NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (4-5) at New England (6-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Don't fret, New York Jets fans...it probably doesn't mean too much to them.
After all, it's not as if the New England Patriots had to spend the entire offseason hearing chatter from East Rutherford about incoming coach Rex Ryan's plans to win a Super Bowl before the end of Barack Obama's first term.
It's not as if Ryan continued his blather as autumn approached, insisting he was not in awe of the Patriots' three Super Bowl championships and had no intention of kissing the rings belonging to New England coach - and long-time Jets nemesis - Bill Belichick.
And it's not as if any foul mood the Patriots would have been in anyway has been stoked even further since, both by a surprising Week 2 loss to the Jets at Giants Stadium and a more-recent Sunday night stumble in Indianapolis that has critics questioning Belichick's coaching sanity.
Hey, don't worry...to them, it's probably just another game.
"I'd like to think we're a better team now than we were in the second week," quarterback Tom Brady said. "This team really challenges us. It's probably our lowest output of the season in points and yards, third-down, all the way across the board and we had a bunch of yards in penalties also. Playing them once, I think that can help you. We can't play much worse."
As for the Jets, that remains to be seen.
Among the NFL's media darlings after a 3-0 start, Ryan and his own quarterback - rookie Mark Sanchez - have become convenient targets for New York-area venom as the team subsequently stumbled to five losses in six games and nosedived from first to third in the AFC East.
A 24-22 home loss to mediocre Jacksonville nudged the dial closer to chaos last week, ending with a Josh Scobee field goal at the gun after Ryan's defense was shredded for 80 yards - including a voluntary kneel-down at the 1-yard line by Maurice Jones-Drew to drain the clock and set up the kick.
Sanchez was ridiculed after the game for addressing the media with a prepared statement, while Ryan became the butt of jokes early this week after apparently shedding tears during a team meeting on Monday afternoon.
The coach made light of it Wednesday, placing a tissue box on the podium before taking questions.
But not everyone's laughing.
"I just don't think standing up in front of 53 men after a mid-November loss to the Jaguars and crying is the way to inspire his guys and give them the best chance to win in Foxborough this weekend and beyond," columnist Gary Myers wrote, in Wednesday's New York Daily News.
"Players look to the coach to set the tone. He can never let on that the losing is getting to him. The last thing the Jets want is for Ryan to turn into a robot like Eric Mangini. But he can't lose control of his emotions. Once that happens, he can lose the team."
Even newcomer Braylon Edwards, who arrived from Cleveland via trade when the Jets were 3-1, seems a little tired of the gamesmanship.
"We're not impressive," he said. "We're not scaring anybody. We're not intimidating anybody coming on to the field. So that 3-0 start is a wash. That's over with. We have to go out there and play football from start to finish."
The Jets hold a 50-47-1 edge in the all-time regular season series with the Patriots, and have won their last two head-to-head meetings against New England. As mentioned, New York was a 16-9 victor when the clubs met at the Meadowlands in Week 2, and took a 34-31 overtime decision 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 England's last home win over New York came in 2007. The Pats are trying to avoid their first home-and-home sweep at the hands of the Jets since 2000.
The teams have also met twice in the postseason, including a 26-14 road victory for New England in a 1985 AFC First-Round Playoff and a 37-16 triumph for the Pats in a 2006 opening-round tilt.
Belichick has a career mark of 14-8 against the Jets, for whom he served as defensive coordinator from 1997 through 1999, including 13-7 while with New England. New York's Ryan is 1-0 against both Belichick and the Pats as a head coach.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
After an ugly stretch of turnovers that featured five INTs in an overtime loss to Buffalo, Sanchez has for the most part settled into game-managing effectiveness. His most frequent activity has been turning and handing the ball off, as evidenced by the Jets' league-leading average of 170.1 rushing yards per game. Workhorse Thomas Jones has a team-best 781 yards and eight touchdowns - tied for second in the AFC - and has seen his workload increase since Leon Washington was lost for the season with a broken leg. Jones had 104 yards and a score in the first game with the Patriots and has six TDs in four road games overall. Though the team scored just one TD and three field goals, Sanchez racked up a 101.1 passer rating the first time around, completing 14-of-22 for 163 yards. In his last three starts, he's thrown for four TDs and two interceptions with a rating of 86.4. Edwards, who was not yet out of Cleveland when the teams met in September, had six catches for 110 yards in his lone career meeting with New England. He needs 32 yards to reach 4,000 for his career, while fellow wideout Jerricho Cotchery is seven catches short of 300. At tight end, Dustin Keller had a career-high eight catches in his last trip to Gillette Stadium.
Any chatter about the Patriots' defense was lost amid the hue and cry about Belichick's controversial play call against the Colts, which saw the offense go for a 4th-and-2 deep inside its own territory late in the game. Some say it showed zero confidence in a defensive squad that had looked fatigued against Indianapolis and the no-huddle offense. True to that form, the failed conversion resulted in Peyton Manning blitzing the defense for a decisive TD pass with 13 seconds to go. Regardless of your point of view, the defense is surely the less-celebrated aspect of a team that averages 416.8 yards per game while surrendering 304.6 - including 110 on the ground and 194.6 in the air. Stopping Jones will be among the tasks of linebacker Jerod Mayo, who missed the first encounter with an injury. He recorded his first career sack last week and is fourth on the team with 39 tackles. Safety Brandon McGowan leads that category with 51, while lineman Mike Wright is best with four sacks and the trio of Brandon Meriweather, Darius Butler and Leigh Bodden have two INTs apiece.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Expect points. The Patriots haven't been held to less than 27 since an overtime loss to Denver in Week 5, rattling off 59, 35, 27 and 34 in four games since. And, while the Jets did keep them out of the end zone in the September matchup, it doesn't figure to happen again on New England's home turf. Brady seems to have shaken loose the cobwebs that resulted from missing last season with a knee injury. He's second in the league with 2,737 yards, tied for second in the league with 19 touchdowns and second in the conference with a 100.6 passer rating. He is 12-3 as a starter against the Jets, throwing 17 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Slot man extraordinaire Wes Welker is once again among league leaders with 64 catches and aims for a fifth straight game with at least nine. He's reeled in 38 passes in his last four games. Oh, and Randy Moss is good, too. He's gone for 147 and 179 yards in his last two outings and may be particularly motivated after Jets linebacker Bart Scott suggested he "be a man" and "go across the middle." Meanwhile, if the Patriots do run, look for Laurence Maroney, who's rushed for at least one TD in four straight games.
Not exactly the best opponent for a team licking its wounds, especially after surrendering a decisive drive in crunch time last week after holding the Jaguars without a first down for the initial 25-plus minutes of the second half. Statistically anyway, New York is still among the league's best units - third overall - with an average of 281.6 total yards allowed per week. They've suffered in critical situations, though, allowing the decisive TD to Jacksonville, a last-play score to Miami in their first meeting and an OT field goal to Buffalo. Opponents have accounted for 85 points in the second half or OT, compared to just 63 points in the first half. Linebacker Calvin Pace, unavailable via suspension for the first game, leads with four sacks on a team that's managed just 15 in spite of frequent blitzes. Lead run-stopper Kris Jenkins is gone for the year with an injury, leading to increased time for a number of players on a front-line rotation. At linebacker, David Harris figures to call defensive signals this week in the absence of defensive captain Jim Leonhard, who'll be lost with a broken thumb. Harris has a team-high 74 tackles, 17 more than Scott.
Brady and Welker, no brainers. And Moss, too, even in a matchup against cornerback Darrelle Revis, who largely rendered him ineffective in September. Chances are it won't happen again. Maroney and all-purpose back Kevin Faulk may share touches as well, but both could be good plays in what may be a big-number day in Foxboro. For the Jets, Jones is a given, while either Cotchery or Edwards can join him. Defensively, the Patriots may prey on Sanchez.
Even the most optimistic of Jets fans has to be dreading this one for all the reasons mentioned previous. Motivation. Momentum. Home field. Talent. It all goes New England's way. So, unless Ryan pulls a horseshoe out of his...ummm, briefcase...there's little reason to believe New England's hold on the division won't get stronger while the Gang Green slump grows longer.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 30, Jets 14
11/19 16:02:01 ET