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Not easy, but Pats still undefeated

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Even for undefeated defending Super Bowl champions, it’s rarely easy in the NFL. That was once again the case Sunday when the New England Patriots retained first place in the AFC East with a 30-23 win over the scrappy New York Jets.

The win left the Patriots at 6-0 and the Jets at 4-2.

A week after trailing at halftime in Indianapolis and needing to recover an onside kick to hold on to beat the Colts, New England trailed in the fourth quarter and had to hold on to win against this division rival.

Coach Bill Belichick’s Pats have won eight of the last nine meetings with New York, but the last five were each decided by seven points or fewer. It wasn’t New England’s best or most well executed win, but it got the job done leading into a short turnaround as the Patriots will host the surging, new-look Miami Dolphins (3-3) Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

“Typical hard-fought game against New York, and it’s always good to come out on top,” Belichick said. “We’ve got a long way to go here. Short turnaround, we’ll have to get ready in a hurry now for Miami, but it’s good to get a win. The players did a good job fighting through this week after a couple tough road games. They laid it out there when they had to and I’m proud of the way they played.”

New England stuck with the aerial game against New York, forging any attempt to run the ball behind a banged-up offensive line against a stout Jets front. Tom Brady completed 34 of his 54 passes for 355 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, an impressive showing despite double-digit drops by his receivers.

Defensively the Patriots shut down a seemingly gimpy Jets running back Chris Ivory — 41 yards on 17 attempts — and made a handful of key plays in the passing game, although New York quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 295 yards and a pair of scores in his first game without an interception this season.

“It definitely wasn’t our best performance — a lot of things that we left out on the field, just didn’t do well enough, but in the end we were able to make the plays we needed to make when we needed to make them, and that was critical in all three phases of the game,” Belichick said. “Some of the good things — not turning the ball over — that was certainly a positive. We were able to make some stops defensively at the right time and that was good.”

More accurately, it was good enough to get a tight win over a familiar division foe with eyes on an upset under first-year coach Todd Bowles.

“I just think there’s got to be different ways to win every week, and I think that our team has always tried to figure out ways to attack the teams,” Brady said of his 21st career regular-season win over the Jets, a team that came in with the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense.

“We were installing plays this morning at the 11 o’clock meeting (Sunday morning). So you just keep trying to churn your way through the week to figure out if you can make a bunch of plays, and we made some plays when we needed to in the fourth quarter. Like I said, it wasn’t exactly like we drew them up, but it was good that we made it happen when we needed to.”

And there is no time to either relive the good plays or lament the bad ones. Thursday night is coming whether the Patriots, or Dolphins, are ready or not.

REPORT CARD VS.s. JETS

–PASSING OFENSE: B minus. Quarterback Tom Brady had 355 passing yards, with a pair of scores and no interceptions. On paper it looked like a usual day from the Brady-led attack. But receivers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain as drops were a key part of why New England found itself in a tight battle with New York. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell, returning from PUP, struggled mightily with at least five drops. Wide receiver Julian Edelman dropped a would-be touchdown. Wide receiver Danny Amendola was key, making difficult catches, including an 8-yard touchdown reception to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Tight end Rob Gronkowski also got the job done, hauling in 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. A banged-up and undermanned offensive line gave Brady the time he needed for the most part, allowing just three sacks in 57 dropbacks.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D. It wasn’t that the Patriots didn’t run well — although they didn’t — but that they had such little confidence in the ground game that the team never even tried. Running backs LeGarrette Blount and James White combined for five carries for 1 yard, including three for minus-3 by Blount. Brady was actually the team’s leading rusher for the first time in his career, notching 15 yards on his four attempts, including an 11-yard scramble and a 1-yard touchdown sneak.

–PASS DEFENSE: C. New York quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had the ball and a chance to win the game in the final seconds in Foxborough. The veteran journeyman also completed 22 of his 39 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 97.7 passer rating, his first game of the year without an interception. Those numbers are thanks to a Patriots pass defense that was chasing New York receivers all day and never really forced Fitzpatrick into mistakes. He was sacked just twice and the lowlight of his day was having four passes batted down by defensive end Rob Ninkovich.

–RUN DEFENSE: A. New York running back Chris Ivory entered Sunday’s game with New England leading the NFL in yards rushing per game. The Patriots defense had been allowing 4.8 yards per carry on the season. But linebacker Dont’a Hightower, returning from a rib injury, and the New England front held Ivory, who seemed to be dealing with a leg injury from the first snap, very much in check. Ivory ran 17 times for just 41 yards, a 2.4-yard average per carry. Ivory had a long run of just 7 yards. Backup Zach Stacy was not much better, totaling just 19 yards on his seven carries. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Hightower combined for 22 tackles, including 10 solo stops for Hightower.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Although Jamie Collins allowed an onside kick through his legs for a Brandon Marshall recovery in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had the better of the special-teams matchups. Stephen Gostkowski remained perfect on the year with another three field goals from 38, 46 and 24 yards. He also put all seven of his kickoffs in the end zone, with five touchbacks. Punter Ryan Allen notched a 42.7 net average on his three chances, with all three downed inside the 20.

–COACHING: B. As in Bill. As in Belichick. His team expected a tough fight on both sides of the ball from coach Todd Bowles’ Jets and that’s exactly what New England got. The Pats didn’t have the horses up front or in the backfield to run on New York, so it didn’t. The plan worked as Tom Brady churned out 355 yards passing and probably would have had more were it not for double-digit drops by his receivers. Brady spread the Jets out and found matchups he liked often enough and got rid of the ball quickly to avoid taking too many hits. Defensively the Patriots went with more heavy fronts to shut down the run, which is the good news. The bad is that a lot of matchup pass coverage struggled to slow New York or get off the field on third down.


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