EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Patriots gave the Jets the ball, and New York might carry it right into the playoffs.
Eric Decker’s 6-yard touchdown catch on the first drive of overtime – after New England stunningly chose to kick off – lifted the Jets to a 26-20 victory Sunday that put New York in position to make the playoffs.
A win next week at Buffalo gives the Jets a wild-card berth.
“It was thrilling,” Decker said. “Those are the moments that you cherish.”
New England (12-3) won the OT coin toss and elected to kick to the Jets (10-5). Patriots coach Bill Belichick (BeliKICK?) said there was “no confusion” on the call; he’d done it once before in 2013, but a hefty wind was involved against Denver. That decision worked, this one flopped.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater called heads and won the toss. He told referee Clete Blakeman the Patriots wanted to kick in a specific direction. But once he said they wanted to kick, whatever followed didn’t matter, according to NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino.
“I just thought we would be able to choose the direction we kicked off from,” Slater said.
It was the third time since the 2012 rule change a team chose to kick off for OT. The other times, New England and Minnesota, were winners.
New York used a career-long 48-yard reception by Quincy Enunwa and a 20-yard pass to Brandon Marshall to move into scoring position. And then, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Decker on a fade behind Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler for New York’s fifth straight victory.
“The last five weeks, they’ve all kind of been do-or-die games for us, so that’s how we’ve approached each one,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got to get the next one to get in and that’s how we’ll view it. This is a fun run.”
Marshall had two touchdown catches and also became the first NFL player with 100 receptions in six seasons. Fitzpatrick tied a franchise record with 29 TD throws this season.
Neither has been to the playoffs in a combined 21 pro seasons.
“It feels real good,” Marshall said. “I’m so proud of my teammates. … I’ve never been more proud to be on a ballclub like this.”
Tom Brady hit James White for a 9-yard score with 1:55 to go, forcing OT. That was the only drive on which Brady got comfortable against an aggressive defense that pressured and hit him all game.
It was also the most impact Rob Gronkowski had for the undermanned Patriots, who were missing top wideouts Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The tight end had an 8-yard reception on fourth-and-1, then a 26-yarder to set up the touchdown.
“I think we have some mental toughness,” Brady said. “A lot of guys have been in and out of the lineup. We have a lot of guys coming in off the street trying to play.”
New England was surprisingly conservative on offense in the first quarter, then went the other way in the second period. Brady threw deep for the first time, connecting with Gronkowski, early in the quarter. The next play was a flea flicker that failed, followed by a reverse to Brandon LaFell for 9 yards and a run out of the wildcat by running back Brandon Bolden – with Brady spread wide right.
Some normalcy returned on fourth down with Brady’s pass to James White for 13 yards, but New York’s defense held and Stephen Gostkowski made a 35-yard field goal. He also kicked a 44-yarder.
The Jets weren’t restrained on offense even after top back Chris Ivory left in the second quarter with a right knee problem. With strong contributions from Bilal Powell and former Patriot Stevan Ridley, the Jets marched 80 yards and went ahead 10-3 on Marshall’s 2-yard reception, when he stretched his long right arm over the goal line before going out of bounds.
The halftime margin was New York’s biggest over the Patriots since a 2010 playoff game the Jets won in Foxborough.
Their other points came on Randy Bullock’s field goals of 30 and 49 yards.
Ivory returned in the second half and Marshall’s 33-yard TD reception on which he appeared to push off safety Duron Harmon made it 17-3. It was his career-best 13th TD catch of the season and his 99th reception overall.
Jamie Collins’ 14-yard fumble return on a third-quarter sack of Fitzpatrick by Jabaal Sheard made it 17-13. The nervousness among Jets fans in the crowd was palpable at that point.
It was over the edge in the Patriots’ 66-yard drive to tie it.
But when Decker scored, Jets players stormed the field, leaping and hugging as if they’d made the playoffs. Could happen, thanks greatly to their archrival’s overtime decision.