Saturday, January 8, 2011 Updated: January 9, 2:36 PM ET
This sequel could top them all
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
A Patriots-Jets matchup always will have a little extra spice because of the rivalry and icy feelings between the teams. Put it in the playoffs, and oh boy.
This is going to be fun.
The Jets will return to Gillette Stadium 42 days after the day the Patriots smoked them by 42 points. Patriots owner Robert Kraft called that game the biggest regular-season contest of his ownership tenure. This time around, the stakes will be even higher.
Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez went into Indianapolis and beat Peyton Manning and the Colts, but they face an even bigger test next weekend in Foxborough.
One can see the storylines already starting to take shape for the AFC divisional round game next Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET).
Patriots coach Bill Belichick will be stressing that the last game between the teams will have no impact on this one. Jets coach Rex Ryan figures to bring it up often to light a fire under his club.
Belichick will be talking up the Jets and what they accomplished Saturday night in Indianapolis, upsetting the Colts 17-16 by getting back their defensive mojo and sparking up their ground-and-pound offensive approach. Ryan will be explaining his remarks from last week in which he took a shot at quarterback Tom Brady, saying he gets more help from his coaching staff than Peyton Manning does with the Colts.
We'll hear all about sideline walls on punts, Sal Alosi, why Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff fingered the Patriots for doing the same thing and the Jets' appeal of the NFL's $100,000 fine.
And, hopefully, there is time to talk X's and O's and why this matchup should be more competitive than the Dec. 6 beatdown the Patriots delivered to the mouthy Jets, a game that had Jets receiver Braylon Edwards saying the Patriots were running up the score.
The key for the Patriots will be at the line of scrimmage, where the Jets wrestled control of Saturday's game away from the Colts in the second half by rocking them back on two impressive second-half drives. The first took 10 plays, covered 63 yards and chewed up 5:12, tying the score at 7 at the start of the third quarter. The second was even better -- 17 plays, 87 yards, lasting 9:54 -- giving the Jets a 14-10 lead early in the fourth.
The Patriots will need to stop the run, and they figure to be in their 3-4 alignment to do so, calling on a heavier group against the Jets' big, physical line. With end Ron Brace being placed on season-ending injured reserve on Monday (elbow), there is a question of which lineman will join Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren up front. It could be rookie Kyle Love, who was signed as an undrafted free agent. Also, the integration of run-stopping inside linebacker Brandon Spikes as he returns from a four-game suspension takes on added importance.
The Patriots were in full pads for Wednesday and Thursday practices last week in part to work on their run fits and the timing in the running game at a full-speed pace. That's where this week's discussion should start, because if the Patriots can limit the Jets' running game (169 yards versus Colts), it will put more pressure on shaky second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. In turn, if the Jets can run it and take time off the clock (33:07 to 26:53 time-of-possession edge over Colts), that's one of the most effective ways to limit the explosiveness of Brady and the Patriots' offense.
In the last meeting between the teams, the Patriots rocked the Jets by showing them a variety of formations, tapping into the versatility of their tight ends. As noted by ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, it was the Jets' first look at the Patriots' offense without Randy Moss, and they were left dizzied by all the formations thrown at them. They should be better equipped to handle things the second time around.
After that blowout, Ryan said: "It's the biggest butt-whipping I've taken as a coach in my career. But I can promise you one thing. I'll be ready to play 'em. I'll play them right now if they'll go out and do it again. You know, so that's the only way I know how to respond. I'll sit back out there and stick my chin out again. We will remember this. There is no question about that."
Ryan and the Jets will get a lot of help this week in that regard. Already, the excitement is building.
It's Patriots-Jets, Part 3. In the playoffs.
Doesn't get much better than that.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.