AP Sports Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) _ 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

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

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.

So all the Patriots needed to force overtime was a field goal,
not a touchdown, and Gostkowski kicked a 43-yarder on the final
play of regulation.

After Gostkowski’s overtime field goal, the Jets moved to their
40 before Ninkovich got around right tackle Austin Howard and hit
Sanchez high while Jermaine Cunningham got him low for a sack. The
ball came loose, Ninkovich pounced on it and Belichick went out and
patted Ninkovich on the helmet.

“In overtime, Bill came to us and said we’re going to need the
rush,” defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “We all understood
that we had to get after it.”

Said Sanchez: “We got pressure inside and I didn’t feel
Ninkovich on the outside.”

After a required replay, the ruling was upheld and the Patriots
escaped with a win after blowing a 10-point lead in the last six
minutes of the fourth quarter.

In their other losses, Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field-goal
attempt on the next to last play of a 20-18 loss to Arizona, Justin
Tucker kicked a 27-yarder on the last play of a 31-30 Baltimore win
and Sidney Rice caught a 46-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 left in
Seattle’s 24-23 victory.

“It comes down to a few plays,” Tom Brady said. “We had
opportunities last week (at Seattle). We had opportunities against
Baltimore. We had opportunities against the Cardinals, and when you
make the plays you win the game.”

On Sunday, the Jets rallied from a 23-13 deficit in the last six
minutes of the fourth quarter on a 7-yard touchdown pass from
Sanchez to Dustin Keller and Folk’s third and fourth field goals.

But Brady marched the Patriots downfield after starting at his
21-yard line to put Gostkowski in position to force overtime.

Brady completed 26 of 42 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns
to Rob Gronkowski. Sanchez was 28 for 41 for 328 yards and one

The Patriots led 16-10 at halftime, scoring on offense, defense
and special teams.

Trailing 7-0 after Shonn Greene’s 1-yard touchdown run, the
Patriots scored on the next play when McCourty returned a kickoff
104 yards for a touchdown, second in team history only to Ellis
Hobbs’ 108-yard kickoff return. Both came against the Jets.

Then, the offense came through on Brady’s 17-yard scoring pass
to Gronkowski. And the defense followed with a safety two minutes
into the second quarter when Sanchez deliberately kicked a loose
ball beyond the back of the end zone after Greene’s fumble.

The Jets nearly reached the other end zone midway through the
second quarter when Hill got open in front of the right corner of
the end zone, but Sanchez’s long pass came up short and rookie
Alfonzo Dennard intercepted at the Patriots 2.

Folk kicked a 54-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in the
first half and a 21-yarder on the first series of the third

Brady then threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Gronkowski for a 23-13
lead late in the third quarter.

“We did a good job of it when we needed to,” Brady said.
“It’s nice to pull out a close one.”

Notes: The Patriots gained at least 350 yards for the 16th
straight regular-season game, tying the St. Louis Rams of 1999-2000
for the most in NFL history. … Sanchez’s 328 yards passing were
the fourth-most of his career. … Gronkowski scored two touchdowns
in a game for the first time this season and 10th in his career.
Online: and

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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