FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The NFL went 10 weeks and hundreds of kicks without a player returning a punt for a touchdown. Marcus Jones made the first of the season one to remember.
The New England rookie returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown with 5 seconds remaining and the Patriots outlasted the stunned New York Jets 10-3 on Sunday.
Jones' score was the lone TD of the game and broke a stalemate on a day when both offenses struggled to move the ball.
With only 26 seconds showing on the clock when the Jets lined up to kick, Jones thought Braden Mann might punt it out of bounds. Once he got it in his hands and made a few players miss, everything changed.
“Then I seen the punter and I was like, ‘If I make him miss, I should be able to go the distance.’"
He was right.
Jones’ TD was the second-latest game-winning score on a punt return in regulation since 1970, behind only DeSean Jackson's 65-yarder for Philadelphia with no time remaining against the Giants in 2010.
It was the third straight win for the Patriots (6-4) and their 14th straight over New York. They also denied the Jets (6-4) a chance to move into first place in the AFC East this late in the season for the first time since 2010. Instead, New York dropped to last place.
“I’m in disbelief,” Jets cornerback D.J. Reed said. “It’s a tough loss.”
The Jets haven’t won in Foxborough since the 2010 playoffs when they knocked out the Patriots in the divisional round.
The Patriots moved the ball well at times, with Mac Jones completing 23 of 27 passes for 246 yards. But they were only 4 of 15 on third down and had only one field goal — with Nick Folk missing two attempts — despite getting inside the Jets 30 three times.
New York sacked Jones six times, but managed only 103 yards on offense and six first downs. Zach Wilson was just 9 of 22 for 77 yards, and Mann punted 10 times. In the second half, the Jets had just 2 yards on seven possessions.
Jets coach Robert Saleh said he thought their defense was “outstanding." He likened the offense's second-half effort to dog feces. But he said it wasn't just on the second-year quarterback.
"We couldn’t run the ball. either, so there’s a lot of things that we got to look at to see if we can find some efficiency in the offense,” Saleh said. “It just wasn't good enough."
Back-to-back plays involving New York wide receiver Denzel Mims and New England cornerback Jonathan Jones kept the Jets alive late in the fourth.
First, Jones dived in front of Mims and dropped a near interception. Then, Jones was called for defensive holding on Mims, negating what would have been a sack by Mack Wilson.
But New York couldn’t move the ball with their new set of downs and were forced to punt.
“Complete domination. That’s kind of what what we wanted to do," Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, Jr. said. "We wanted to stop the run and affect the pass. And I thought we did that.”
This was the first game in at least the last 40 seasons in which the first TD scored was a defensive or special teams TD in the final minute of the game.
Patriots linebacker Matt Judon combined with Mack Wilson for a sack early in the third quarter and dropped Zach Wilson for a 9-yard sack on the first play of the fourth quarter to set a career high of 13 1/2 this season.
Only one player in Patriots franchise history has had more sacks in a season: Hall of Famer Andre Tippett, who had 18 1/2 in 1984 and 16 1/2 in 1985.
Field goals by both teams provided all the scoring until the winning punt return.
The Patriots drove to the Jets 6 before settling for a 24-yarder by Folk.
Zach Wilson completed a 34-yard pass to Mims to set the Jets up on the Patriots 25. It stalled there, leading to a 45-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.
The Patriots had a chance to add points late in the second quarter when they drove to the Jets 7. But a holding penalty on Yodny Cajuste, followed by a sack on Mac Jones pushed the ball back to the 26. The series ended with Folk’s miss from 44.
Jets: LB Quincy Williams limped off with an ankle injury in the first quarter after combing on a tackle. He returned in the second quarter. ... CB Michael Carter II left with a chest injury in the fourth quarter, but returned late. ... CB Brandin Echols was able to walk off on his own power after being shaken up on a play in the fourth.
Patriots: C David Andrews left late in the first quarter with a thigh injury and didn’t return. He was replaced by James Ferentz. ... LT Isaiah Wynn also left in the first and was ruled out with a foot injury. He was replaced by Trent Brown.
Jets: Host the Chicago Bears next Sunday.
Patriots: At the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving.
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