Judging by the circumstances, the New York Jets and New England Patriots will roll into their second clash of the season in equally atrocious moods.
The Belichick brigade just suffered a horrendous loss against the Indianapolis Colts, primarily due to a baffling decision made by their usually peerless head coach.
The Patriots were on the verge of a decisive victory against their undefeated rival, only to receive an epic dose of comeuppance, really typifying a new pattern of failure dating back to the 2006 AFC Championship Game. A few more soul shaking defeats in this vein, and New England just may relinquish a fearsome reputation they have not deserved for some time now.
Even still, despite the Patriots’ faltering status as a member of the league-wide elite, let there be no doubt they still possess total ownership of the AFC East. Nearly division winners last season despite losing Tom Brady week one, the Patriots are unquestionably the class of an otherwise inconsistent crop. This rematch against the Jets affords them the opportunity to further distance themselves.
Ah, and what of the Jets? Here we have a collection of talent taking a truly unique journey. If nothing else, no one following the team could possibly complain of boredom. Pain and suffering sure, disappointment perhaps, but true realists understood the difficulty of winning immediately with a rookie quarterback. Even they may have swayed slightly after New York started strong, but the high was temporary, a bipolar swing quickly reversed.
Indeed, it’s easy to forget the expectations were once low. Those sensible sentiments were eventually shoved aside, lost within a chaotic parade of penned speeches, tissue boxes, hot dogs and harsh quotes. The Jets’ have been consumed by the wild energy summoned by both their discordant play and brash behavior. The endless stream of high quality notebook filler has been well documented, with even the normally reserved Darrelle Revis joining the fray, reacting harshly to a question about whether he receives help over the top while covering Randy Moss. Suppose that was inevitable. Rex Ryan defended the skills of Revis. “I’ll just put it this way – having Revis allows us to do things that most people don’t do or have the courage to play against him,” said the head coach. “That’s man coverage, to man up and say, ‘Alright, here we are.’ Now, Kerry Rhodes covers a lot of ground. What maybe looks like Cover Two because of the range Kerry has might have been Cover One. All I can say is we’ve got the best corner in the League and I don’t think there’s any dispute about that.”
The Jets’ instability has been most glaring where it really counts. Just take another look at last week’s defeat against Jacksonville. The defensive performance alone speaks volumes. They were, nearly collectively, terrible in the first half. But the rebound in the second was resounding… at least until the final drive, whereupon a particularly ill-timed regression took hold. Consistency has vacated the premises.
So, here are the Jets, one practice away from hitting the road and adding another chapter to this increasingly surrealist tome. And honestly, how could anyone even entertain a prediction? Well, while others are certainly entitled to think better of it, some are compelled to at least try.
The Jets can certainly win this game. No question about that. They have a superior running game, always a considerable benefit for a road underdog. The big play capability of New England’s offense is severely compromised by the presence of Darrelle Revis, who has never been remotely outmatched by his burgeoning nemesis, Moss.
If the Jets are able to carry over the positive adjustments made by their run defense against Jacksonville, they could manipulate the game’s momentum, twisting it into a turgid, low scoring affair, mirroring the week two duel. And this is precisely where the perception and reality of New England could be misinterpreted.
These Patriots prefer an aerial showdown. There are very few teams able to claim comparable passing personnel, from the quarterback to wide receivers. Here lies their principal strength, and New England can still be a top-flight outfit using this approach.
But the championship-winning squads that so thoroughly gloried in bloodying opponents with ball control and tough defense are nothing more than a memory. Its no coincidence the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since Corey Dillon passed his prime. His successor, Laurence Maroney, has been a mild letdown. It’d be a supreme overreaction to label him a bust, because Maroney is a productive player, toting a 4.0 rushing average into this game. But even Maroney’s staunchest supporters would have to admit the Patriots’ overall vision probably didn’t involve him sharing carries in 2009. Or nearly losing his starting job to a warhorse like Fred Taylor.
The defense has improved, but is still unquestionably transitioning. It’s a group that hasn’t earned much yet, besides the apparent distrust of their coach.
As presently constituted, New England is very vulnerable when pitted against an opponent capable of curtailing their theatrics through the air. In this respect, the Jets match-up well with the Patriots, primarily because of Revis.
The main concern facing New York, from here until their twisting and turning ride finally halts, is whether the interior defensive line can survive without key anchor Kris Jenkins. The Patriots are not built to properly exploit this weakness, with a continual barrage of rushing plays. They must throw.
How could it all play out? Wes Welker may have a huge game, a terror over the middle. Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is well aware of Welker’s potential impact. Julian Edelman was lined up in Welker’s stead the last time these two teams met. “It’s a big step up. To me, Edelman was a poor man’s version of Welker and he did a good job filling in for him. Now they are getting creative and going to some four-wide receiver groupings that gets them both on the field which is certainly a challenge,” said Pettine. “Welker is definitely a step up. It’s easy to see that he’s really been a shot in the arm for the offense now that he’s 100 percent. He’s averaging close to 10 catches a game in the last month or so. Yards after catch are his usual. Then, he ignited them the other night as well with the punt return as well. He’s a weapon. It’s certainly justified that the guy is a Pro Bowl guy almost every year.”
The Patriots will also employ the services of star linebacker Jerod Mayo, another player absent from their week two defeat. Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had some high praise for Mayo. “He’s a great player, began Schottenheimer. “With what he did last year, sideline to sideline player. I think he has a lot to do with getting people lined up, at least that’s what it looks like on film. He makes a lot of the checks. He and (Brandon) Meriweather are the two guys that you see doing a lot of the communicating. A big-time football player.”
I see Bart Scott neutralizing Faulk’s pass catching abilities. I see the Patriots adjusting to the Jets’ exotic blitzes, allowing Tom Brady ample time to find a target. And ultimately, I see the quarterbacks deciding this one. The Jets will hang around, maybe even controlling time of possession in a low scoring first half. But Brady will eventually assert himself, leaving Mark Sanchez to return serve some other day.
Patriots 21 Jets 10