NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (2-2) at New England (3-1)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Maybe this is a good thing for the New York Jets.
Perhaps the team that's reeling from two straight losses and burgeoning locker- room dissension after a blemish-concealing 2-0 start, needs nothing more than a return date with their biggest rival -- the New England Patriots -- to right its collective ship.
Or maybe a trip to Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL's most prolific offense and a coaching staff that lives and breathes for the chance to humble Gang Green, is the last place on Earth that Rex Ryan really wants to be come this Sunday afternoon.
If the early-week pronouncements from the oft-bombastic New York head coach are indicative, it's the latter. With just a fleeting glimpse of former bravado.
"I'm subdued, but there's probably a little more fire burning inside of me than maybe I'm letting on," Ryan said. "One thing about me, there's a lot smarter guys than me, but there's nobody more competitive."
Consecutive road losses to Oakland (34-24) and Baltimore (34-17) have even prompted the third-year boss to retreat a bit from his preseason pronouncement that the Jets are Super Bowl-bound.
New York and New England split two regular-season games last season before the Jets won, 28-21, in a AFC Divisional Playoff at Gillette Stadium in January.
"I'm going to say this -- right now we're not going to the Super Bowl," Ryan said. "It's at the quarter pole. We're 2-2. We're not even in the playoffs. How can we get to the Super Bowl when we're not even in the playoffs? But my confidence in our football team? By the time we get to the finish line, we'll be right there. It's not easy to make the playoffs, but I think that we'll be there."
Of the two teams who'll be in Foxborough Sunday, the hosts seem the surer bet for the postseason right now.
New England finished the first quarter of its 2011 campaign at a workmanlike 3-1, running up calculator-bursting numbers while beating Miami, San Diego and the Raiders and dropping a 65-point scorefest in Buffalo by a 34-31 count.
The output leaves the Patriots tied atop the AFC East with the Bills, a game ahead of the sliding Jets and already four up on the headed-for-draft-day Miami Dolphins.
"We're excited to build on it," quarterback Tom Brady said of last week's 31-19 win at Oakland. "We're so early in the season still. We've got a huge one this weekend. This is one we've got to go get.
"I thought we did a great job balancing the game out (against the Raiders). For the first time in four weeks, it was really a game that (running) was a big part of what we were trying to accomplish. We were able to run the ball inside, outside, all the different backs ran it and they ran it well. So that's how you become a great offense."
The Jets hold a slim 51-49-1 edge in the all-time regular-season set between the clubs but were handed a 45-3 loss in last year's scheduled visit to Gillette Stadium as New England avenged a 28-14 Week 2 defeat to New York at the Meadowlands. Not counting the playoffs, the Jets have left with a defeat in six of their last eight stops in Foxborough.
New England had won both previous postseason matchups with New York prior to last January's setback, delivering a 26-14 road upset in a 1985 AFC First-Round Playoff and posting a 37-16 win at Gillette Stadium in a 2006 opening-round tilt.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a career record of 16-10 against the Jets, for whom he served as defensive coordinator from 1997 through 1999, and is 15-9 versus his one-time employers since arriving in New England in 2000. Ryan sports a 3-2 mark against both the Patriots and Belichick, which includes last January's playoff ousting, since taking over as the Jets' head coach in 2009.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Including the postseason, the Jets are 3-0 when quarterback Mark Sanchez has a 100-plus passer rating against the Patriots. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson needs five catches to become the fourth running back in NFL history with 600 receptions, joining Larry Centers (827), Marshall Faulk (767) and Keith Byars (610). Including the playoffs, Tomlinson averages 83.7 rushing yards per game (836 yards in 10 games) against New England. The Jets are 5-1 when wide receiver Santonio Holmes has a TD catch in a game, while fellow wideout Derrick Mason needs one receiving yard to become the 18th player in history to reach 12,000. In his past four games against the Patriots, wide receiver Plaxico Burress has six touchdown catches, including a game-winning 13-yarder in Super Bowl XLII while with the New York Giants during the 2007 season. Tight end Dustin Keller is second among AFC players at the position with 261 receiving yards, trailing only New England�s Rob Gronkowski (296), while kick returner Joe McKnight had a franchise-record 107-yard return for a touchdown last week, third-longest in NFL history.
The 12th overall pick by the Jets in the 2000 NFL Draft, Patriots defensive end Shaun Ellis spent 11 seasons (2000-10) with New York before joining New England in the offseason. Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has two interceptions in his past three games, while safety Patrick Chung recorded his first interception of the season last week. Fourth-year pro Jerod Mayo leads the linebacking corps with 24 tackles and has a forced fumble, but suffered a knee injury last week and will be sidelined indefinitely.
Offensively, the Jets are 11th in scoring (25.0 points per game), 25th in total yards (308.0 yards per game), 16th in passing offense (237.0 ypg) and an uncharacteristic 30th in rushing yards (71.0 ypg). On defense, the Patriots are tied for 20th in scoring (24.5 ppg), dead in both total defense (477.5 ypg) and passing yards allowed (368.8 ypg) and tied for 18th in rushing defense (108.8 ypg).
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Brady needs two touchdown passes to surpass Vinny Testaverde (275) for the eighth-most in NFL history. He completed 21-of-29 passes (72.4 percent) for 326 yards, four touchdowns and a 148.9 passer rating in last December's rout of the Jets and has won 29 consecutive regular-season games at home, the longest streak in NFL history. Since 2010, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis ranks second in the NFL with 16 rushing touchdowns, trailing only Houston's Arian Foster (17). Rookie running back Stevan Ridley, a third-round pick in April's draft, had a career-high 97 rushing yards last week, including a 33-yard scoring run. Wide receiver Wes Welker aims for a third straight game with 150- plus receiving yards, following up a career-best 217-yard performance in the Week 3 loss at Buffalo with 158 against the Raiders. He is averaging an NFL- best 154 receiving yards per game this season (616 total). Gronkowski leads all NFL tight ends with five touchdown catches in 2011.
Jets linebacker David Harris had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown last week and had a 58-yarder for a score in the AFC Divisional Playoff win over the Patriots in January. In his second year with the Jets, cornerback Antonio Cromartie has a team-high two interceptions this season. Up front, defensive end Mike DeVito has 13 tackles and a sack to lead the line.
The prolific Patriots are third in scoring offense (33.8 points per game), first in total yards (507.5 yards per game) and passing yards (384.8 ypg) and ninth in rushing offense (122.8 ypg). Defensively, the Jets are 15th in points allowed (23.8 ppg), eighth in total yards surrendered (310.8 ypg), second in pass defense (180.2 ypg) and 27th against the run (130.5 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Finding their signature running game is a high priority for the Jets, who've plummeted to the league's bottom tier in that category through four games. Conveniently, the Patriots have been middle of the pack so far in defending the run.
On the flip side, avoiding a shootout with Brady won't be easy after the reigning league MVP has ranked first in the league in passing yards and touchdown and first in the conference in quarterback rating through the first four weeks. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis versus Patriots wideout Chad Ochocinco will be a marquee matchup, but the shifty Welker is dangerous as well and must be held in check.
Injuries are a mounting concern for New York, which learned this week that linebacker Bryan Thomas is out for the rest of the season with an Achilles' tendon tear. New York must replace his presence with reserves Josh Mauga, Jamaal Westerman and Aaron Maybin.
It was a somewhat similar situation in 2010 for the Jets, who came off a Week 1 loss to the Ravens before turning things around with a 14-point win over New England. Problem is, the bleeding appears far worse a season later, making a dramatic turnaround that much more unlikely. Expect a fired-up Belichick to be more than happy to shovel additional dirt on New York's quickly-fading Super Bowl hopes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 28, Jets 20
10/06 18:47:41 ET