WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Tom Brady showed that last season's play was no fluke, and the decision to trade Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo was sound thinking. Against the Steelers Monday night, Brady threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. And the Patriots' offensive line allowed just two sacks to Pittsburgh's tough pass rush.
Brady was able to spread the ball around, completing passes to eight different receivers. With top wideout Troy Brown held to 22 yards on six catches, Brady went to rookie receiver Deion Branch (6 catches, 83 yards, 1 TD), David Patten (4-70-0) and Donald Hayes (3-54-1), as well as completing eight passes to tight ends Cam Cleeland and Christian Fauria.
It was that kind of offensive diversification that hurt the Jets against Buffalo, as Bledsoe found targets all over the field.
The one big difference, and it's likely to be the determining factor, was the success of the Bills' running game. Travis Henry ripped the Jets for a career-high 149 yards rushing and three touchdowns. If the Jets allow Antowain Smith to have similar numbers, it could be a long day.
Smith was held to 60 yards on 17 carries Monday, but that was in part because of Brady's success through the air. The Patriots threw 43 passes and ran the ball just 18 times. Don't expect a repeat, though, after the way the Jets struggled against Henry. Smith should get a lot more carries, and Brady significantly fewer pass attempts.
It will take a big effort by the Jets' rebuilt and supposedly improved defensive line to hold down Brady and the Pats. Ends John Abraham and Shaun Ellis were relatively quiet last Sunday, though Abraham recorded a sack even with his injured knee. Tackles Jason Ferguson and Josh Evans were better, especially Ferguson, who celebrated his return from injury with six tackles and 1½ sacks.
As has been the pattern, it was the linebackers making most of the plays. Marvin Jones had a team-high 14 tackles, and Sam Cowart had 10 in his Jets debut.
New cornerbacks Donnie Abraham and Aaron Beasley each had interceptions in their first games as Jets, but both were also burned by Buffalo's talented receivers. The Patriots offer similar challenges. If the Jets choose to double-cover Brown, like the Steelers did for much of Monday's game, Brady has the emerging Branch and solid veterans Hayes and Patten, not to mention his tight end tandem over the middle.
One vital area that the Jets need to address is their third-down defense. The Bills converted 7-of-17 third-down attempts (41.2 percent), a number that must come down against a more solid offensive unit.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Any team hates to have such a large part of its offense tied into one player's health, but that's the problem facing the Jets Sunday.
Curtis Martin is a game-time decision after spraining his ankle last week, and his presence, or lack thereof, is critical to New York's game plan. Lamont Jordan did an excellent job filling in, and Martin himself expects to start the game, but there's no question that it is a different team with Martin on the field. Jordan is also nursing a minor hand injury, so Game 1 hero Chad Morton may get a carry or two as well.
Jordan ran for 32 yards on seven carries and caught one pass for seven yards in the opener. Martin, though, takes all the focus of opponents' defenses, opening things up considerably for QB Vinny Testaverde and his receivers.
The Patriots have shown their vulnerability against the pass, despite Monday's strong effort against Kordell Stewart and the Steelers. So Testaverde is likely to air it out a bit, especially taking advantage of Laveranues Coles and Santana Moss more than he did last week, when the speedsters combined for five catches and 49 yards.
Taking shots down the field also loosens the middle for Wayne Chrebet and Anthony Becht, who stepped up last week with a touchdown each.
Testaverde was particularly effective at the end of the half and regulation, completing 18-of-23 passes for 158 of his 210 yards and both scores.
New England harassed Stewart all night Monday, sacking him five times and picking off three passes. Three of the five sacks came from linemen Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest and rookie end Jarvis Green.
Roman Phifer and Tedy Bruschi head an active linebacker corps, with perennial Pro Bowler Ty Law and veteran Terrell Buckley – who had two picks in his first game with the Pats – at the corners. Lawyer Milloy, Tebucky Jones and ex-Jet Victor Green give support from the safety position.
Phifer and Law were particularly active Monday, with Phifer picking up 14 tackles and Law 10, including nine solos. But Phifer is listed as questionable with a leg injury, though he's expected to play.
The Patriots boast a pair of explosive return men in Branch (kickoffs) and Brown (punts), and kicker Adam Vinatieri is one of the NFL's best. But Morton's big day makes him even more of a threat for the Jets, and kicker John Hall has an explosive but erratic leg.
-- The Patriots haven't lost since beating the Jets 17-16 in the Meadowlands, winning nine straight counting the playoffs. Their overall streak is at 10 games.
-- The Jets have the league's worst home record since 1989 at 44-60.
-- The Patriots have prevailed in two of the past three road tilts in this series as the road club owns a 5-1 mark in this rivalry dating back to 1999.
-- The Jets are plus-20 in takeaway/giveaway differential (42-22) in their last 17 games (11-6) dating back to '01.
-- Jets QB Vinny Testaverde has thrown just 11 TD passes and 14 INTs in his last 12 games (8-4) dating back to '01.
For the Jets, tackle Chris Smith (knee) is out, Martin (ankle) and CB Jamie Henderson (shoulder) are questionable, and DT Larry Webster (quad) is probable.
For the Patriots, guard Steve Neal (shoulder) and Phifer (leg) are questionable, and WR David Givens (leg) and Green (leg) are probable.