Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Gang Green's got a Blue-print for Pats
By Ian Begley Special to ESPNNewYork.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When the New York Jets flew out of Buffalo on Sunday evening, they were a half-game behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East.
Shortly after Rex Ryan's crew landed, it was tied for the division lead thanks to Eli Manning's late touchdown pass to Jake Ballard.
"[The Giants] won that game for themselves, without question," Ryan said. "But, I will say this: If we can, I'd like to pay them back. Because that certainly helped us."
The Jets found out about the Giants' last-second win not long after touching down.
On the plane, players were checking their cellphones for scores. Some were offering in-cabin play-by-play. GM Mike Tannenbaum tried to get team members to hold up iPads for updates.
"Word got around pretty quick on the plane," safety Jim Leonhard said.
So Manning's clutch fourth-quarter throw added another wrinkle to Sunday night's Patriots-Jets game, which was already full of them.
Rex Ryan & Co. hope to do to Tom Brady this Sunday what the Giants did this past one.
The Jets will battle their AFC East rivals at MetLife Stadium with first place in the division on the line and the Patriots trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2002.
The Jets and Pats have traded wins in their past six meetings, but the Jets have won two in a row at home.
They're also riding a three-game winning streak heading into Sunday's showdown, looking to avenge an Oct. 9 loss in New England.
Ryan and others cited the Week 5 loss to the Pats as a turning point in their season.
"I was encouraged by how we played because I thought we were starting to play like the team that I thought we had, that Jets style of football," Ryan said Monday. "And then, it's progressed little by little, and ... right now we're at the top. This is the best Jet team so far [this season]."
Since that 30-21 defeat, the Jets have reeled off wins against the Dolphins, Chargers and Bills to rebound from a 2-3 start.
"I think we got our confidence back," Leonhard said. "You start losing football games, and you start questioning things and maybe try to do a little too much. We've gotten back to what's worked. Run the football and be physical on defense."
The Jets will take on New England a week after one of their best defensive efforts of the season. On Sunday, they held a potent Bills offense to 11 points. Buffalo entered play averaging 30.1 points per game.
"We were flying around, guys [were] making a lot of big plays and getting after the quarterback. It was a complete game," Leonhard said.
Ryan stopped short of calling Sunday's game the team's best defensive performance this season. In fact, he didn't sound very impressed.
"I was happy with our performance; there is no question," he said. "But we're not sticking our head up yet. We'll stick our head up three weeks from now and see what we are in our division."
After facing New England, the Jets (5-3) travel to Denver for a Thursday night game, then host Buffalo. After the Buffalo game, they will have faced both the Patriots and Bills twice, so the implications in the division race in the next three weeks can't be understated. Buffalo, New England and the Jets share the same 5-3 record.
"We know we have work to do," Ryan said.
Certainly, no one in the locker room was looking past the Patriots on Monday. And no one was putting much stock in New England's two-game losing streak.
"They're a good football team," right guard and newly minted captain Brandon Moore said. "I don't concern myself with them losing two games or them winning 16 games. I don't pay much attention to that."
Tom Brady has been pressured extensively in losses to the Giants and Steelers in the past two weeks. He's been sacked five times and absorbed 11 hits combined the past two Sundays. The Jets hope to follow a similar blueprint.
"That's what you have to do against New England," Leonhard said. "That's what we pride ourselves on -- getting after him and at least doing whatever you can to make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket."
The Patriots gained 446 yards in their Week 5 win over the Jets, 321 of which came in the air. There's little doubt Ryan's crew has made great strides since that game.
Sunday night will provide a good indication of just how far they've come.
"We had to get better as a football team, and I think we have gotten better," Ryan said. "We'll see if we've gotten substantially better by the way we play this game on Sunday."