EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After surrendering a Brandon Marshall touchdown catch on the New York Jets’ third offensive possession Sunday, Malcolm Butler had only one thought on his mind when he returned to the field a few minutes later.
“I gave up a touchdown,” the New England Patriots cornerback told himself. “I’ve got to try to do something.”
So he did.
On the second play of the Jets’ next series, Butler ripped the ball out of wide receiver Robby Anderson’s hands and dove on it, giving the Patriots possession at midfield. It was New England’s first takeaway since Butler intercepted a Landry Jones pass way back in Week 7 and one of two Jets turnovers that helped swing momentum in a 22-17 Patriots victory Sunday.
“Never give up, man,” Butler said. “That’s why I’m here today. I never give up.”
Butler’s fumble recovery led to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, and a Chris Long strip-sack with less than two minutes remaining snuffed out the Jets’ final hopes of pulling an upset at MetLife Stadium. Trey Flowers corralled the ball that Long knocked loose from Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hand, sending the Patriots’ offense back onto the field just two plays after Malcolm Mitchell hauled in what proved to be the go-ahead touchdown pass from Tom Brady.
“It felt good,” said Long, who’d recorded only one sack and forced zero fumbles over the Patriots’ first 10 games. “I mean, it’s two-minute. It gives us a good chance to win the game. We knew if we got off the field, we might not have to go back on. And we just stayed at it. Fitzy did a good job of getting the ball out all game, and we just stayed at it.”
Each of the previous six Patriots-Jets meetings entering Sunday had been decided by seven points or fewer, and the latest tilt between the longtime AFC East rivals followed that same model.
The Patriots’ defense struggled for much of the game to contain Jets wideouts Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa, who went off for 176 yards with two touchdowns. New England trailed 10-0 early and was behind for much of the fourth quarter after Enunwa hauled in an acrobatic touchdown catch over Butler with 10:17 remaining. Fitzpatrick was afforded a clean pocket for much of the night.
Fitzpatrick largely remained upright — he entered the aforementioned final drive being hit only once and sacked zero times — but the Patriots’ much-maligned pass rush stepped up when the team needed it most.
“It’s tough, man,” Butler said. “(The Patriots and Jets) know each other. We probably didn’t get along too well long before I got here. But they’re a good team when it comes to playing us, and they’re a good team anyway. Coach said it was going to be a dogfight, and that’s exactly what it was.”
Thumbnail photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images