A game against their hated division rival and quite possibly the Jets' season turned in the third quarter Sunday at MetLife Stadium when safety Antonio Allen stepped in front of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to intercept Tom Brady's pass and return it 23 yards for a touchdown.
That cut New England's 11-point halftime lead to four and, more importantly, ignited a tremendous second-half effort by the Jets' defense in a 30-27 overtime victory.
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The Jets' defense followed Allen's pick-6 by holding Brady and the Pats to three straight three-and-out series as the Jets gained a 27-21 third-quarter lead. But it was Allen, assigned to shadow the 6-6, 265-pound beast of a tight end in his first game back from injury this season, who fueled the Jets' fire.
Down 21-10 at halftime, the Jets came out with renewed intensity as defensive end Quinton Coples sacked Brady for a 6-yard loss on the first play. Brady tried to get it back with the pass to Gronkowski. But Allen recognized the Pats' formation and thought "Yogi," which is the terminology for an out route, and it was all over before the play was over for the Pats.
"Watching film, they ran out-routes in a certain look," Allen said. "So I just jumped the route and came up with the pick. It gave us a spark for the game. It's only our second [interception] this year. We knew we had to force a turnover to win the game. We got the spark, and everybody's on their high horse."
No one had a right to be higher than Allen. Gronkowski was coming back from back and arm injuries, and it was almost as though Pats coach Bill Belichick saved him for the emotional lift he could provide against the Jets. Brady targeted Gronkowski 17 times, completing eight passes to him for 114 yards, including a 30-yard gain that set up the Pats' first touchdown.
"They went to him 17 times?" Allen said incredulously. "That's a great amount. You know he's going to get the ball. When I heard he was activated, I said, 'Get your feet ready.' "
Fellow safety Dawan Landry was impressed with Allen. "Double-A had a task," Landry said. "He had Gronk the whole day. It was pretty much man coverage. The interception gave our offense momentum."
It inspired the defense, too. The pass rush got to Brady for four sacks and pressured him into a sub-50 percent passing day (22-for-46) for 228 yards and a poor 53.5 quarterback rating.
Although Gronkowski's final numbers looked good, he wasn't as big as he needed to be on third down, as the Patriots converted once in 12 tries. When Brady put together a drive for the tying field goal in the final minutes of regulation, Gronkowski dropped a pass when he was wide-open behind Allen at the Jets' 12-yard line for a possible winning TD.
Recalling that moment, Allen said: "Oh man, I broke on the ball. I just misjudged it. It was pretty high. I was scared, but he dropped it, so I was relieved. I had him covered pretty tight at first. I guess the pressure got to Brady, and he scrambled. Gronk ran with him, but Brady threw the ball high."
"He makes that play 99 out of 100," Brady said of Gronkowski, "but it was just one of those days where it didn't happen for us."