The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Patriots’ season isn’t fixed, but at least they avoided losing to the Jets

Patriots kicker Nick Folk celebrates his winning field goal against his former team Monday night. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
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The NFL’s latest, maybe greatest dynasty has crumbled, perhaps finally for good. Tom Brady is in Tampa after his free agent exit in March. Some key players opted out of the coronavirus-affected season. Others are sidelined by injuries. A seventh Super Bowl triumph does not seem to be in the immediate future. The run of 11 straight AFC East titles likely will come to an end.

But the New England Patriots, at least, didn’t lose to the New York Jets.

They narrowly avoided having their woes in their trying 2020 season amplified with that indignity. The Patriots came from behind and kept the Jets winless with a 30-27 victory at MetLife Stadium in a “Monday Night Football” installment that was surprisingly captivating, given the circumstances of the two teams.

Kicker Nick Folk’s 51-yard field goal as time expired won it for the Patriots, who ended their losing streak at four games and improved to 3-5 at the halfway point of their season.

“It’s been a long last couple of games and the last month,” quarterback Cam Newton told ESPN afterward. “But yeah, this can kick-start right where we want to be. We just showed resiliency today. I’m just so happy for those guys in that locker room that keep just battling back. It wasn’t pretty. But it was a win.”

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The Patriots trailed 27-17 in the fourth quarter after fill-in quarterback Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes for the Jets. But the Patriots pulled even on a field goal by Folk with a little more than six minutes remaining and a touchdown by Newton on a quarterback sneak with just less than two minutes left.

After a futile possession by the Jets, the Patriots got the ball back at their 22-yard line with 47 seconds to play. They moved into position for Folk’s winning kick with a 20-yard completion from Newton to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, taking their final timeout with three seconds to go.

“We just won,” Newton said. “That’s it. We just won. I’m just happy for that. We’ve been practicing our tails off. Just to see hard work pay off, it’s just a great feeling. I haven’t felt this in a long time.”

The Jets remained the NFL’s only winless team as they dropped to 0-9. They were without quarterback Sam Darnold, who was on the inactive list because of a shoulder injury. They also lost standout left tackle Mekhi Becton, who left the game in the first half with a chest injury.

Yet they nearly pulled it off Monday. Flacco, the former Super Bowl MVP for the Baltimore Ravens, threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Breshad Perriman and another to wideout Jamison Crowder.

“Flacco is still a great deep-ball thrower,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. “He threw the ball right on the money down the field several times.”

Flacco threw for 262 yards on 18-for-25 passing. Perriman had five catches for 101 yards. Kicker Sergio Castillo added a pair of field goals.

“It definitely is disappointing and guys’ emotions are running high,” Flacco said in a postgame video news conference. “To get the ball in the two-minute situation and kind of do nothing with it, that was disappointing. So there’s obviously a lot of emotions right now in the locker room. Guys are fighting really, really hard to go out there and get wins. We want to do it for each other. And we just haven’t been able to do it.”

With the Jets in front, conspiracy theorists spent much of the night postulating that Belichick was thinking big picture and doing what he could to keep the Jets from securing the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL draft to take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But that speculation was put to rest when the Patriots made enough plays in crunch time to keep the Jets winless and thus on course to choose Lawrence.

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Cornerback J.C. Jackson, victimized by the Jets for much of the game, contributed a key fourth-quarter interception of a deep pass by Flacco. That led to Newton’s tying touchdown.

Newton, in addition to his two rushing touchdowns, connected on 27 of 35 passes for 274 yards. Meyers had a dozen catches for 169 yards. Tailback Rex Burkhead had a one-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter. Folk had three field goals in all.

“It was a good win,” Belichick said in a video news conference. “I thought we made the plays we needed to make at the end of the game. There are certainly things we can do better. But we played good complementary football at the end of the game.”

The season began in promising fashion for Newton, the former league MVP for the Carolina Panthers signed to a relatively modest one-year contact in the summer to replace Brady, the six-time Super Bowl winner. The Patriots won two of their first three games and had a competitive near-miss loss at Seattle.

But Newton missed a game and practice time after testing positive for the coronavirus, and things unraveled for the Patriots after that. Newton lost a fumble eight days earlier in a loss at Buffalo, with the Patriots driving toward a potential tying field goal or winning touchdown. There was speculation about Newton being benched in favor of young quarterback Jarrett Stidham.

Belichick spoke publicly about the Patriots’ salary cap approach in recent years leaving them strapped for cap space this season, leading to him being asked as a follow-up whether he’d been making excuses. He said that he wasn’t.

The AFC East race appears to be a two-team duel between the Bills and the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots’ season is far from fixed. But their dignity remained intact Monday and they at least could dream about a turnaround in the season’s second half.

“We’ve just got to keep building,” Newton said. “As a team, we’ve got to play better complementary football offensively, defensively and special teams. We’ve just got to match last week’s intensity in practice and just get things going here moving forward.”