Dec 21, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after being knocked down by the New York Jets in the first half during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The NY Jets face their first real challenge of the season, on the road against the world-champion New England Patriots. A win would be highly improbable, but it is not impossible.
It does not take an expert prognosticator to state that the Jets (4-1) have very little chance of defeating the undefeated Patriots (5-0) this Sunday afternoon in Foxboro. While certain commentators speak of the Jets’ ascending parity with the defending Super Bowl champions, such is not the case. However, as former Jet coach Herm Edwards famously vented on October 30, 2002: “You play to win the game!”
There’s not much to say about New England that hasn’t been said, from their excellence on the field, to their playing fast and loose with the rule book. Tom Brady and his Boston backers have disturbingly convinced themselves that the quarterback was the victim of some widespread Goodell-ian conspiracy to deprive him of his god-given right to not have to abide by the same rules as everyone else. Such Sox-fan self-proclaimed “fans” have conveniently overlooked that this ruling was payback for the team’s continued shady behavior dating back to a NFL-changing, cheating scandal known as SpyGate.
Ask those angry veterans of Rams and Eagles Super Bowl-losing teams, like Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk and Jeremiah Trotter, who for years had suspicions that the Pats knew their plays before they ran them. Even the judge who sided with Ms. Giselle Bundchen in DeflateGate against the league’s draconian conduct policy administration doubted the quarterback’s doe-eyed innocence shtick.
The Jets displayed in last weekend’s win over the gritty but depleted Redskins an ability to overcome adversity. They also showed the first glimpses of an explosive Chan Gailey offense. Despite the previous week’s restful bye-week, there are key injuries going into the New England game. Can the NYJ rise to the challenge?
Here’s five possible ways — all named for classic rock songs by Boston — to surprise the Patriots.
Next: 5. Don't Look Back
Oct 3, 2015; London, United Kingdom; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) and cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) look on during the 2015 NFL International Series Fan Rally at Trafalgar Square. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
5. Don’t Look Back
Can anyone really stop the Patriots’ three-headed receiving hydra of Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola? Expect the Pats to test the Jets’ venerated secondary early and often. And don’t expect the Jets’ to sleep on Dion Lewis, New England’s #1 runner and #2 pass catcher, or Foxboro favorite LeGarrette Blount. Then again, it doesn’t matter who’s running the ball, because a large part of the Patriots’ success is due to their focus on the run blocking skills of their blue-collar offensive line — an unstoppable combination with Brady’s passing acumen.
Much credit goes to the Patriots player personnel staff, constantly uncovering incredible talent, be it rookie undrafted free agent center David Andrews, who has yet to miss a snap, or last year’s undrafted Super Bowl hero cornerback Malcolm Butler of University of West Alabama (formerly Livingston Female Academy). Two key offensive cogs, 2007 seventh-round QB-turned-WR Edelman and guard Josh Kline, played as Kent State Golden Flashes in the Mid-American Conference.
Do you think that recent 60 Minutes star Darrelle Revis has a serious axe to grind with his 2014 employer after they dissed his mother at this past June’s Patriots ring ceremony? All he did was play one Pro Bowl season in New England and almost single-handedly win that Super Bowl. He never complained on the job; he just never wavered in his desire to get paid comparable to his future Hall of Fame status. It’s crazy that Robert Kraft’s crew are furious with Revis for going “home” to New York, where he always felt most welcome — and where he also felt a need to take care of some unfinished business.
Revis will go into battle with his defensive secondary wing man Antonio Cromartie but likely without key BINO (back-up in name only) Buster Skrine, still woozy from his concussion. Most Jets fans never thought they’d be hoping for the return of Marcus Williams or the season debut of Dee Milliner. Darrin Walls and Dexter McDougle — who made a nice fourth-down stop against the Redskins his NFL game debut — could get rocked by Bellichick/Brady.
Here comes a major challenge for coach Todd Bowles and staff. But in all major pro sports, a great defense always trumps great offense.
Next: 4. Peace Of Mind
Dec 22, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Leger Douzable (78) celebrates his sack of Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell (not shown) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Browns 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
4. Peace Of Mind
The Patriots recently received some tough news with Brady’s protective soldier, left tackle Nate Solder, their 2011 No. 1 pick who’d never missed a start, lost for the rest of the season with a torn bicep. Stand-in Marcus Cannon, an impressive career Pats backup fifth-year bruiser out of TCU, got nicked-up last week, and was replaced by practice-squader Cameron Fleming. Expect the Jets to test that weak spot early and often.
The Patriots, still the NFL’s undisputed top-ranked team, have a few statistical vulnerabilities to exploit. Brady’s bunch were the league’s #1 top offense until the Chargers’ Philip Rivers threw for a 1/4-mile last week in Green Bay, while the Ryan Fitzpatrick-helmed Jets rank #8. The Jets, powered by Chris Ivory, are the #1 rushing team, while the Patriots are #2 in passing. And New York have a better defense, particularly at D-line and cornerback. The Jets are currently the league’s statistical #1 defense, #2 against the pass and #2 against the run. The Patriots rank #17 in total defense, #16 against the pass, #22 against the run.
Then again, the Patriots seem to figure out how to win, be it scratching out narrow victories or blowing-out opponents. This is a very good but not great Patriots team, with eight players on injured reserve. But their AFC opponents have proven to be so weak that they may still have that clear path to another Super Bowl.
The only proven method to stop Brady is to really rattle him. Rex Ryan proved that time and again with Gang Green, with all those years of close losses due to his team’s lack of any legitimate offensive firepower. And of course, the crosstown Giants proved that point in the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowls.
That physicality factor plays into the Jets favor, especially as the sacks on Brady continue to mount; 13 times this season, 5 times alone in the first half against the Cowboys. Brady justifiably gets furious whenever he gets blind-sided or throttled — and of course when you’re angry, you are most prone to make mistakes.
Last week’s Pats narrow road win over the Colts — overcoming a visibly ailing Andrew Luck and an obviously brain-locked coach Chuck Pagano — was certainly not the rout most experts predicted. That’s something for the Jets, who already slaughtered the Colts on Monday Night Football, to build on.
Next: 3. Don't Look Back
Oct 18, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (91) celebrates with defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) after a sack against Washington Redskins quarterback
(not pictured) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
3. Don’t Look Back
Gailey’s prized pupil Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to be on his A-game, on par with last week’s 113.1 quarterback-rating performance. Now would be the time for second-rounder Devin Smith to prove his long-ball receiving skills, at least enough to distract their safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, and allow Brandon Marshall and/or Eric Decker to go mano-a-mano with Rutgers alum Logan Ryan and rising star Malcolm Butler.
It was about time for training camp sensation Quincy Enunwa to finally arrive, after playing down to his 2014 sixth-round grade. The massive Nebraska Cornhusker was given plenty of on-field time, and made a few nice downfield blocks, but 8 catches in 17 targets for 94 yards wasn’t cutting it — before his seemingly excessive four-game suspension for violation of the league’s personal conduct policy after his highly disputed, and legally cleared assault of a woman in a Jersey bar last September. Was NFL-proven slot receiver Jeremy Kerley ever a step down from this guy?
The Jets’ offensive front will really have to continue to dominate, both in terms of keeping their bearded QB upright in the pocket, and in opening holes for early Pro Bowl candidate Chris Ivory — sprinkled with rushing dashes by Zac Stacy, due to a banged-up Bilal Powell. The line continues to play cohesive and penalty-free, but they really got pancaked by the Redskins’ D-line anchored by man-beast Terrance Knighton and nasty LB crew led by Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy. This Sunday’s road game will be an another blocking nightmare for Nick Mangold‘s menagerie.
The team and the fanbase have taken favorably to Fitzpatrick, now living up to his nickname of FitzMagic. Nobody wants anything bad to happen to him. There’d be nothing more disheartening for this Jets season than the sight of the #7 jersey of Geno Smith hurrying to get ready on the sidelines.
Next: 2. Long Time
Oct 18, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Washington Redskins defensive back Jeron Johnson (20) blocks a punt by New York Jets punter Ryan Quigley (4) in the second half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. The Jets won 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
2. Long Time
It doesn’t matter if Fitzpatrick has his greatest game as a New York Jet. It doesn’t matter if Brandon Marshall smashes the Jets’ all-time consecutive 100-yard-games receiving record. Or if bruising running back Ivory continues to take the fantasy world by storm.
It doesn’t matter if their defensive secondary takes care of business. Or if the newly configured 4-3 D-Line of Mo Wilkerson, Snacks Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and #1 pick Leonard Williams gels to become the Jets’ most imposing front-four since The Sack Exchange (can you say “future Buffalo Bills LB Quinton Coples“?).
It doesn’t matter about anything schemed or executed on either side of the ball. So long as the special teams under coach Bobby April are under such dire straits, this team is not going anywhere. Sure it was great to finally see Jeremy Kerley not make another fair catch, and go for 20 yards on a punt return. But throughout the Redskins game, Iraq war hero and former Jets special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica’s DC crew completely schooled April’s side.
The Jets cannot win that crucial battle for field position with New England if every punt formation with Ryan Quigley results in a jailbreak or a long return. Or if Nick Folk can’t hit a 49-yard field goal on a blustery fall afternoon with the game on the line in Foxboro. They are fielding solid special-teamers like Jamari Lattimore and Trevor Reilly, so the answers will have to come with breaking down the tapes. But coach April better figure this out darn fast, before it all gets completely out of hand.
Next: 1. More Than A Feeling
Oct 18, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) celebrates with wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) behind Washington Redskins corner back Bashaud Breeland (26) after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
1. More Than A Feeling
It’s impossible to pick the Jets on the road against a hostile New England crowd over the Patriots. But if they can keep things close, that would be something to build on for December 27th’s rematch at MetLife Stadium.
The Jets may just be the one team that the Patriots cannot run up the score on. Darrelle Revis, defensive line coach (and legendary Giant linebacker) Pepper Johnson, and on-the-mend running back Steven Ridley will likely have keen insight into how to best prepare for their previous employer. Then again, the Pats know those men’s foibles and tendencies too.
Common sense says that the Patriots will prevail by two touchdowns, something like 31-17. But if the Jets were to pull off the upset of the season, it would require an error-proof afternoon by Fitzpatrick, over 100 yards on the ground by Ivory, continued defensive domination, holding Brady’s offense under three touchdowns, and near-perfection from that highly suspect special teams. Under such an unlikely scenario, expect a score along the lines of 27-24. The Jets have yet to fulfill what Bowles has been preaching, to execute proficiently from start to finish. The time is now.
Face it, most gridiron fans around the nation would like nothing more than to view highlights of the Patriots’ post-game press conference, and see that well-crafted smirk wiped off the face of a mumbling Bill Bellichick.