East Rutherford N.J. -- With the score tied at 10 at halftime, Pats fans had a simple question: where was the offense. Many fans wanted the Pats to throw the ball more to Rob Gronkowski who had his first touchdown since the opening game against Houston and finished with three catches for 56 yards. The Pats, though, had a simple answer. Run the ball and give it to their first round pick Sony Michel. Returning back to the basics gave the Pats an important 27-13 win over the rival New York Jets. The Pats ran 35 times and threw 31 times.
The only thing that stopped Michel in the second half was a back injury that kept him off the field for a series. Michel, who had 11 carries for 46 yards, in the first half ran for 87 yards in the second half. Michel, who has missed three games this year, returned to action in the Pats loss to the Titans before their bye week. He had only 10 carries for 34 yards in an awful loss and didn't look like himself.
Many thought the Pats should not take a running back in the first round because of what happened to Laurence Maroney more than 10 years ago who lasted only four seasons in New England and was considered a huge disappointment. The Pats, though, saw a toughness in Michel and recognized that he was likely the best player available late in the first round.
"It all starts up front. If you can run the ball - you can setup play action. If you run the ball well then you don't end up in third and nine where the defense can t off at you," said C David Andrews who reminded eager reporters that run blocking is always more fun than pass block. "Sony is a great player and when he is out there you feel like you have a chance to make big plays."
With Tom Brady at quarterback, the passing game can be sufficient to win. The Jets, however, were effective against Gronkowski so Bill Belichick does what he does best - find an opponents weakness and exploit it. On the Pats opening drive of the third quarter, Michel had 48 yards rushing including a 31-yard run to open the half.
Michel's influence was obvious at the end of the drive. After he was injured on the drive at the Jets 11, Cordarrelle Patterson ran for a first down on fourth and one. However, the Pats went away from the run game and threw three straight incompletions. They were forced to settle for a field goal and led 13-10. On the ensuing possession, the Jets tied the score at 13.
Michel missed the next series and the Pats went on a four play 75-yard touchdown drive with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and James White each having a big play. Belichick said that the play action passes to Edelman and Hogan were each set up by the running game.
"It was a big drive. It was a big answer," Bill Belichick said. "The play action passes fed off the run,"
Added Brady who said he felt better Sunday after missing practice Friday with an illness. "They're so dependable and consistent. They're just great players. When we needed them to make those plays, it was a throw to Chris (Hogan), hand off to James (White), hand off and then throw to Jules (Julian Edelman). Jules made a great catch and run. When they're in there and they're involved, good things happen for our offense. Hopefully, we just can keep it going."
The defense forced a Jets punt and the Pats needed a game clinching drive. Enter Sony Michel a.k.a the closer. On the first play of the drive, Michel had a 33-yard run. After a big third and 10 completion to Josh Gordon for 17 yards, the Pats went back to Michel who had another five-yard run and a one yard run for a touchdown. Michel's right knee was down at the half yard line after the play was originally called a touchdown. Michel ran again for a touchdown. This time there was no doubt that Michel scored and the Pats led 27-13 to close out the scoring.
Michel noted that the coaches challenged the offense to be more consistent in the running game. Michel, a true Patriots player, gave credit to his offensive line.
"They should be up here," said Michel at the podium after the game.
The Pats are 8-3. Some fans might lament the lack of a pass rush or want more big plays. The Pats, though, entered MetLife Stadium needing a division win and they earned it.
It wasn't always pretty, particularly in the first half.
Good teams like the Pats find new ways to win and respond to adversity. The Pats did both on Sunday.
On to Minnesota next week at Gillette Stadium.