For a long time, it’s been the age old question. How can we beat the Patriots? In year’s past the Pats, more notably Tom Brady, have been the big brother in the AFC East, as he boasts a 14-5 career record against the Jets. But at a pedestrian 5-3 record, currently amidst a two-game losing streak and with the league’s last ranked defense, the Patriots suddenly seem … dare I say … beatable.
The Jets also come into this Sunday’s mega match-up at 5-3, however how the two have gotten there is what separates the rivals now. A three-game winning streak, where the offense has been balanced and efficient — to say the least — and the defense turned the clock back circa 2009, has washed away nightmarish memories from the month prior. A renewed sense of confidence has breathed life into a Jets team that may certainly smell Patriot blood in the water.
In those two losses the Patriots have lost two chinks in their invincibility amour; their wins in an NFL-record 31 regular-season starts at home for Brady and in 20 regular-season home games for the Patriots. They lost consecutive games for just the third time since the start of the 2003 season. Add in the fact that a Brady-led Patriots team have not beat the Jets at home since 2007, where they are 4-0 this season, and it kind of makes you wonder why Gang Green is only 1-point favorites . Hell, the last time the Patriots won in the Meadowlands was when Matt Cassel was making his first pro start against a guy whose name looks like Frett Bavre.
But it is Mark Sanchez at the helm of this offense, who is 3-2 against New England. And in their last meeting he posted his highest QB rating of the season at 105.6, throwing two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He feels that if it wasn’t a for a slow start, things could have been different that day.
“We played pretty poorly that first quarter and then really turned it on for three quarters. It felt like the second, third and fourth quarter we played really well and we’re right in it at the end of the game,” Sanchez said on Wednesday. “For us, it’s just [about] coming out maybe a little faster and seeing how things go, but I was proud of the way we played the first time and just need to pick up where we left off and improve a little bit, take care of the football.”
Avoiding a slow start starts with keeping drives alive and converting on third downs. As Ben Roethlisberger showed in the Steelers steamrolled victory over the Patriots, things are easier when Brady doesn’t have the ball in the his hands. And in their last three games, the Jets offense has converted 65% of their third downs. It also doesn’t hurt that the Patriots defense has given up 132 first downs — thirteen more than the 31st-ranked Green Bay Packers.
The big reason for the offense’s turnaround? The return of the ground game and finally hammering out their issues in the red zone. It’s really all about feeling comfortable. Rex Ryan feels comfortable running the ball. Sanchez feels comfortable running the play action. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says it’s the team feeling comfortable executing their red zone packages that’s the reason for their success.
“It comes down to execution. I like the way we’re practicing things We’re running the ball pretty well. When guys are isolated, we’re finding those match-ups. When guys are deep, we’re checking it down. So, a lot of it’s got to do with just the way we’re practicing it. We like that. We’re comfortable with that, but also the execution’s been clean,” Schottenheimer said.
And for the defense? Well, they were sued mightily by the Law Firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis for 136 yards and two rushing scores in their last meeting. Since then the D has rededicated themselves to the run, giving up an average of 100 yards per game and holding Ryan Matthews/Mike Tolbert and Fred Jackson to 96 yards each.
With 10 interceptions and two fumbles, Tom Brady is a “mortal. He’s not an alien after all.” At least that’s the thought of David Harris. His unusually high tendency for turnovers may prove to be fatal against a defense with 13 interceptions, 1 more than they had on the whole season last year. In their last three games they’ve totaled 8 takeaways, while the Patriots have 8 giveaways.
When the rivalry was renewed on October 9th, no one could have guessed how Foxborough might be the crossroads for both teams, changing the fortune of their fate at the crossing of their paths. On November 13th they will be staring one another in the face. Both teams 5-3. Both teams tied for first place. Mirror opposites of each other –where their only differences just might be their similarities.
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