East Rutherford, N.J. — The Patriots’ defense forced five turnovers on Thursday night, which was key to the team’s 49-19 romping of the Jets at the Meadowlands. Safety Steve Gregory played a big part in the win during his only visit home this season.
Gregory, a Staten Island, N.Y., native, played quite the game at MetLife Stadium on Thursday. You might even say it was the best game he’s ever played in the NFL. Who knows if he’d say that, but it would definitely be a fair assessment.
The 29-year-old defender accounted in some way for four of the Patriots’ five forced turnovers against the Jets, intercepting a pass, forcing a fumble and recovering two more loose balls. The turnovers were a necessary contribution from Gregory, but he was even able to find his way into the end zone — only the second score of his career.
Last week, it was Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard receiving praise for their opportunistic plays in a blowout win over Andrew Luck and the Colts. That performance left the Patriots’ secondary with a definite boost in confidence, and that buoyant attitude was further heightened on Thursday.
“It’s growing every week. We go to work every day in practice to get better,” Gregory said of his unit. “We study a lot of film, and we’re really trying to dial in and get better as a unit. And I think you’re seeing some of the results of that.”
Those results have seen the Patriots’ defense lock down on opposing offenses, forcing quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez — who had a pair of turnovers — into making mistakes and averting some of the big plays that killed New England early this season.
Gregory, who returned from injury just last week, has already had a major impact on the secondary unit, which was obvious in his performance. However, being able to perform so well in front of friends and family made Thursday’s Thanksgiving win even more special for the born and bred New Yorker.
“It was great [to] come home. I grew up not far from here in Staten Island. So, a lot of friends and family were able to come out and see the game,” Gregory said of his homecoming. “It was exciting for me to come play a game in my backyard.”
That excitement may have played a role in Gregory’s extraordinary play against the Jets. But in order for the Pats’ defense to take a true step forward, Gregory and others will have to make such performances the rule and not the exception.