The long, anticipated return of Rob Gronkowski trumps all other stories surrounding this matchup between the New England Patriots and New York Jets. It was the second meeting between division rivals this year, the first going the way of the Patriots.
The first half looked like it would follow in that same vein, with the Pats coming out and rolling to a decent lead by halftime. But then the teams came out of halftime and the Patriots looked flat and out of sync, while the Jets seemed to make the adjustments to claw their way back and eventually take the lead.
With the time running down, the game would come down to, you guessed it, a Tom Brady last—minute comeback attempt.
Here's what we can take from yet another tough game:
1. Despite the outcome, two teams showed tough defense, not only against the run, but also in the passing game. Neither team really ran away with the ball on the ground, except for the Jets' new weapon, Chris Ivory, who broke out in the second half to go over 100 yards. There was tight coverage in the secondary resulting in pick sixes for both squads and many pass breakups.
2. Brady is still not on the same page with all of his receivers. It is hard to tell if it is more Brady or the rookies, but we have never seen so many misfires from this offense.
3. Rob Gronkowski is back and the rust is definitely gone. He missed on some catches, but just as often they would have been circus catches, as much as he dropped a couple of makeable grabs. But he was the leading receiver today; yes, defenses must now plan for the beastliest tight end in the game when they face the Patriots. The Patriots have their tight end game back in a big way.
4. Geno Smith is getting more comfortable in the pocket, buying time when the pressure comes at him. He still misses on a few of his throws, but can make all the throws necessary on the field, and he has the ability to run for the first down when all other options are gone. He went blow—for—blow with Brady, taking him to overtime to steal the win. Smith is clearly the future of this Jets franchise and they need to do whatever it takes to protect him.
5. With the game on the line, the referees took matters into their own hands, calling an obscure penalty in overtime to give the advantage and the ball back to the Jets. I have seen too many games decided by calls like that... it leaves a really bad taste in my mouth, and yet, Rex Ryan will say that his team outplayed the Patriots for the victory. We won't hear the end of it for a very long time.
I don't want to be accused of sour grapes, but to get a second shot at a missed field goal and NOT for a clear offside or personal foul is ridiculous. Overtime should be decided by the players on the field and not the refs. I know I'm not the only one to see that; even the commentators were baffled.
Still, the Jets were able to trade blows with the Patriots until the bitter end. And the win brings the AFC East race just a little bit closer. New York builds a little momentum heading toward the halfway mark of the season while taking over second place behind the Patriots, and the Patriots have to figure out how to play for 60 minutes to avoid surrendering a good lead (11 points) like they did today.
Meanwhile, the Jets will have to keep this toughness going against the Bengals and Saints, and the Patriots will regroup for another division foe in the Dolphins. It's still too early to tell which direction these teams are trending, but new England clearly will not run away with this division crown in 2013.