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Spooky Season (Patriots at Jets; 10.30.22)

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

 

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY — Though they were not officially in costume, members of the New England Patriots defense came into Sunday’s pivotal game with the plan of making sure the latest young New York Jets quarterback saw ghosts. Or, as Patriots defensive lineman Matthew Judon put it, the team had to put the “boogie oggie oggie” on the quarterback.

After a first half in which it did not deliver as many frightening moments as it would have wanted, the Patriots turned the final 30 minutes for New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson into an endless scamper inside a haunted house.

New England rebounded from a disappointing loss last Monday against Chicago, recording three interceptions, two sacks, and a slew of quarterback pressures on its way to a 22-17 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon, the Patriots’ 13th consecutive victory over Gang Green. Another mobile second-year quarterback, the Bears’ Justin Fields, had one of his best performances of his career in using his dual-threat ability to help Chicago pull off one of the surprise results of the season last Monday night in Foxboro. That did not happen again to the Patriots six days later, and the end result is the Patriots moving back to the .500 mark at 4-4 and Bill Belichick earning NFL coaching win No. 325, passing George Halas for second all-time on the coaching wins list in NFL history.

All it took for the defensive unit to get things back on track was to find its inner demon.

We’ve found an identify, but we can’t keep letting that monster creep in. We have good games and then we have some bad games,” said Judon, whose persistent pass rush in the second half helped force one of Wilson’s three interceptions. “So, today was a good game and that’s the defense we want to put out there.”

That monster that ended up creeping into the Patriots defense allowed Wilson to look like Joe Willie Namath in the first part of the game; Wilson’s perfect deep ball on a 54-yard gain to Garrett Wilson on the first drive of the game set up a field goal before Wilson went a perfect 4-for-4 on a touchdown drive, ending with a touchdown strike to tight end Ty Conklin and a 10-3 Jets lead early in the second quarter.

Things seemed to get worse for the Patriots right before halftime after Mac Jones threw a red zone interception to Michael Carter II that was returned for a touchdown. The play was negated by a roughing the passer penalty, allowing the Patriots to kick a field goal — and start a run of 19 consecutive points — right before the half.

That was also at the point where apparitions seemed to circle Wilson, who threw two interceptions in the second half, both to Devin McCourty and both on plays where Wilson, who was flushed out of the pocket and under heavy duress, should have just thrown the ball away to live for another down. Instead, like the time former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold made his infamous comment that he felt like he was seeing ghosts during a Patriots’ win over New York on Monday Night Football in 2019, Wilson ran frantically away from New England’s pass rush and played right into the hands of the Patriots secondary.

“[Our defensive effort] was great,” said McCourty, who now is the active leader in career interceptions with 33 after his two interceptions this afternoon. “I think we talked all week about the ability of Zach Wilson to escape the rush, not get sacked, but also the ability of him trying to make a play that we have to do a good job in the secondary, of plastering, staying on our receivers, and just trying to take advantage of an opportunity when the ball is in the air.”

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