BOSTON (CBS) – New England Patriots safety and New York native Steve Gregory had plenty to be thankful for Thursday night.
With the opportunity to “play in his backyard” on Thursday, Gregory put on a show for his family and friends at MetLife Stadium. It started with a first quarter interception, continued with a second quarter fumble recovery, and was capped off with his first career touchdown as the Patriots jumped out to a 21-0 lead, and went on to dominate the Jets for a 49-19 victory.
But Gregory, who grew up in Staten Island and went to school at Syracuse, was as humble as ever following the win.
“It was a good one for me today,” he said before praising the defense as a whole. “Some of that stuff is the ball popping out and being at the right place at the right time. It was a team effort; the guys up front did a great job putting pressure on the quarterback and hitting those guys. We were real physical and that helped.”
“He’s a heady player, very instinctive, very smart,” head coach Bill Belichick said of Gregory following the win. “He’s made a lot of those plays for us this year.”
Gregory was a key part of the Patriots scoring three touchdowns in a 52-second span in the second quarter on Thursday. He recovered a fumble by Jets running back Shonn Greene at the Patriots 31-yard line, which led to an 83-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Pats back Shane Vereen.
Then Gregory got into the scoring mix himself, thanks to nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
The 325-pound Wilfork pushed New York guard Brandon Moore (who weighs in at a stout 305-pounds) into quarterback Mark Sanchez, who coughed up the ball when coming in contact with Moore’s backside. Gregory swooped in and took it 32 yards to the house for his first NFL touchdown.
When talking with reporters after the game, Gregory had yet to see a replay. All he knew is the ball popped out and went right to him. And when Julian Edelman picked up another fumble and brought it in for a 22-yard touchdown on the ensuing kickoff, it marked the first time in Patriots history the team returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the same game.
“That was a lot of points in a short period of time. I think that really set the momentum for the game; that really turned things into kind of a lop-sided deal there,” said Gregory.
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For all the criticism the New England defense has heard this season, they are taking care of business in the turnover department. They lead the NFL in turnover differential at +24, and lead the league with 32 takeaways (14 interceptions and 18 fumbles).
With Gregory and Edelman’s touchdowns on Thursday, the Patriots defense has now scored five touchdowns this season – one off the team record of six set in 2007.
Gregory says it’s just a matter of being aggressive and creating those opportunities.
“It was a matter of us being aggressive; going out and hitting guys, trying to really cause chaos out there,” he said. “I think we did a good job of it. We had a good game plan and we executed pretty well.”
And with all the turnovers comes more confidence for the Patriots secondary.
“It’s growing every week. We go to work every day and practice to get better,” Gregory said. “We study a lot of film and are really trying to dial in and get better as a unit. I think you’re seeing some of the results of that.”