By Art Martone
FOXBORO -- So what's that they say about opportunity wasted being opportunity lost?
The Patriots are going to test that theory in the second half.
The Pats missed a chance to take a 10-point lead over the Jets when, on the last play of the second quarter, Aaron Hernandez couldn't hold onto a sure touchdown pass from Tom Brady. The ball bounced out of his hands and into the waiting arms of Antonio Cromartie, who ran out the clock with a 42-yard return down the left sideline.
So instead of being ahead 17-7 -- or even 13-7, if they could have gotten a field goal from Stephen Gostkowski -- the Pats head to the locker room holding a slim 10-7 advantage.
The Patriots broke on top with a five-play, 64-yard drive in which BenJarvus Green-Ellis did the bulk of he work; he carried the last four plays and bulled in from the 3 for the score with 7:32 left in the first quarter. But Green-Ellis' journey to the end zone was set up by a 32-yard completion from Tom Brady to Wes Welker, which moved the ball from the Pats' 41 to the Jets' 27.
It was the highlight of an otherwise nondescript period for Brady and the Pats' offense, which was forced to punt on two of its three possessions.
But the Pats' defense more than held up its part of the bargain in the first quarter: New England held the Jets to 31 total yards, and actually stopped New York on all three of its third-down attempts.
That dominance continued early in the second quarter, when the Pats again stopped the Jets on third down. And when a 17-yard punt return by Welker was augmented by a 15-yard penalty for a late hit against New York's Nick Bellore, New England was in great shape to built its lead with a first down at the Jets 44.
But the Pats could only advance the ball to the 26, and had to settle for a 44-yard field goal by Gostkowski that increased their lead to 10-0.
At this point, the Jets finally got their offensive untracked . . . and it was their vaunted ground game that flipped the switch. When they took possession at their own 22, they had only rushed for 11 yards on 5 carries to that point in the game. But they proceeded to jam the ball down the Patriots' throats, running nine times (for 39 yards) during a 13-play, 78-yard drive that consumed nearly eight minutes and cut the Pats' advantage to 10-7 when Shonn Greene ran it in from the 3 with 3:21 left in the half.
Art Martone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.