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Patriots finally flip script in win over Jets

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  October 21, 2012 09:02 PM

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Unless you're devoid of most context and perspective or, like Jim Nantz, apparently oblivious to the actual outcome, I suppose there's some satisfaction to be found somewhere in the Patriots' 29-26 overtime victory Sunday over the Jets.

Stephen Gostkowski, a fine kicker who replaced an iconic one, drilled two of the biggest kicks of his career. That's big for the future as well as the present. The Patriots are alone in first place in the AFC East. They beat the Jets, which is always enjoyable around here no matter the circumstances. They improved to 7-0 when wearing the classic red jersey and Pat Patriot logo, further evidence that it should be their mandatory uniform every Sunday.

And ... well, that's about it, unless you're some kind of weirdo who counts blowing another fourth-quarter lead by this time avoiding the crushing last-minute defeat as satisfying. Otherwise, those postgame fireworks at Gillette Stadium after Mark Sanchez's fumble in overtime officially permitted the Patriots to escape had all the effect of your hammered uncle running around with a couple of sparklers on the Fourth of July.

This was no cause for celebration. It was cause to look away, exhale, and get the hell out of there, hoping with limited confidence that it will all get better soon.

The plot that has become all too familiar during recent postseasons has repeated a couple of times during the strange first seven games of this season. The Patriots build a lead, seem on the verge of putting their opponent away on multiple occasions, can't quite make that key conversion or stop that would keep the momentum in their favor, let the opponent creep back in, and somehow time it perfectly so that they give up the lead when there's just enough time left on the clock for one abbreviated, ill-fated desperation drive.

It happened last February in Indianapolis, it happened in Week 3 in Baltimore, it happened last weekend in jacked-and-pumped Seattle, and it happened Sunday. Had they actually lost, the Patriots might be considered the worst October closer since Calvin Schiraldi in 1986.

It's as exasperating as it is predictable, though some of us still miss the clues and the harbingers. Silly me, this fool believed that the extremely impressive team -- or offense, at least -- we saw in the second half against the Bills or for the majority of the victory over the Broncos was the one we'd see against the Jets. The Patriots are usually reliable coming off a tough loss, and they're usually ferocious against a division opponent, and they usually find great joy in beating the Jets.

154531329.jpgIt started well enough, with a 16-7 lead at halftime, and I thought the Patriots had it all but locked up when Rob Gronkowski's second touchdown of the day capped a 15-play, 83-yard drive to give the Patriots a 23-13 lead with less than 18 minutes left in the game.

The Jets, down 10 points, on the road, without injured stars Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes and, perhaps more damning, with Mark Sanchez, surely wouldn't have the ability or spirit to fight back the way the Seahawks did a week ago. The Jets put together a 14-play, 92-yard drive, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez to Dustin Keller to cut it to 23-20.

I suppose the Patriots deserve some credit for winning the game even after hitting what sure felt like their season nadir Sunday, which to be precise was the moment when the Jets took a 26-23 lead with 1 minute 37 seconds left on Nick Folk's 43-yard field goal, which came 29 seconds and one inexcusable Devin McCourty fumble after his game-tying 43-yard field goal.

Losing to Pete Carroll this way is annoying enough, but losing that way to the trash-talking, win-nothing Jets would be a whole different level of aggravation.

Yet somehow the Patriots salvaged their Sunday, despite giving up the lead late, despite allowing the inept Sanchez to pass for 328 yards, exactly four times as much as he accumulated against the Colts last week, and despite further chronic ineptitude from their exasperating defensive backfield.

Kyle Arrington is regressing just like everyone who played before him, McCourty is an enigma we're not close to solving, Pat Chung has stagnated and now has his annual injury, Steve Gregory plays like all of his football knowledge was bestowed by Norv Turner, Tavon Wilson and Alfonzo Dennard are learning on the fly, and Ras-I Dowling ... I mean, what's is it with this kid? The "I" might stand for injured, or maybe ineffective, but it's surely not for incompletion.

Seven games into a season that still could be fulfilling, I still don't know what to make of this team. Do you? Does Bill Belichick? Who are they now, and who will they be in two months? They should be better than this and they aren't, and that applies not just to Matt Patricia's defense, but even to the talent-rich offense.

Brady is consistently off-target on deep throws, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gets too cute too often, especially with a lead. You wonder whether Brady rolls his eyes when he sees a flea-flicker in the game plan and thinks to himself, C'mon, Josh, can't I just throw it to Rob or Aaron or Wes or Brandon, you know, when one of them inevitably gets open? With the talent they have on offense, there's no need to turn to trickery. If efficiency and discipline are prioritized over style, the fireworks will come naturally.

Come to think of it, that serves as a reminder of one last plus from this game: Gronkowski, who has been banged up but who also seems to be taken for granted at times, had six catches for 78 yards, including two touchdowns. He had nine targets, the most he's had since the Buffalo game Sept. 30. He was not an afterthought or a decoy or a third offensive tackle. He was involved to the level he should be.

Gronkowski is essential, one of the game's great weapons, and if his own team needs a reminder of how much he matters, how much he can help control momentum single-handedly, maybe they should do this: take a moment and ponder what he could accomplish if he got to play against the Patriots' defense.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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