Long's game-sealing strip-sack a long time coming


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Chris Long stomped over to the Patriots sideline and put a finger up to his mouth to hush the MetLife Stadium crowd after making arguably the most important play of his career. 

The eight-year veteran had just strip-sacked Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with 1:51 left in Sunday's divisional matchup, all but sealing a 22-17 win for the Patriots. 

It was a nice moment for Long, a former No. 2 overall pick, who never had a winning season as a member of the Rams, who dealt with injuries the last two seasons, who signed a one-year deal with the Patriots to contribute to a winning organization, and who had just helped ensure that his new team would finish above .500 for the 16th consecutive year. 

Then he realized he was hushing a section of the crowd clad in red and blue. 


"It was funny because I was just really excited," Long said after the game. "It's a team win. I want to celebrate with my teammates. And we still gotta be ready to go back out there. But it's funny. I was telling people to be quiet, but I heard all Patriots fans cheering because we travel so well and we got such great fans."

In many ways, Long's forced fumble at the end of the game was a long time coming. He'd had three quarterback pressures earlier in the game but couldn't quite get to Fitzpatrick for a sack. Up until the point when he knocked the football from Fitzpatrick's right hand, his performance Sunday represented his season in a nutshell. 

He led the team in quarterback hurries coming into the game with 31, but he hadn't recorded a sack since Week 1. He led Patriots defensive linemen in snaps coming into the game, but he had little in the way of beaten-up quarterbacks to show for it. 

Inside the visitor's locker room, Long said it felt good to get back in the sack column after nearly three months. 

"You want to get there, because for one, you take pride in it and it helps your team," he said. "And you can get all the hits and hurries you want, but people don't see it. At the end of the day, I'd be lying if I said it didn't matter because people look at the stat sheet. 

"But it's two-minute, the whole team's been battling all day. We just had to make a play. The coverage held up well. Fitzy was doing a good job with the timing all day, and he just patted it one too long. We just stayed on it."

Long beat left tackle Ben Ijalana with good burst off the line that allowed him to move Ijalana into the Jets backfield. Then, finally, he was able to finish. 

The play, Long explained, was partly a product of him feeling healthy for the first time in years.

"I feel great," he said. "I pride myself in playing hard for four quarters, always have. [The coaches] do a good job. We rotate a lot so it keeps me fresh. I'm not a spring chicken, but I feel as good as I've ever felt, honestly. 

"The last two years -- and I don't like going backwards -- but I sucked. I mean, I was hurt. That's what happens in football sometimes, but you keep persevering. I just wanted an opportunity to be a part of this team so I'm really fortunate."

On Sunday, they were fortunate to have him.

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