The New England Patriots league leading offense has been entrusted with marching down the field to win games late in the fourth quarter. They’ve been given this task because the Patriots defense has repeatedly been unable to stop opposing offenses from doing the same thing. On Sunday the defense finally was able to come through when asked to win a game.
The Patriots defensive struggles have mainly lied upon their secondary. The team’s defensive backs have been criticized routinely for giving up big plays late in games. There’s no better example than last week when Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hit wide receiver Sidney Rice for a 46-yard touchdown leading to a comeback win over the Patriots.
The Patriots’ young defense has become known for their inability to stop opposing offenses when the game’s on the line. And despite nearly losing the game Sunday, they finally stepped up in overtime to seal a win, but it looked as though that wouldn’t happen.
The Patriots went into the fourth quarter with a ten point lead over the New York Jets. After starting from their own 4-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Jets marched 96 yards on 14 plays which culminated with a 7-yard pass to tight end Dustin Keller for a touchdown.
After the Patriots were forced to punt on their next possession, the Jets were on the march again driving from their own 35-yard line to the Patriots 25-yard line. The only thing keeping the Jets from a go-ahead touchdown was a dropped pass by wide receiver Stephen Hill. After settling for a field goal, the Patriots defense did something they’ve been unable to do all season. They stopped an opposing offense with a game on the line.
After Nick Folk’s 43-yard field goal to tie the game, Devin McCourty fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Antonio Allen recovered for the Jets at the Patriots 18-yard line. This drive included a 2-yard run, a 1-yard run, and a 10-yard loss from a Dont’a Hightower sack. The Patriots defense was able to hold the Jets to another 43-yard field goal giving the Patriots offense a chance to drive down the field and tie the game with a kick of their own.
After the Patriots offense put together a solid drive leading to a 48-yard field goal to give them the lead to start overtime, the defense had one more stop to make. A defensive holding on rookie Alfonzo Dennard gave the Jets a first down on what would’ve been a fourth and five, but then, following a 17-yard completion, defensive end Rob Ninkovich recovered a fumble while sacking Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez securing the win and completing the defense’s second straight stop under pressure.
While the Patriots offense has underperformed this season during fourth quarters, the team’s defense has been a liability. There has been no evidence that the defense could be trusted to make a stand when it was needed most. On Sunday, after again showing no signs of doing so, the once shaky defense made two stops when they were counted on. That may give the young group the confidence they need to begin to repeat Sunday’s feat regularly.