Finally, some closure.
Questions were asked all week about the Patriots' late-game resolve after giving up yet another fourth-quarter lead against the Seahawks, marking the sixth time they have lost a game after leading in the second half since last season.
With the game hanging in the balance and time running out in the fourth quarter, the end of the game was a scene we have become all too familiar with this season.
It appeared things were going exactly according to the script when Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty fumbled a kickoff inside Patriots territory, giving the Jets the ball in scoring range with the score 23-23 and 2:01 to go.
Then, something happened. Actually, three somethings happened.
First, the defense got a stop when it needed one most of all, holding the Jets to a field goal. Then, the offense marched down the field and picked up a field goal to tie the game.
In overtime, the Patriots offense was forced to settle for a field goal. Once again, the defense was asked to make a stop. Once again, the defense delivered, with defensive end Rob Ninkovich getting a key tackle behind the line of scrimmage followed by a sack fumble of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
"It was do or die," said Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker to NFL Network after the game. "We had to make some plays down the stretch, and we were able to make them and come away with a win."
Tom Brady didn't completely absolve himself of his late-game struggles. With two quick drives resulting in punts, it looked like the offense had come up small in a big moment once again. But with the game within seven points in the fourth quarter and overtime, Brady went an efficient 9-of-15 for 95 yards, putting the Patriots in position for a field goal on consecutive drives.
For it to even get to that point, though, it took a lot of fourth-quarter mistakes . On the 14-play, 92-yard touchdown drive, the Patriots allowed the Jets to convert three third downs, all on Mark Sanchez passes.
"There's a lot of things we need to work on," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game (via Patriots 5th Quarter).
One of these things is not having to rely on opposing wide receivers to provide drive-killing drops in the final minutes. Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill did that very thing, forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal when they may have had an opportunity for a touchdown.
Along with the close finish, it was a typical Patriots game in 2012.
Did the Patriots answer the questions about their late-game play?
The Patriots made yet another lackluster pass attack look well above-average. The defense gave up six pass plays of 20 or more yards and has now given up a league-leading 39 such pass plays this season. Sanchez completed 68.3 percent of his passes and averaged eight yards per attempt—his season averages are 49.7 percent completions and 6.4 YPA.
But the Patriots overcame all of that—and their own miscues in the fourth quarter—to prove that while they may not win all the close ones, they are still fully capable of making the plays they need to in the most crucial moments.
Will their best efforts be enough in the future? Only time will tell. If they can build off their late-game performance today, though, they will be tough to beat.