New York Jets: Tom Brady
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.
Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.
Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.
The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?
Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.
Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.
James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.
Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?
Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.
Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.
Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.
Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.
@mikerodak running backs look to be more interesting than I expected, and even though there isn't competition QB growth is #1- Bob rieth (@Bob_rieth) June 16, 2014
Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?
Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.
Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.
Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.
@JamesWalkerNFL Dion Jordan. Can't hold him back anymore. He will get 10 sacks and will be on the field 40 plays per game- Tom Ernisse (@ternisse13) June 4, 2014
How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?
Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.
Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.
Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.
Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.
@MikeReiss Two. (hoping he goes out with a ring (a la John Elway)- Because i think he has less than 3 - I'm watching the back up QB battle.- Elizabeth (@capesquad) June 18, 2014
1. Song remains the same: Rex Ryan's remarks the other day about the New England Patriots (in response to Calvin Pryor's "hate" quote) triggered a memory. Ryan's comments -- "[Pryor] knows who the enemy is" -- came almost five years to the day in which he uttered his famous line: "I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings." The takeaway: Five years later, not much has changed.
No one knows how the rest of the Ryan era will play out, but it's quite possible he could be remembered one day as a good coach who failed to rise above also-ran status because he was in the same division as the winningest coach-quarterback combination in history. Ryan hasn't been able to conquer Belichick and Tom Brady. No one has, as the Patriots have won the AFC East every year since Ryan took over the Jets in 2009 -- and a whole bunch of years before that. The same thing happened to the New York Knicks in the 1990s; they had some terrific teams, but couldn't get past Michael Jordan.
The Jets have been respectable under Ryan (42-38), the eighth-best record in the AFC over that span, but the Patriots are a league-best 61-19. The Jets finished four games behind the Patriots last season, and there's no reason to think they will overtake their longtime nemesis this season. With Brady expected to play a few more years, Ryan could be playing catch-up for the rest of the Brady-Belichick era -- if he lasts that long. Lousy timing for Ryan? Yeah, you could say that, but he also knew what he was signing up for in '09.
3. A delivery of Flowers?: Despite all the happy talk from the Jets about their cornerback situation, I think they should explore the possibility of signing Brandon Flowers, who was released Friday by the Kansas City Chiefs. The question is, will they? As of Saturday morning, they hadn't reached out to Flowers, according to a league source. Then again, John Idzik isn't a hurry-up kind of general manager, so you never know. In the end, I'd be surprised if the Jets show serious interest despite a need (in my opinion) at the position.
Despite a Pro Bowl appearance, Flowers is coming off a disappointing season in which he was demoted to nickelback. He was rated 87th out of 110 cornerbacks last season, according to ProFootballFocus. That he struggled under former Jets defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, whose system is similar to that of Ryan's, is worth noting. We also know Idzik is reluctant to spend significant money for another team's trash. But we're also talking about a 28-year-old player with a substantial body of work, someone who could benefit by a change of scenery. If they paid $3 million for the injury-prone Dimitri Patterson, why not make a run at Flowers, who would be an upgrade? They have about $21 million in cap room.
4. Goodson's future: Flowers may have sealed his fate by not attending OTA practices, which are voluntary (wink, wink). The Jets' Mike Goodson did the same, prompting some fans to wonder why the Jets haven't cut ties with the troubled running back. Goodson's situation is complicated by his legal problems and perhaps personal issues. Remember, he was slapped with a four-game suspension last year for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. I find it hard to believe he'd deliberately stay from the team, jeopardizing his roster spot, unless there's an extenuating circumstance. His agent hasn't returned calls or emails seeking comment, and the Jets have been tight-lipped, except Ryan saying he hasn't heard from Goodson. Ryan said he expects Goodson to attend next week's mandatory minicamp.
5. New kid on the block: Right tackle Breno Giacomini has spent his entire career on zone-blocking teams -- the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, his most recent team. The Jets run a mix of zone and gap blocking schemes, which will require a transition for Giacomini. Before signing him as a free agent, the Jets studied tape of how he fared against common opponents, and they came away convinced he could adapt to the specific style they use against certain teams.
6. Big Mike: To improve his oft-questioned durability, quarterback Michael Vick added four pounds of "solid muscle," he told The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, his hometown. He told the newspaper he felt great throughout OTAs, proudly noting he scored a rushing touchdown last week.
"Still can move," Vick said. "Doesn't seem like any of my skills have diminished. … I still feel like I can play at a high level. That may be tested at some point this season, and I look forward to it."
Vick described himself as a "trendsetter," saying the mobile quarterbacks of today are continuing the style he brought to the league more than a decade ago. He added: "I was kind of the originator. That's something I can take to the grave."
7. Sheldon wants 'Mo money for Wilkerson: Muhammad Wilkerson is taking a low-key approach to his looming contract negotiations, refusing to make public demands. Teammate Sheldon Richardson is doing the talking for him, telling the New York Post, "Hopefully, they do the right thing and pay the man." Oh, they will. The question is when. After exercising a fifth-year option, the Jets have Wilkerson under contract through 2015, so there's no sense of urgency.
Richardson has a personal stake in the matter because in two years, he'll be in the same boat as Wilkerson. If the Jets renegotiate with Wilkerson before his fourth season, it'll set a precedent for Richardson and other former first-round picks.
8. Picture of the week: Here's soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo receiving a throwing lesson from wide receiver David Nelson. No Tebow jokes allowed.
9. The anti-Rex: Can there be two coaches more dissimilar than Ryan and Jurgen Klinsmann? Klinsmann says it's not possible for his team -- the United States -- to win the World Cup. Ryan goes into every game telling his team they will win -- and I honestly think he believes it. Call me traditional, but I like Ryan's approach. Klinsmann might be right, but no one wants to hear that jive. It's a good thing we didn't have a guy like him coaching the 1980 U.S. hockey team.
10. Farewell to a champion: The NFL lost a legend Friday night with the passing of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls. Two Noll disciples became important figures in Jets history -- the late Bud Carson and retired personnel director Dick Haley. Carson, the Jets' defensive coordinator from 1985-88, ran the defense for Noll during the iconic Steel Curtain era. Haley, who worked for the Jets from 1991-2002, was one of the architects of the great Steeler drafts in the 1970s.
Question: Two-minute warning and the Super Bowl is on the line. Whom do you want at quarterback?
Answer: Tom Brady, New England Patriots.
1. Knock, knock. Who's there? Bill. Bill Belichick: The New England Patriots' coach is one win away from his sixth Super Bowl and a full week of access to the New York Jets' facility in Florham Park, N.J. The prospect of the SpyGate kingpin roaming the halls has to be unnerving for Jets fans -- and maybe the organization, too.
- Coaches don't share coaches' offices. So, no, Belichick wouldn't have the chance to put his feet up on Rex Ryan's desk.
- Teams usually hold meetings at their hotel, where meeting space is set up by the league. Both teams are staying in Jersey City.
- Teams usually eat at the team hotel, so they won't get to sample the impressive fare at the Jets' cafeteria.
- Equipment is loaded into the locker room and kept there for the duration. Depending on the type of practice, the players will get dressed in the locker room. You can bet the Jets' staff will inspect it beforehand, removing any type of intelligence (i.e. game plans or iPads) left behind from the season.
- Most host teams will have their staff off during the times the Super Bowl participant is at the facility, so there's no chance for the staff to see the AFC team's staff or players. Too bad; a Ryan-Tom Brady encounter at the water cooler would've been priceless.
- The visiting team will be protected from potential espionage as well. Windows of any office with a view of the practice field will be taped over.
Chances are, Belichick, whose disdain for his former team is well documented, would feel more uncomfortable than his hosts. In the field house, he'd practice beneath giant murals of members of the Jets' Ring of Honor, including the one that got away from the Patriots -- Curtis Martin. Around the building, he'd see "Play Like a Jet" references on the walls, probably making him queasy. In short, it's probably the last place in the world he'd want to prepare for a Super Bowl.
2. Thoughts on the Rex-tension: Before Ryan finalized his contract extension, there were some people who thought he'd take a chance and coach out his current deal, becoming a free agent in 2015. That's tough to do, of course. When someone puts $4 million on the table, it's hard to walk away. He reportedly is due to make $3.3 million in 2014 (under his previous contract) and, from what I understand, he'll get a small raise for 2015 -- figuring close to $4 million guaranteed. Some people say he didn't get as much security as he coveted -- 2016 is a quasi-option year -- but I think he did OK for a coach who has missed the playoffs for three straight years.
3. Bottom line on Rex: Because it's technically a "multi-year" extension, the contract will create the perception that Ryan is safe beyond 2014. Yeah, it might quiet some of the speculation, but here's the reality: He's back to where he was before the 2013 season. As someone who knows Ryan told me, "If he bombs, he's gone."
4. Merit raises: RB Bilal Powell and WR Jeremy Kerley, heading into the final year of their rookie contracts, each received a $744,000 bump for 2014, thanks to salary escalators, according to overthecap.com. It brings their salary up to $1.389 million in '14. To earn an escalator, a player (drafted in Rounds 3 through 7) must play in at least 35 percent of the snaps in two of his first three seasons or 35 percent of the total snaps over the three-year period.
5. The Simms spotlight: Backup QB Matt Simms has a link to two of the "Final Four" quarterbacks -- and, no, I'm not referring to the fact that his famous dad will be broadcasting the Patriots-Broncos AFC championship. In 2010, Simms attended the Manning passing academy in Louisiana, hosted by Peyton Manning, Eli and their father, Archie. It's a four-day event for high school and college quarterbacks. One of Simms' fellow campers was Colin Kaepernick. In a skills competition, Simms finished second, ahead of Kaepernick and some kid named Andrew Luck. Yeah, Simms always could sling it, and now he's starting to mature as a player. The Jets recognize it, signing him before the season ended to a one-year, $495,000 contract (the second-year minimum).
By the way, Taylor Potts of Texas Tech (who?) beat out Simms in the skills competition.
6. Not 'The Man': After Friday's incident, I guess Geno Smith shouldn't expect to land one of those cool headphones commercials, a la Kaepernick.
7. So long, Sammy: Waiting in line at a restaurant the other night, a Jets fan asked me, "Can we get Sammy Watkins?" The draft still is more than three months away, but fans already have developed an affinity for Clemson's stud wide receiver, who would address a huge need for the Jets. Could Watkins fall to 18th? No way. An NFC scout, whose team picks in the top 15, said Watkins wouldn't get past them.
"He ain't gonna be there," said the scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Tell John Idzik, unless he trades up, he won't get him. He's a great kid, he works hard and he has some of the quickest hands you'll ever see. This kid has an unbelievable talent. He can fly and he has courage."
8. If not Watkins, then ...: There will be other wide receiver options for the Jets at 18. Marqise Lee (USC) could be there. A longtime scout told me, "I like him. Big-play ability. I could see the Jets taking two receivers in this draft and signing one in free agency." Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State) is a rising talent. Said the NFC scout: "He's got first-round talent. Before this year, every time I saw him, he was dropping easy ones, but he's matured and improved. He's running routes better and it seems like he's finally figured it out."
9. Dreaming of Johnny Football: Unless Johnny Manziel pulls an embarrassing stunt before the draft (thrown off a plane?), he won't fall to the Jets at 18. Some mock drafts project him going No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans. Our NFC scout said of Manziel, "He has unbelievable instincts. He's got eyes in the back of his head. He can run and throw and win games. But he's kind of small. He looks like a peanut. Durability could be a big issue, but that [kid] can play." It would be a major upset if he lasts beyond the top 8.
10. Losing games and viewers: TV ratings are soaring for the NFL, but the Jets are one of 10 teams whose local ratings have declined for two straight years, according to the Sports Business Daily. Their two-year drop is 19 percent, the second highest in the league. Only the Oakland Raiders (22 percent) suffered a bigger fall off. By the way, the New York Giants weren't far behind at minus-15 percent.
Question: If you had to start a team with one player, whom would it be?
Winner: Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver Broncos
Our take: This was close. Manning edged his Indianapolis Colts successor, Andrew Luck -- 62 votes (19 percent) to 56. A total of 37 players received votes, with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (41 votes) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (40) finishing third and fourth.
Manning received tremendous support from the Jets' locker room, winning the votes of nine players. Brady garnered one vote, and that tells you everything you need to know about the Jets-Patriots rivalry and the perception of Brady within the Jets' organization. As I polled the players, it didn't take long to realize their respect for Manning is second to none. Most of the Manning votes were quick and emphatic.
The Jets have engaged in several heated run-ins with Brady over the years, which probably explains their feelings toward him. Frankly, they don't love his on-field demeanor, which Antonio Cromartie famously articulated during an expletive-laced rant about Brady to a reporter in 2010.
In case you're wondering (honestly, why would you?), no player on the Jets received a nod from the 320 voters.
The second-year safety made the biggest defensive play of the season, a momentum-swinging interception that fueled the Jets' come-from-behind win against the New England Patriots in Week 7. Down 21-10 at halftime, seemingly headed toward another blowout loss to their No. 1 nemesis, Allen undercut a pass to Rob Gronkowski and returned the interception 23 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't think I had time to look at the quarterback," Allen said afterward. "I think the ball was already there. As soon as I turned, it was already in my hand. [I'm like], "Appreciate it." It was a good spark for the team, and we came out victorious."
Allen's big play occurred on the second play of the third quarter. After that, the Jets played arguably their best defense of the season, limiting Brady & Co. to two field goals over the next two-plus quarters. The Jets won in overtime, 30-27, one of their signature victories in 2013.
Quinton Coples' right arm became a talked about body part Tuesday, with speculation swirling (thanks to Bill Belichick) that he used it to push teammate Muhammad Wilkerson into the Patriots' field goal formation. By now, you know that's a no-no. Alleged push aside, Coples' right arm may have been the difference in the game.
Allen deserved all the credit he received for his game-changing play, but it was Coples who made that sequence possible. His first-down sack put the Patriots in a second-and-16 situation. They went with three receivers. The Jets one-upped them, going with six defensive backs in a 4-1-6 alignment. It was a theme all day for Rex Ryan, who rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. The strategy worked brilliantly on this play, with Coples once again having his way with Solder.
The perfect quarter: The defensive performance in the third quarter was one for the ages. Chew on these numbers: The Patriots ran 11 plays for minus-5 yards and no first downs. The Jets recorded a pick six and two sacks against one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. What can they possibly do for an encore?
Tom Not-So-Terrific: Remember the days when Ryan had to dial up exotic blitzes to get after Brady? Not anymore. Ryan let his big fellas do most of the rushing. In fact, the Jets sent more than four pass-rushers on only six of 50 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There was no need to send extra pressure because they were doing the job with a conventional rush. Against four or fewer rushers, Brady was 2o-for-41, with one interception and three sacks.
"AA" spark plug: Wherever Gronkowski went, Allen went. Gronkowski was targeted a career-high 17 times, and he was covered by Allen on all but three of those. Considering his lack of experience in pass coverage (he was basically a linebacker in college), Allen did an outstanding job, holding Gronkowski to five catches for 67 yards on 14 targets.
Allen caught a break on the Patriots' game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. The Jets sent a six-man rush at Brady with "zero" coverage, meaning no safety in the middle of the field. Gronkowski created separation against Allen, but the throw was high and behind him. Gronkowski almost made a one-handed catch that probably would've gone for a 23-yard touchdown. He was visibly angry with himself on the sideline; he knows he should've caught it.
It was the Jets' only blitz on that drive. Mostly, they stayed conservative with three- and four-man rushes. When they brought the heat, they almost got burned.
Mr. Third Down: WR Jeremy Kerley was a machine, recording six third-down conversions. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg moved him around the formation, making it harder for the Patriots to match up.
Three receptions came out of a bunch formation, two came when he motioned into the slot and one came when he was split left. He beat Kyle Arrington four times, Alfonzo Dennard twice. On two plays, TE Jeff Cumberland ran a "pick" for Kerley, allowing him to find space. In fact, they tried to run Kerley off a Cumberland pick on Geno Smith's 8-yard touchdown run, but he slipped. Two receivers went down, so Smith took off and made a great run.
It was clever stuff all around, along with some great route running by Kerley, who has the best change of direction on the team.
The eyes have it: Geno Smith played a solid game and made good decisions, especially knowing when to tuck it and run. Ah, but there was that one disaster of a play, the pick- six by Logan Ryan. Smith stared down WR David Nelson, who got roughed up at the line of scrimmage. For some reason, Smith didn't go to his next progression. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich beat RT Austin Howard for a pressure, making Smith hurry a throw he never should've made.
What's up with Brick?: LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson usually is one of the most reliable pass protectors in the league, but he allowed two sacks. That brings his total to four, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2012, he quietly had a terrific year (two sacks), but he seems to have regressed. All four sacks Sunday came from the left side of the line, as rookie LG Brian Winters also surrendered two. He'll need to get it together quickly because Cincinnati Bengals stud DT Geno Atkins is up next.
Odds and ends: CB Antonio Cromartie completely blew containment on Stevan Ridley's 17-yard touchdown run. Cromartie got caught in the backfield, leaving an open side for Ridley. Otherwise, I thought Cromartie played well. ... WR Stephen Hill was on the field for 80 plays and caught only one pass. That's not a terribly efficient afternoon. ... Finally, as for Coples' alleged push on Stephen Gostkowski's late field goal: Yes, he gave Wilkerson a one-handed shove from behind, but it didn't appear to be a designed play. Why would they run an illegal play after alerting the officials to watch for the same thing from the Patriots?
1. Hate to say it: Guard Willie Colon has been chirping about his hatred for the New England Patriots since the beginning to the season. Tom Brady took a pass when asked to comment on Colon’s latest “I-hate-them” remark, saying, “Not much fazes me with Jets-Patriots at this point, or Yankees-Red Sox.”
Brady took the high road, but let us not forget that Mr. Squeaky Clean used the ‘H’ word long before Colon. In August 2010, he was asked if he was watching the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” which featured the Jets that summer.
“Honestly, I haven’t turned it on. I hate the Jets, so I refuse to support that show," Brady said. "I’m sure it’s great TV. I’m glad people are liking it. But that’s just something that I have no interest in watching. I’d love to say a lot of mean things, but I’d rather not do that, either.”
Sure, easy to say when you’re not playing them that week.
Cromartie has a $14.98 million cap charge in 2014, the final year of his contract. He renegotiated his deal last March, pushing some money into ’14. That’s a big number to carry, especially with a $5 million roster bonus due in March. I can’t see Cromartie taking a pay cut, so they’d have to extend the deal or part ways.
3. QB carousel set to spin again: The Jets have to make a decision by Monday on David Garrard, whose two-game roster exemption will expire. It’s hard to imagine them keeping four quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, so they’ll either say goodbye to Garrard or release Brady Quinn. I understand the value in having an experienced mentor for Geno Smith, but the decision should be based on this: Who would they rather have in the game, Quinn or Garrard? I’d take Quinn. If they value Garrard’s intangibles that much, the Jets should make him a coach.
4. Try the combo platter: The Jets have used 122 unique lineups on offense, the fourth-highest total in the league. That’s a high number, considering they’ve had relative stability on the line. Some of it's due to injuries at receiver and tight end, but most of it can be attributed to Marty Mornhinweg’s penchant for using so many different personnel packages.
5. A craving for brownies: The addition of KR Josh Cribbs means the Jets have three former members of the 2008 Cleveland Browns; the others are Quinn and TE Kellen Winslow. They also had Braylon Edwards as recently as training camp. Previously, they had Brodney Pool. That’s a lot of players from a 4-12 team.
7. Solace for Salas: Eyebrows were raised when the Jets signed an injured wide receiver, Greg Salas, from the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad. Ryan said they knew about the knee ailment, which he called a two-week injury. The Jets liked Salas because of his strong preseason -- seven catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. They were able to pry him away when the Eagles opted to promote B.J. Cunningham over Salas last Monday. The Jets are stuck with him for three weeks. By rule, a player is guaranteed three weekly checks when he leaves a practice squad to sign on another team’s 53-man roster.
8. What a business: Former Stony Brook (N.Y.) star Miguel Maysonet, added last week to the practice squad, already has experienced the cut-throat side to the NFL. Nearly 10 months after signing his first contract, the running back already has been cut by four different teams -- Eagles, Browns, Indianapolis Colts (practice squad) and San Diego Chargers (practice squad). He’d like to last at least 10 days with the Jets because he didn’t make it past seven in his last two stops.
“I had no idea it would be like this at all, being cut left and right, moving around,” he said. “It kind of sucks, but it’s also humbled me in a way. It’s hard to start all over every single time. Things don’t come easy, but if you love the game, you have to work through it. I’m still chasing the dream."
9. Let's talk sex -- or not: I spoke to two players who stated emphatically that Ryan wasn’t referring to abstinence when he delivered his “rest-the-legs, no-household-chores” speech. But it still made for a comical, after-hours scene in the press room, Ryan trying to clarify the situation with reporters.
10. St. Peyton: The big story in the NFL is Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis, where he was, still is and always will be an iconic figure. During his heyday with the Colts, he reportedly dined with friends after every home game in a private room at the city’s famed St. Elmo’s Steakhouse. But it wasn’t always red-carpet treatment. A few hours after a Jets-Colts game (I’m guessing it was 1998, his rookie year), I saw Manning and some family members peering into the window of a TGI Fridays to see if it still was serving. The streets were desolate, except for the Mannings and a few hungry New York sports writers. He has come a long way. The sports writers, not so much.
It would help if they could hold on to the ball.
That has been the biggest difference between the New York Jets and Patriots over the last few years -- ball security. During their current five-game losing streak to the Patriots, the Jets are minus-11 in turnover margin. They give it away easier than day-old cheesecake at a bake sale. Can they reverse the trend? Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, where the Patriots (5-1) will try to win their 13th straight AFC East game. The Jets (3-3) need a win to stay in the thick of the division race.
What to watch for:
2. Hey, Marty: Run!: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried to establish a ground game last week, but he gave up after a quarter. This time, he needs to stick with it. The Patriots have gaping -- repeat, gaping -- holes in their front seven with DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo done for the season. DT Tommy Kelly also could miss the game, meaning they will start two unheralded rookies at defensive tackle -- Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent, and Chris Jones, cut by two other teams. If C Nick Mangold and RG Willie Colon don't control the point of attack, something is wrong. Of course, this will require a commitment from the pass-happy Mornhinweg. The Jets will miss Mike Goodson's outside speed, but they won't need it if Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory can hammer away inside the tackles.
3. Frustrating Brady isn't enough: Can anybody remember the last time the Jets intercepted Tom Brady? It was Oct. 9, 2011: CB Antonio Cromartie picked Brady on the final play of the first half. Since then, he has gone 163 passes against the Jets without an interception. That's ridiculous. In Week 2, the Jets proved a dominant effort versus Brady doesn't mean much without turnovers. They held the Patriots to nine first downs, yet they couldn't create any takeaways and lost, 13-10. The Jets need a big day from their corners, especially Cromartie, who admitted he's having only a "C year." Cro & Co. need to be ready for a lot of quick screens, which puts a premium on tackling. Brady's receiving corps has 16 drops, the third-highest total in the league.
4. Dealing with Gronk: This changes things. Assuming TE Rob Gronkowski plays -- he was cleared Friday by doctors -- the Patriots now have a major weapon at their disposal, especially in the red zone. Their red zone efficiency sagged without the 6-foot-7 Gronk, Brady's favorite target. Since 2010, his completion percentage to Gronkowski is 72.2, about 10 percent higher than to other receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his last two games against the Jets, Gronkowski caught 14 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. If the Jets show as much respect to him as they did to Tony Gonzalez two weeks ago, you can expect double-vice coverage in the red zone. S Jaiquawn Jarrett also was heavily involved in the Gonzalez plan. Would the Jets put Cromartie on Gronk in certain situations? Just a thought.
5. Feed the green beast: The Jets, trying to establish a true home-field advantage, want their fans to be loud and green. Ryan asked fans to wear green, creating a "Green Out" effect. OK, fine, but it would help to grab the attention of the wine-sipping, shrimp-eating masses if they jumped to an early lead. The Jets have led for only 52 minutes in six games, half of which came in the win over the Buffalo Bills. A dynamic, game-changing play in the first quarter would help immensely. Maybe this is where Josh Cribbs becomes a factor. Maybe he can add some sizzle to the special teams. A big play on defense would help, too, but the Jets are allergic to takeaways. In fact, they've gone 207 passes without an interception. They can't be taken seriously as a top-tier defense unless they make some plays.
Turnovers have plagued Smith this season, and they once again were a problem in Sunday's 19-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith entered the game coming off the first turnover-free game of his career, a come-from behind 30-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons, but that momentum didn't carry over. Smith couldn't get into a groove, and threw a costly interception while attempting to throw the ball away with the Jets at the Steelers' 23-yard line in the third quarter. He finished 19-of-34 for 201 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions, giving him 10 this season and four multi-interception games.
"There was a number of things that can be said as to why I made mistakes," Smith said. "The key thing is to try and eliminate those mistakes and try and never have them, but if you do, you have to learn from it and that's something I've been facing so far in my career here. It's something that is kind of expected and I got to learn from and improve on."
Smith is working to improve his turnover-prone ways as he and the Jets prepare for a pivotal Week 7 showdown with the Patriots at MetLife Stadium. In his first meeting with the Patriots on Sept. 12, Smith had a rough game as he completed just 15-of-35 passes for 214 yards and tossed three interceptions in the Jets' 13-10 loss. He had a chance to be the hero, but his three interceptions came in the fourth quarter.
Heading into Sunday, Smith said he has a good feel for the Patriots and stressed that he and the team need to execute. He called it a "heated" rivalry and said Patriots are "very polished." The Jets' offense actually had more yards than the Patriots, 318-232, in the previous matchup.
"I think every single guy felt bitter after that loss on the road that Thursday night," Smith said. "But we've put it behind us and we've learned from it and gained experience from it and moved on."
"Is anybody surprised we play great defense?" Ryan asked Friday. "I mean, that doesn’t surprise anybody. It doesn’t surprise Jets' fans, it doesn't surprise our football team. We’ve got a lot of good fooball players, we’ve got an excellent coaching staff."
The Jets are off to a fast start, having allowed only 30 points over the first two games. Ryan predicted a top-five defense in training camp, and he's not backing down.
"By the end of the year, this team, it could be pretty salty on defense," he said. "I don’t think there’s any doubt about that."
Injury update: Ryan didn't provide an update on DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle), saying he's "not real sure" of the severity, if you can believe that. OLB Quinton Coples, who fractured his ankle in the preseason, is getting close to returning. There's some hope he could play next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. "We've got to get Coples back," Ryan said. "That's really going to help us." Ryan, sounding more and more like Bill Belichick with regard to injuries, declined to speculate on the availability of WR/PR Jeremy Kerley (concussion).
They need Kerley's punt-returning ability. The Patriots punted a staggering 11 times (registering more punts than first downs for the first time in the Bill Belichick era), but PR Kyle Wilson managed only seven return yards.
Odds and ends: Chris Ivory ran 11 times for 49 yards in the first three quarters, but he got only one carry in the fourth. Ryan said he had no issue with Marty Mornhinweg's play calling in the fourth quarter, claiming they want to remain balanced on offense. They ended up with 32 rushes and 39 pass plays. Said Ryan: "We were pretty balanced. I think that’s the kind of team we want to be. Should we have run it more? It’s easy to say, 'Oh, yeah, absolutely.' But I thought we had good balance." He acknowledged Ivory as running "extremely well."
A fine mess:S Dawan Landry was fined $21,000 for hitting Bucs WR Mike Williams in the head/neck area on his 17-yard TD reception last Sunday. Bucs S Dashon Goldson was fined $30,000 for his hit on TE Jeff Cumberland. S Mark Barron wasn't fined for his shot on Kerley, even though he was flagged for unnecessary roughness. And, of course, LB Lavonte David was hit with a $7,875 fine for shoving Jets quarterback Geno Smith out of bounds.
On the Patriots' first possession, the Jets busted a coverage, leaving rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson wide open for a 39-yard touchdown catch. On a third-and-2, the Patriots used heavy personnel, making tackle Nate Solder an eligible receiver. That must have confused the Jets, who bit hard on a play-action fake. Dobson, in a tight-wing formation, was uncovered.
Rex Ryan was ticked.
"That's hard to deal with," the Jets coach said. "We thought we had a heck of a game plan going in, thought we had a chance to win. To give a freebie like that to Brady ... we talked about it all week long. I mean, you can't afford mental mistakes against Brady."
Said defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson: "We thought it was a run, simple as that. There was a miscommunication. The linebackers have to read their keys and they read run."
Otherwise, the defense was terrific, holding the Patriots to 232 yards, 4-for-18 on third down and only 26 minutes of possession time. Brady completed only 19-of-39 passes, his first sub-50 percent game since 2009.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When discussing the New England Patriots-New York Jets rivalry this week, quarterback Tom Brady called it “awesome.”
“I mean, it’s Boston-New York,” he said. “Any time you see them on the schedule, you just think of all the great games that you’ve had against them and you think of how challenging the game will be.”
With Brady leading the way, the Patriots have had the upper hand; he is 17-4 against the Jets since elevating to the starting job in 2001. Rex Ryan was the Jets’ head coach for three of those losses, as his defensive schemes have been some of the most challenging that Brady has seen on an annual basis.
“When you play against somebody like Brady and [Bill] Belichick, if they know 100 percent what you're in, then you're in trouble,” Ryan said of his past game-planning approach. “Obviously, we can't do that. We have to be multiple in what we do."
ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini preview the matchup:
Reiss: It’s a quick turnaround for both teams, Rich, with the Thursday night kickoff. Many probably expected the Patriots to be 1-0 entering the game, although not the way they got there. It was a big struggle for them on the road against the Bills. Then there are the Jets, who many probably didn’t expect to be 1-0, but they pulled off the victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Start us off with some things that need to happen for them to run it to 2-0.
Cimini: It's simple, Mike: The Jets need to play great defense, and that means putting a lot of hits on Brady. They don't beat the Patriots too often (Rex Ryan is 3-6), but when they do, it's because of the defense. Mo Wilkerson & Co. really need to make a statement in this game. They also need a low-mistake game out of Geno Smith. Look, he's a rookie quarterback, so he's bound to make a few. They just can't be mistakes that directly impact the scoreboard, a la Mark Sanchez. From a New York perspective, I think the big question is, “Can Brady be Brady without his old supporting cast?”
Reiss: There are two layers to the answer, Rich. When the Patriots needed Brady to come through with the clutch drive at the end of the opener, it was vintage Brady. Sunday marked the 36th time that he’s led the Patriots to victory when facing a fourth-quarter deficit or tie. The surprise was that it would take a fourth-quarter game-winning drive to beat the Bills and that’s because of some of his struggles adjusting to almost a completely new receiving corps. It’s clear that Brady has developed an early rapport with Danny Amendola, but Amendola might not play Thursday because of a groin injury. Running back Shane Vereen (wrist surgery) will be out too, and those are two of the team’s most explosive skill-position players. It’s never an easy time to play the Patriots, but from a Jets perspective, this could be a good time to catch them. I could envision the Jets’ defense holding down the Patriots to give them a chance to win, but do they have enough firepower on offense themselves?
Cimini: In a word, no. The Jets don't have a lot of firepower on offense. Their most effective weapon in Week 1 was a 30-year-old tight end with one good knee -- Kellen Winslow. Santonio Holmes isn't the same player he used to be, especially not after foot surgery. Stephen Hill is a tease -- big and talented, but inconsistent. Remember last year's game in Foxborough, when he had that killer drop? The biggest concern might be the running game. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory didn't show much last week, averaging 2.0 yards per carry between them. They need a better rushing attack to help Smith, who can't survive if he's in constant third-and-long situations. I'm curious to see how the Patriots attack the rookie. How did they approach Bills rookie QB EJ Manuel in the opener? Seems like he had a decent game.
Reiss: I’d sum up the Patriots’ defensive approach as one that made limiting running back C.J. Spiller the top priority (they were successful in limiting him to 2.4 yards per carry), followed by keeping Manuel in the pocket and seeing if he could beat them with his arm. Manuel was better than I expected. One thing to keep in mind is that the Patriots were almost exclusively in their nickel defense because the up-tempo Bills always had three or more receivers on the field. Overall, the Patriots didn’t blitz much and there wasn’t consistent pressure on Manuel out of the four-man rush. It will be interesting to see if they take the same approach with Smith, who can make some plays with his feet as well. In the chess match between Ryan and Belichick, do you anticipate Ryan introducing anything out of the norm?
Cimini: Great question, Mike. You never know what you're going to get from Rex. In last year's Thanksgiving game, the Jets played five or more defensive backs on 56 out of 65 plays, though the Patriots didn't play a lot of three-receiver packages. They were daring the Patriots to run the ball. This time, I think the focus will be on the running game, considering Brady has lost his main weapons. I wouldn't be surprised if the Jets play more 4-3 than usual; they played it a little last week against the Bucs. Offensively, they'll keep it fairly conservative. They don't want to put the rookie QB in bad situations. Ryan will play it close to the vest, hoping to steal a win in the fourth quarter.
Reiss: For the Patriots, one of the big storylines to watch is how running back Stevan Ridley responds. He was benched last week after his second-quarter fumble that was returned 74 yards for a touchdown and didn’t play again the rest of the game. ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi often makes the point that when a defense watches film and sees a player vulnerable with ball-security it’s like a shark ready to attack. The Patriots had three turnovers in the season opener and those are the types of things that can keep an offensively-challenged Jets team in the game. Have a safe trip into town and we’ll see you at kickoff.
By the way, the Patriots are the first team since the merger in 1970 to face rookie quarterbacks in Weeks 1 and 2, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They beat the Bills' EJ Manuel in the opener.
A few other statistical nuggets to whet your Thursday night appetite:
1. If I'm the Patriots, I'd be worried about Smith's ability to make plays outside the pocket. He left the pocket 17 times in Week 1, most of any quarterback. On those plays, Smith went 6-of-9 passing for 60 yards, scrambled six times for 47 yards and was sacked twice.
2. The Jets' running backs need to do a better job of catching the ball. The backs dropped three of 10 passes that came their way in the opener (two by Chris Ivory), a drop-ratio of 30 percent -- by far the worst in the league for a running-back unit.
3. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 5-0 in Thursday games, the best winning percentage in history (minimum: five starts). Next on the list is Peyton Manning at 9-1.
4. With Shane Vereen (injured reserve) ruled out and Danny Amendola likely to join him, Brady will be without two of his top three targets from Week 1. When targeting those two and Julian Edelman in Week 1, Brady went 24-for-33 with two touchdowns. When targeting all other Patriots receivers, Brady went 5-for-19 with an interception.