A month ago, the New England Patriots delivered a heavy blow. On Sunday, the New York Jets get their first chance at a significant counter.
The target of much overrated talk after a nine-point loss to the Patriots in October — their third straight defeat after a 2-0 start — the Jets enter Sunday’s rematch at MetLife Stadium having won three consecutive games to get back to a first-place tie with the Patriots and Buffalo Bills atop the AFC East.
Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Jets as slight 1 1/2-point home favorites, with the total set at 47 1/2.
New York traveled to Orchard Park last week to defeat the Bills, 27-11, and now happily return home to northern New Jersey, where they’re 4-0 this season and winners of two straight against New England since Rex Ryan’s arrival as head coach in 2009.
The Patriots, who’ve dropped consecutive decisions to Pittsburgh and the New York Giants, haven’t lost three straight games since 2002. That was the last season they failed to win at least 10 games and is the only year Tom Brady hasn’t reached the playoffs as a starting quarterback.
The Jets won the division that year with Chad Pennington under center.
“Both teams are going to be humming for this one, no question,” Ryan said. “You can sugarcoat it all you want, but [the Patriots] know they need it and we know we need it. Both teams are going to be hungry.”
New York allowed 30 points or more in three straight losses from late September into October, including the 30-21 verdict at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 9. It’s since rebounded with wins over Miami, San Diego and Buffalo to get to 5-3, allowing just 38 points and forcing eight turnovers in the three games.
“We definitely have been getting better these last three weeks,” said Ryan, whose team has won six straight November games. “But we’re going to see how much we’ve improved.”
New England’s offense is second in the league with an average of 437.3 total yards per game, but it’s scored 20 or fewer in three straight contests, gained only 213 yards against Pittsburgh and was shut out in the first half against the Giants.
Last week’s loss also featured four turnovers, the third time the Patriots have had that many this season. Last year, they had one turnover in their final eight games.
Brady has thrown 10 interceptions this season after having just four en route to a unanimous selection as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2010.
“Just decision-making,” Brady said of his struggles. “I’ve just got to make better decisions.”
On defense, the Patriots are the only team in the league allowing more than 300 passing yards per game.
“I think everybody can do a better job,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “That includes everybody. It includes me, it includes all the coaches, it includes all the players. There’s room for improvement for all of us.”
In personnel news, New England released defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth Tuesday. It’s other big-name offseason signee, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, was targeted five times last week, but failed to catch a pass for the third straight game.
“He’s continued to do a great job in practice in his role that he’s really carved out for himself, and he’s going to continue to be out there and hopefully, make a bunch of plays.” said Brady of Ochocinco.
The Patriots are tied with San Diego with an NFL-best 24-7 record in division games from November through the end of season since 2002.
The Jets hold a slim 51-50-1 edge in the all-time regular-season set between the clubs but as previously mentioned, were 30-21 losers to the Patriots when the two rivals squared off at Gillette Stadium in Week 5. New York has bested New England on its home turf in each of the last two years, however, registering a 16-9 victory at the Meadowlands in 2009 and a 28-14 triumph at MetLife Stadium during Week 2 of last season. The Patriots had defeated the Jets eight straight times as the visitor prior to that 2009 result.
New England had won both previous postseason matchups with New York prior to a 28-21 home setback in last January’s AFC Divisional Playoffs, 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.
Belichick has a career record of 17-10 against the Jets, for whom he served as defensive coordinator from 1997 through 1999, and is 16-9 versus his one-time employers since arriving in New England in 2000. Ryan sports a 3-3 mark against both the Patriots and Belichick, which includes last season’s playoff ousting, since taking over as the Jets’ head coach in 2009.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
With a win, Brady and Belichick will surpass Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Don Shula for most wins (116) by a quarterback-head coach duo in the Super Bowl era. Brady also needs just one win to tie Hall of Famer Joe Montana (117) for the seventh-most victories by a starting quarterback in league history and owns a 14-5 regular-season record against the Jets. Running back BenJarvus Green- Ellis had a career-best 136 rushing yards in last month’s victory over the Jets and wide receiver Wes Welker had five receptions for 124 yards in that contest. Welker needs two receptions to join Troy Brown (557) and Stanley Morgan (534) as the only players in franchise history with 500 catches. Since entering the NFL in 2010, tight end Rob Gronkowski leads all players at his position with 16 touchdown catches.
On defense for New York, linebacker Calvin Pace recorded his first interception of the season last week against Buffalo and fellow linebacker Jamaal Westerman had a career-best two sacks in the Week 5 loss at New England. Rookie end Muhammad Wilkerson has 20 tackles and a sack in his initial season, while second-year cornerback Kyle Wilson has compiled 23 tackles and an interception.
Statistically, New England’s offense is fifth in scoring (27.8 ppg), second in total yards (437.2 ypg), first in passing (325.6 ypg) and 17th in rushing (111.6 ypg). On defense, the Jets are ninth in points allowed (20.4 ppg), eighth in total yards allowed (319.0 ypg), seventh against the pass (196.0 ypg) and 22nd against the run (123.0 ypg).
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
In his past four starts, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has completed 68-of-112 passes (60.7 percent) for 770 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions and a 94.7 rating. He had two touchdowns and a 105.6 rating in the previous meeting between these teams and aims for his 25th regular-season win as a starter (24-15). In his last four games, running back Shonn Greene is averaging 86.3 rushing yards per game, while backfield mate LaDainian Tomlinson posted his first rushing touchdown of the season and 145th of his career last week, the second-most all-time behind Emmitt Smith (164). Including the postseason, wide receiver Santonio Holmes aims for a third straight game with a touchdown against New England. Fellow wideout Plaxico Burress had a season-best five receptions and 79 receiving yards last week, while kick returner/running back Joe McKnight leads the league with 40.2-yard kick return average.
On defense for the Patriots, cornerback Kyle Arrington is tied for the NFL lead with five interceptions, while end Andre Carter has 32 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble on the front line. Brandon Spikes leads the linebacker corps with 44 tackles, but injured his knee against the Giants and isn’t expected to play.
By the numbers, New York is 11th in the league in scoring offense (24.9 ppg) but 28th in total yards (306.1 ypg), 22nd in passing (209.5 ypg) and 25th in rushing (96.6 ypg). The Patriots’ defense is 20th in points allowed (23.0 ppg), dead last in both total yards (416.2 ypg) and passing yards (314.0 ypg) allowed and ninth against the run (102.2 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Since the arrival of Ryan, the Jets have convinced themselves they can play with the Patriots, as evidenced by two regular-season wins and a playoff victory in his two seasons. That confidence will be needed against traditionally one of the league’s most successful teams.
Greene went over 100 yards against Buffalo and the Jets have averaged 130-plus yards on the ground during their three-game win streak after languishing near the bottom of the league in that category. They gained just 97 rushing yards in the first meeting with the Patriots, however.
In one of the most important matchups to watch, Welker looks likely to be lined up against Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, against whom he caught five passes — including one for 72 yards — last month in New England.
More so than any coach in recent franchise history, Ryan has helped the Jets shed the identity of being the Patriots’ sparring partner. New York has progressed significantly since the Week 5 loss while New England has stepped back, leaving this matchup more similar to what it looked like before last season’s AFC Divisional Playoff. That was a Gang Green victory. This should be, too.