- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Five nuggets of knowledge about the Patriots-Jets Thanksgiving Day game:
Win or go home: A poor start by the New York Jets this season makes this a must-win game on Thanksgiving. The Jets are 4-6 and losers of three of their past four games. They cannot afford to lose another game with only six weeks left in the regular season. The Patriots do not need this win. But this is a prime opportunity for New England to end its biggest rival’s season on the Jets’ home field. These two teams have had some intense games with a lot on the line before. Expect the Jets to throw everything they have left at the Patriots in this game.
"Gronk" factor: This will be the first game the Patriots play this season without Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski. He broke his forearm in Sunday's blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts and will be out several weeks. New England’s top-rated offense has a bevy of weapons and shouldn’t miss Gronkowski too much in the short term. However, the Patriots will miss him most in the red zone, where Gronkowski has seven touchdown receptions in his past four games.
Big-game Sanchez: Despite all the criticisms toward New York starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, one important thing he has going is the ability to play well in big games against the Patriots. Sanchez has a knack for lighting up New England’s defense. He threw for a season-high 328 yards in New York’s Week 7 overtime loss to the Patriots. Sanchez also connected for a career-high nine passes of 15 yards or more in that game. Sanchez is 3-5 all-time against New England and likely needs another big game for the Jets to pull the upset.
More work for Talib: New England made a midseason trade to improve its struggling secondary. The Patriots acquired talented but troubled cornerback Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He made an immediate impact in his first game with an interception return for a touchdown against the Colts. Talib recently concluded a four-game suspension and was clearly winded at times. His workload will only increase as he continues to work himself into football shape.
Special-teams contrast: Thursday’s game will pit New England's hot special teams against the Jets' special teams, which have gone cold. New England is coming off one of its best special-teams performances of the season in Week 11. The Patriots had a punt return for a touchdown by Julian Edelman and also forced a fumble on special teams against the Colts. The Jets began the year in solid fashion on special teams but have been mostly outplayed in the past month. This third phase of the game could make an important difference.