The New England Patriots continue to find ways to break the New York Jets' hearts.
This time around, it was Patriots third-round cornerback Marcus Jones taking an 84-yard punt return across the goal line with five seconds remaining for the game-winning score in the Pats' 10-3 win, giving New England its 14th straight victory against New York on a day in which neither team's offense showed up.
Jones' heroics on a punt that would've been more smartly placed out of bounds -- there were just 26 seconds remaining at the snap of the ball -- underscore the Pats' mental edge over the still-evolving Jets. It also keeps the entire AFC North within a game of each other.
"My main thing was I thought they was gonna go ahead and try to kick it out of bounds due to the time on the clock," Jones said following the game. "But the first thing was making sure I follow my teammates blocking, and then I see the punter, and I was like, 'If I make him miss, then I should be able to go the distance.'"
Jones' return ended up as the second-longest fourth-quarter TD to take the lead in Patriots history. It ranks behind only the grandfather of NFL Network's Kayla Burton, Ron Burton, who scored a 91-yard field-goal return in 1962, per NFL Research.
Although some felt the history-making play should have actually been called back due to an apparent block in the back by Mack Wilson on Justin Hardee, the league office explained that officials correctly held on to their flags. Although Hardee flew forward on Wilson's block near the 15-yard line, Wilson approached from the side and therefore made legal contact.
And so the rookie did take it the distance, rectifying a day where a usual special teams anchor, Nick Folk, missed two kicks, and the Patriots offense struggled to move the ball consistently despite Mac Jones completing 23 of 27 passes for 246 yards.
It also robbed Jets quarterback Zach Wilson of the opportunity to reward his defense in overtime for holding the Patriots to only three points in contrast to New York's 103 net offensive yards on the day.
Wilson, who tossed three interceptions in the team's Week 8 loss to New England, arguably turned in a worse performance Sunday despite playing turnover-free ball. He completed only nine of his 22 passes for 77 yards, managed six first downs and converted on just three of 14 third downs.
Still, the defense was both prepared and expecting to continue the fight into overtime.
"It was the game we wanted," cornerback D.J. Reed said. "We were smiling. We were happy. The defense thought it was going to overtime, we were ready to go. I'm in disbelief."
CB Sauce Gardner echoed Reed, saying, "That's crazy. That's something that happens in a video game or something. ... The defense, we was ready to put the game on our shoulders, but unfortunately we didn't get there."
Instead, the Patriots' last-second win leaves both teams sitting at 6-4, a game behind the Bills and Dolphins heading into Week 12.
Despite posting the biggest highlight of his young career thus far, Jones appears to be a natural adaptor of the Belichick way by putting this one behind him and keeping his eye on the calendar ahead.
"It's one of those situations to where I'm happy definitely for a divisional win," Jones said. "And now I'm on to the next week."