The New York Jets hit home early in East Rutherford.
As early as 3rd-and-3 on the New England Patriots’ opening offensive series, linebackers Demario Davis and Calvin Pace connected with quarterback Tom Brady for a 13-yard loss on an overload blitz. And nine minutes later, early would become often for New York’s 3-4 defense, as the unit got to the two-time NFL MVP two more times over three plays.
Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and outside linebacker Quinton Coples broke through to sack Brady for a loss of eight on first down. Then it was defensive back Antonio Allen and Davis who got to him again for another eight-yard loss on third down.
New England’s offensive line was looking to avert the trend without starting left guard Dan Connolly, who did not make the trip to MetLife Stadium due to a knee injury, and with Josh Kline starting in his place while swing tackle Marcus Cannon filtered in at left tackle.
Starter Nate Solder kicked over as an eligible tight end in the process, as the Patriots looked to neutralize the rush with six offensive linemen in the game. It persisted.
“It’s a battle,” head coach Bill Belichick said of facing the Jets his postgame press conference. “They got a real good front, they got a lot of good players up there, and they’re well-coached. They got a good front that’s hard to block, so I mean we battled them.”
New England’s offensive line battled with New York’s personnel. Yet the pass protection found itself responsible for three sacks by the end of the first quarter. And another would be added in the second by way of Pace and second-year defensive end Sheldon Richardson.
By halftime, the four sacks had marked the most the Patriots had conceded since Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.
“They challenge you, and certainly they got a good rush,” Brady said in his news conference after the game. “They got some real good guys, some good matchups. They always do every week get a lot of pressure, so it kind of kept us off balance early.”
The Patriots’ offense was off balance collectively through the first two quarters, netting 52 yards of total offense. Movement continued up front as the next two quarters got underway, with fourth-round tackle Cameron Fleming assuming a spot along the interior of it.
“And then we kinda rotated the guard situation in there with Josh and Cam Fleming – left guard for Josh and right guard for Cam – and Wendy [Ryan Wendell] flipped back over to left guard. So we had a couple different combinations in there on the line.”
Over time, the combinations began to work. And with the aid of more three-step drops, so did New England’s offense. Brady was not sacked again on Sunday.
“We figured out a way to settle it down a bit in the second half and we played a little bit better,” Brady said.
Things settled and the Patriots went on to defeat the Jets by a score of 17-16. The offensive line’s performance from beginning to end was fundamental in that outcome, but it was from complete.
“I think they’re giving good protection,” Brady said. “I just think our communication wasn’t great. We had a lot of things where we just weren’t all on the same page. And when you do that, especially against a team that moves a lot of guys in and out of their defensive front – and they blitz linebackers and safeties and they got a lot of guys coming – our communication needs to be on point.”