With under eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, quarterback Tom Brady and wideout Brandon LaFell missed on a comeback route. The interception rookie cornerback Marcus Williams made from there could have been the turning point.
The score read 17-16 as the New York Jets took the football back Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the New England Patriots. Yet after a three-and-out, kicker Nick Folk and the Jets’ field-goal unit came on in the aim of taking the lead back from 52 yards out.
Folk had gone 3-of-5 from 50-plus yards on the season to that point, with a 58-yarder versus New England on Oct. 16 standing among the two misses. And another would soon stand along with them.
But this time, Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones wouldn’t be the one to get a hand on it. It would be Vince Wilfork.
It all started and ended at the 5:21 mark, when Wilfork saw something he had seen before.
“I just knew earlier in the game, I think we had a couple opportunities to get a field-goal block,” Wilfork told WEEI’s Dale & Holley on Monday. “And just watching the film, we did. I just felt that earlier in the game when we rushed them, it was a soft A-gap. I was like, you know what, maybe I can get a chance to get a little penetration in the A-gap on one of these field goals and try to force a blocked field goal.”
New England’s special teams dispersed across the line from New York’s to try to force one. The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Wilfork wedged himself in the right B-gap next to fellow defensive linemen Alan Branch, defensive end Chandler Jones and Sealver Siliga, while safety Devin McCourty and linebacker Dont’a Hightower hovered off the left side across from them.
But the void the Patriots left between left guard Willie Colon, long snapper Tanner Purdum and nose tackle-turned-right guard Damon Harrison was a significant one.
“Knowing it was 52 [yards], I knew the kicker had to drive the ball a little bit, so the ball wouldn’t have as much flight underneath it,” Wilfork said. “My main goal was just get penetration and get my hands up, because it would be a low kick he’s attempting from that distance. And it played out just the way I thought it’d play out. I had room in the A-gap, squeezed between the center and the guard.”
Wilfork squeezed in between the 6-foot-3, 270-pound Purdum and the 6-foot-4, 350-pound Harrison. The three Patriots linemen to the left followed him. And the lineman to his right kicked over from the two-technique to the three-technique, while McCourty and Hightower swiveled over behind them.
It was a late shift. And it caught New York’s nine-man front bracing for their blocking assignments as the Jets snapper delivered a spiral to holder Ryan Quigley.
By then, it mismatch had been found. Branch and the other Patriots rushers met engagement on the overloaded side.
Wilfork split the difference next to them.
No. 75 pushed off Harrison and bypassed Perdum, leaning into the lane as Quigley placed the football on the turf.
He would have to jump from there. Just not much.
Folk made contact with football and Wilfork did the same, grazing the end-over-end kick with the fingertips of his right hand.
“I just got my fingertips up and just nicked it,” Wilfork said. “Looking at the film, I was happy to get back there but trust me, with the guys next to me – with Sealver and Alan, Chandler and Chris Jones and the guys off the edge – if they weren’t doing their job it would be tough.”
It wasn’t loud, nor was it visible at first glance. But it was enough.
“I felt it, yeah I felt it,” Wilfork said of the block. “I knew it wasn’t a bunch, but I knew it was just enough. I didn’t even attempt to look and see if he made it, because I knew at that distance I wouldn’t be touching it the amount that I did touch it”
What transpired over 1.2 seconds was enough to shift the trajectory of the kick and the Week 16 game.
The Jets would not get the football back. The team’s second time out was called, then its third as the Patriots’ offense strung together an 11-play drive to expire the clock. And with one final kneel-down, the game was final.
What went into the blocked field goal five minutes prior had more than a hand in that result.