FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Another game was slipping away from the New England Patriots down the stretch. This time, their opponent made the biggest mistakes.
The New York Jets‘ final failure came when Rob Ninkovich knocked the ball out of Mark Sanchez’s hand in overtime and recovered the fumble, ending a 29-26 win Sunday that gave the Patriots sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
For the fourth time this season, a Patriots game was decided in the final two minutes. And, for the first time, they won.
“The whole time I’m thinking, ‘Hey, this can’t happen again. We’ve just got to fight all four quarters, hold them to a field goal at the end,’” Ninkovich said. “In overtime we said, ‘Hey, it’s overtime. We know we’re going to get a chance, so let’s go out there and finish this game.’”
The Patriots (4-3) moved into sole possession of first place in their division. The day started with all four teams tied at 3-3, but the Jets (3-4) and the Buffalo Bills lost, while the Miami Dolphins were idle.
“There’s a lot of football left to be played,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “I don’t think anybody clinched anything today.”
Stephen Gostkowski’s 48-yard field goal put the Patriots ahead on the first possession of overtime. But each team gets the ball unless the first team with it scores a touchdown. So the Jets weren’t done.
The game might not have reached overtime had they capitalized on their chances late in regulation.
“We made too many mistakes but we had our opportunities,” New York coach Rex Ryan said. “It just stinks being on this end of it.”
Trailing 23-20, Sanchez threw a good pass to a wide-open Stephen Hill that would have given the Jets a first down inside the Patriots 20-yard line with just over two minutes left. But Hill dropped it and New York settled for a 43-yard tying field goal by Nick Folk.
“I think he was trying to make a big play,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to catch the ball first then worry about making the run.”
Then, Devin McCourty fumbled the kickoff and Antonio Allen recovered for the Jets.
“Our emotions were high and everyone was full of energy,” Allen said, “but they took it right back.”
Sanchez was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down and Folk kicked another 43-yarder for a 26-23 lead with 1:37 to go in the fourth quarter.