lloyd gets called for pass interference.

Brady almost is intercepted.

Second-and-20 they run. Fans boo.

On third down, Brady overthrows a receiver by 10 yards. More boos in a stadium where usually there are only cheers. Folk’s 43-yarder ties the game. McCourty fumbles the kickoff. Another 43-yarder by Folk and the Pats stood on the brink of hearing Rex Ryan crow.

And, they already would have heard plenty of that leading up to the game. The Jets had spent much of the week needling the Patriots, questioning the legality of their hurry-up offence and generally resorting to gamesmanship.

The Jets seem, to their discredit, to sing the blues better than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Calvin Pace told ESPN that the Patriots’ no-huddle is “borderline illegal.” The Jets’ coaching staff indicated Saturday that: “We have already talked to the league office and Rex (Ryan) will be in the ref’s ear about this all game,”

The Jets say the Broncos were burned two weeks ago because the rule wasn’t consistently enforced. “If the officials permit (the Patriots) to do that, then the game is going to become chaos,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told reporters.

He was wrong. After all the shenanigans, all the blather, there was only pure entertainment.

Quick Hits

Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson had a big day with 216 yards on seven catches, including one for 95 yards (that failed to result in a TD) ... La Ron Landry had 12 tackles to lead the Jets’ defence ... Jeremy Kerley had 120 yards receiving ... New Browns CEO Joe Banner hasn’t fired them but he is making team president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert, and/or coach Pat Shurmur in lame-duck territory. He has veto power over any player moves. That circumvents any attempts by management to try to save the season by dealing away the future. And, if there’s anything Browns’ fans know about it’s having no future ... Fans paid $1,000 each to watch Sunday’s game at Manning’s Restaurant in New Orleans with Saints’ suspended head coach Sean Payton. The money will go to a local children’s charity ... Cardinals tight end Rob Housler was born on March 17, 1988 in El Paso, Tex. By some curious coincidence, that very same day, in the same city and the same hospital, Cardinals quarterback John Skelton said hello to the world. Neither knew. They never met until Housler joined the Cardinals as a third-round draft pick in 2011 ... Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown had 10 tackles including a sack and a forced fumble.

ANOTHER POOR D-DAY FOR SAINTS

Some teams have must-win games. The New Orleans Saints have a must-win schedule.

After starting winless in four games, the Saints can’t afford to come away shy on the scoreboard many more weekends. Sunday, the Saints fell behind 21-7 but rallied with four touchdowns to squeeze past Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers, 35-28.

Drew Brees threw for 377 yards, extending his NFL record for consecutive games with at least one TD to 49. He led long scoring drives on four consecutive possessions to turn the 14-point deficit into a 28-21 halftime lead. Lance Moore caught nine passes for 121 yards.

The game featured the return of Jonathan Vilma, who is appealing a season-long suspension for Bountygate.

“Naturally, I’m excited about today,” Vilma told ESPN. “I’ve never had to fight so hard in my life to defend my name, but running out on the field with my team today makes it all worth it.”

How much Vilma’s return helped is debatable. The Saints defence continued to look vulnerable. The Bucs piled up 513 yards, including 415 by Freeman through the air. But the Saints did mount a spirited stand in the final seconds.

With the Bucs in the red zone, Vilma and the Saints forced three incomplete passes. It left them with a win. And hope.


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