The New York Jets and New England Patriots renew their heated rivalry Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets (3-3) hope to jump back into the AFC East race by stealing a much-needed win.
The Jets are tired of getting pushed around by the Patriots, having lost five straight meetings, so their theme this week is "Unfinished Business." They felt they should've won the previous meeting, a 13-10 loss in Week 2, and they see this as an opportunity to exact revenge. Of course, the Patriots (5-1) have heard this before from the Jets. They stay out of the war of words; they just keep winning.
ESPN.com Jets reporter Rich Cimini and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss break down the matchup.
Cimini: Mike, I guess we should start with the last-second win over the New Orleans Saints. Tom Brady was marvelous on the final drive, as usual, but it wasn't a vintage Brady game. He was sacked five times and finished with a 74.7 passer rating. Is he still having chemistry issues with his receivers, as we noticed in Week 2?
Reiss: Yes, Rich, it remains a work in progress as the Patriots are among the league leaders in dropped passes. The overall unsteadiness has had a trickle-down effect on some of Brady’s decision-making and accuracy, in part because he just doesn't have that assurance at all times of where his receivers are going to be. But the end of that game could be a breakthrough because they had little margin for error and still came through. And before that, they got the running game going with Stevan Ridley, and I think that’s going to be key this week. The Patriots didn't run it well in their 13-10 win over the Jets on Sept. 12 -- let’s give the Jets' defense some credit for that -- so that’s high on the priority list this week. How are the Jets different, on both offense and defense, since that meeting?
Cimini: First of all, Geno Smith is more comfortable at quarterback. I know you can't tell from his stats this season (10 interceptions), but he has been making better decisions over the past eight quarters. This will be a huge test to see how much he's grown since Week 2.
Their problem is, the supporting cast isn't the same. Tight end Kellen Winslow is serving a PED suspension, wide receiver Santonio Holmes is a major question mark with a balky hamstring and wide receiver Clyde Gates is done for the year. Jeremy Kerley is back -- he didn't play in the first Jets-Pats game because of a concussion -- but I don't think he's the type of player who will change a game. I think the Jets will feature the running game, using Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. That's probably the best way to attack the Patriots, who won't have the big fella -- Vince Wilfork -- or Jerod Mayo. How much will the Patriots miss those guys?
Reiss: These losses hit at the heart of the Patriots’ defense. In baseball, it's often said that a team wants to be strong up the middle, and the same could be said for a football team. Wilfork and Mayo are the Patriots' "middle" men, the glue guys who play almost every snap. These are big losses, about as big as they get on defense. Then you consider that cornerback Aqib Talib, arguably their best defender over the first six weeks of the season, also didn't finish Sunday's win over the Saints (hip injury), and it's a banged-up unit. But as we know, no one is going to feel sorry for a team with injuries in the NFL.
I think one of the big themes this week is that Bill Belichick's team-building philosophy, and the value he puts on depth, is in the spotlight. People often ask why he generally trades down in the draft instead of up. Or why the team might make hard financial decisions in free agency that make key players sometimes defect. This is a main reason: He believes in the importance of depth and the complete team, from player No. 1 to player No. 61 on the back end of the practice squad. They'll need them all to overcome these losses.
As for the Jets' defense, I know the Patriots respect the line and the ability to stop the run. But I was surprised to see just three takeaways for the Jets this season. That doesn't sound like a Rex Ryan defense, at least the one that comes to mind, with his creative schemes and disruption. What's going on with that unit?
Cimini: To quote Ryan, it's shocking and disappointing. They have one interception and one forced fumble (the third takeaway was produced on special teams). They haven't made an interception since Week 1, a span of 207 passes without a pick. Why the drought? A few reasons. For one, the Jets haven't had too many leads and, as you know, it's easier to force turnovers when you're playing with a lead. Secondly, the secondary has dropped off.
They miss Darrelle Revis, no doubt, and Antonio Cromartie isn't playing as well as he did last season. No. 1 pick Dee Milliner (hamstring) hasn't been able to get on the field, and there's no one else in the secondary with any sort of playmaking ability. They're not even coming close to interceptions, as the DBs have combined for only 11 pass breakups. The odd thing is, the front seven is generating decent pressure, but teams have adapted to the improved pass rush by throwing a lot of quick screens and short passes. How do you think the Patriots will attack the Jets?
Reiss: This is now primarily a three- or four-receiver offense, and they are coming off an up-tempo attack against the Saints, as they ran 50 snaps in the first half. I could see the same thing against the Jets. Part of the reason I think they went up-tempo was to negate some of the presnap disguise and scheming that a Rob Ryan-coached defense can be effective with. The Jets' defense, under Rex Ryan, seems to have some similar concepts. In addition to that, they know they have to run the ball better than they did last time. What do you see as the key?
Cimini: This might seem like a cliché, Mike, but it's all about the turnovers. Under Ryan, the Jets are 3-0 against the Patriots when they're plus or even in turnover ratio, and 0-7 when it's a negative margin. Much of this burden falls on Geno Smith. He has thrown at least two interceptions in four of six starts. If he makes it five out of seven, I don't see how the Jets can win this game.