FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the second straight game, the New England Patriots led 31-14 in the fourth quarter. This time they completed the job.
The defense that Bill Belichick didn't want to put on the field a week earlier had three of its five turnovers in the fourth quarter Sunday in a 31-14 win over the New York Jets. Last Sunday's stunning 35-34 loss to the Indianapolis Colts had unleashed criticism of Belichick's decision-making.
Leigh Bodden had three interceptions, starting with a 53-yard touchdown return for the first score of the game.
"There was a lot of emotion from last week, not finishing the game," Bodden said. "We definitely wanted to finish this game."
The defense picked off four of Mark Sanchez's passes and allowed just one touchdown and 226 yards. The victory gave the Patriots (7-3) a two-game lead in the AFC East and sent the Jets (4-6) to their sixth loss in seven games.
"We are a desperate football team," New York linebacker Bart Scott said. "There is no magic remedy."
The critics had piled on Belichick for going for it on fourth-and-2 at his 28-yard line rather than punt to the Colts and hope his defense could stop Peyton Manning. The play failed and the Colts moved 29 yards to Manning's scoring pass and a decisive extra point.
Belichick said his players had "a real strong purpose" when they returned to practice Wednesday.
"It was a heartbreaker," Bodden said of the loss, but "guys just rally behind him and move forward when he says move forward."
The Patriots had an outstanding first half Sunday, allowing 34 yards and two first downs and leading 24-7.
There also were plenty of offensive stars.
Tom Brady completed 28 of 41 passes for 310 yards, his fifth straight game with more than 300. Wes Welker set career highs with 15 receptions for 192 yards. And Laurence Maroney ran for two touchdowns, his fifth consecutive game with at least one.
A knee injury kept Welker out of a 16-9 loss to the Jets in the second game when Randy Moss was held to four catches for 24 yards. Brady repeatedly hit the sure-handed, elusive Welker over the middle when defensive backs guarded Moss closely.
"We play those guys straight up but their one-two punch got the best of us," Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "On one play, [Welker] did a triple move that was crazy, man. He's great. "
Welker has 80 catches despite missing two games.
"I expect the ball to come my way every time I'm on the field," he said.
For the Jets, this game was decided long before the final seconds, unlike the previous Sunday. They lost 24-22 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on a field goal on the last play. The next day, coach Rex Ryan cried at a team meeting. There were no tears Sunday.
"If there were tears [Monday] it's not that I was sorry for myself. I'm competitive," Ryan said. "We got outplayed today, but our confidence is still there."
There were only two major failures by the Patriots.
Eric Smith blocked Chris Hanson's punt and Brad Smith returned the ball 4 yards for a touchdown as the Jets cut the halftime margin to 24-7. Then they began the second half with an outstanding 80-yard drive capped by Sanchez's 29-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.
The lead was down to 24-14 and the Patriots punted on their next possession. But then the Jets also had to punt, and whatever momentum they had gained disappeared on their next two series with interceptions by Bodden and Brandon Meriweather. Maroney scored on a 1-yard run after Meriweather's catch.
"We felt like we had something definitely to prove after last week," Meriweather said. "We felt like somebody had to step up."
Sanchez now has 10 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, five of them against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 18. Any chance the Jets had for a late rally ended with the rookie's final turnover when he was sacked by Tully Banta-Cain, forcing a fumble that Derrick Burgess recovered with 3:24 left.
"I have to play smart," Sanchez said. "I tried to do a little much against a great defense."
After Bodden's touchdown, the Jets punted on their next two series and the Patriots capitalized with touchdowns -- a 4-yarder on a slant-in pass from Brady to Moss and a 2-yard run by Maroney.
Bodden grabbed his second interception on the next series and the Patriots made it 24-0 on a 26-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 4:14 left in the half.
About the only player the Patriots defense couldn't control was Thomas Jones. He gained 103 yards on 21 carries for the Jets, who entered the game with the NFL's most productive running attack.
"It was a lot different" than the first game against the Jets, Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods said. "The guys went out there and were starving. We were out there being hungry."
Welker's eight games with 10 or more catches are the most in Patriots history, ahead of Ben Coates and Troy Brown with five each. ... The Patriots tied their series with the Jets at 50-50-1. ... The Jets allowed 414 yards after entering the game with the NFL's third stingiest defense.
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