NFL Preview - New England (1-0) at N.Y. Jets (1-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Journalists of the Boston/New York corridor, rejoice.
Just when the rivalry that's seen TunaGate, NapkinGate, SpyGate and HandshakeGate within the last 15 years seemed bound for a few years of boredom - after the inglorious exodus of Brett Favre and Eric Mangini from East Rutherford last winter - another notebook-filler shows up.
Ladies and gentlemen of the media, meet Rex Ryan.
North Jersey's newest round mound of provocative sound.
The rotund ex-patriarch of the Baltimore Ravens' defense made - ahem - a sizable impression upon accepting the job as Mangini's sideline successor, immediately turning his attention toward the moribund green-clad franchise's long-standing enemy to the north.
"I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings," he said, landing the initial verbal blow in the long-standing AFC East dispute. "I came here to win, let's put it that way. I'm certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else."
For the record, the Patriots have made 15 playoff appearances, appeared in five Super Bowls and won three championships since the Jets' lone real moment of football glory more than 40 years ago - a 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III on Jan. 12, 1969.
In fact, New York's most recent playoff game was Jan. 7, 2007 in Foxboro - a 37-16 loss.
And the Patriots have won 12 of 18 regular-season meetings since Belichick switched camps in 2000.
So the seemingly abrupt change from the robotic Mangini and the competitive status quo between the teams has predictably created a stir.
And after a positively Raven-like road throttling of the Houston Texans in last weekend's season-opener, the glee rising from New York-area swamps these days isn't just a reaction to news that Bon Jovi's latest album is due for an early November release.
Instead, it seems the boys from Massachusetts have become "Wanted: Dead or Alive."
"We come here, we put all the work and all the hours in, why should we think we have to bow down and be inferior to anybody, despite how many rings they got, how many playoff wins they have?" said Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who signed as a free agent after Ryan's arrival.
"I'm not here to say, 'Let me bow down, please don't beat us too bad.' No. Let's go out here and let's play and let's smack each other in the face and see who comes out on top."
For its part, New England also enters the Week 2 fracas at 1-0, having escaped with a 25-24 win over Buffalo on Monday night - in which the visitors held an 11-point lead with three minutes remaining before a pair of late TD passes from Tom Brady to tight end Benjamin Watson.
It was the Patriots' 12th straight win over the Bills, the longest existing streak in the NFL.
"I'm really proud of the players," Belichick said. "Not that we played our best, but we hung in there. That's not what we're trying to do. But whatever it was, they dealt with it and made some smart plays at the end. I wish we would have played like that earlier in the game."
The Jets hold a 49-47-1 edge in the all-time regular season series with the Patriots, and snapped a three-game losing streak to New England with a 34-31 overtime win in a primetime battle at Gillette Stadium in Week 11 of last year. The Patriots won the front end of the 2008 home-and-home, dealing the Jets a 19-10 loss at the Meadowlands in Week 2. New York was also swept in the 2007 home-and-home, coming up a 38-14 home loser in the infamous "Spygate" game of Week 1, then dropping a 20-10 decision at Gillette Stadium in Week 15. New England is 12-3 in its last 15 regular season games against the Jets, and is 8-0 in series contests played at the Meadowlands since last losing there in 2000.
The Patriots and Jets have also met twice in the postseason, including a 26-14 road victory for New England in a 1985 AFC First-Round Playoff and the aforementioned 37-16 triumph for the Pats in a 2006 opening-round tilt.
Belichick has a career mark of 14-7 against the Jets, for whom he served as defensive coordinator from 1997 through 1999, including 13-6 while with New England. New York's Ryan will be meeting both Belichick and the Pats for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Well, that Brady fella is pretty good, no? After a season on the shelf with a knee injury, the University of Michigan product returned to a heavy workload on Monday, completing 39-of-53 passes against the Bills for a league-best 378 yards and the aforementioned two scores. In the regular season since 2007, Brady is 18-0 as a starter with a 69.2 completion percentage, 52 TDs and just nine interceptions. He needs one touchdown to become the 27th passer in league history with 200, and is 11-2 in 13 career starts against the Jets. Also, veteran running back Fred Taylor has averaged 117.5 yards in four career meetings with New York. On the outside, Randy Moss and Wes Welker combined for 24 catches (12 apiece) against Buffalo. Since 2007, Moss leads the league with 34 touchdown catches and Welker is first with 235 overall receptions.
As mentioned previously, defense will play a large role if the Jets are to begin a season at 2-0 for the first time since 2004. The unit led by head coach Ryan and defensive coordinator Michael Pettine forced a pair of turnovers while keeping a powerful Texans team below 200 total yards last week - the best performance of any AFC team. Cornerback Lito Sheppard, a former Pro Bowler with Philadelphia, picked off a pass in his Jets debut against Houston. Linebacker David Harris and rookie Jamaal Westerman each had a sack of Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, while defensive end Shaun Ellis - who missed last week while on a team suspension - will return against the Patriots. He has 10 career sacks against New England, his most against any opponent.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Rookie QB Mark Sanchez was everything that could have been asked for in Week 1, making a positive initial impression with an 18-for-31 passing day, 272 yards and a touchdown, in addition to several heady plays in third-down situations. His passer rating for the debut was a respectable 84.3. In the backfield, workhorse Thomas Jones picked up where he'd left off in 2008, grinding out 107 yards on 20 carries and scoring twice. He led the AFC in rushing last season and scored 15 times - a Jets record. Jones ran for 104 yards in the teams' last meeting and averages 102.6 yards in games where he carries at least 20 times. Among the pass-catchers, wideout Jerricho Cotchery has five catches or more in five of his last six games against the Patriots, and tight end Dustin Keller recorded a career-best eight catches when the teams last met in 2008. He led New York with 94 receiving yards last week.
A transitioning New England corps was leaky at times and solid in others against the Bills, permitting 276 total yards. Minus a number of their former lynch pins - Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison - the Pats didn't pressure Bills QB Trent Edwards until a pair of sacks on Buffalo's desperation final drive, and also didn't force an offensive turnover all night. Not aiding things for this week will be the absence of linebacker Jerod Mayo - the reigning AFC defensive rookie of the year - who injured his right knee in the first quarter against the Bills. Among the healthy and positives, however, is linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who recorded both sacks of Edwards as the Bills attempted to drive for a go-ahead score in the final minute.
For New England, two words: start Brady. Two more words, start Moss. And two final words: start Welker. Outside of that, it's all academic. And until the Jets' defense shows it can slow down the trio, they must be played this week. For New York, it's not quite as simple. Jones will get yards, but probably not huge plays. Leon Washington may break something, but doesn't get a ton of touches. All things considered, perhaps Keller is the best play in tight-end mandatory leagues. And don't forget about the defense, which was a point- scorer last week against Houston.
A new quarterback is in town. The sense exists that the Patriots have slipped. And the optimism in New York is palpable. Funny, sounds a lot like last year's second week, when New England nonetheless waltzed into the Meadowlands with novice starter Matt Cassel and waltzed out with a 19-10 win over Favre and the boys.
In the words of S.E. Hinton, however, "That was then, this is now." For at least one week, Ryan has changed the culture. For at least one week, the Jets no longer view themselves as the whipping post, and instead plan to do the whipping. And sometimes in pro sports, when every player on every team is talented, it's the mental edge that makes the difference.
For at least one week, call us believers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 24, Patriots 17
09/17 11:51:04 ET