KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET
VENUE: Gillette Stadium
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, Michele Tafoya, Suzy Kolber
PREDICTION: Patriots 26-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: Jets QB Mark Sanchez has made his mark this season with his ability to lead key drives late in close games. He was critical of some of his decisions against Cincinnati, but the Jets' receivers should enjoy mismatches downfield against physical but green CBs Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. While the Jets' calling card is their ground game, New England entered Week 13 last in the NFL allowing 288.5 passing yards per game.
The Patriots' offensive success will hinge on their possession receivers winning one-on-one battles and Brady putting the ball on target for yards after the catch. The ground game will be an afterthought against the Jets' stingy defense. But short-yardage will play a key role - the Patriots convert 45.2 percent of their third downs - and rookie TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski and former Jets RB Danny Woodhead are critical weapons in moving the chains.
FAST FACTS: Patriots QB Tom Brady has won 25 consecutive regular-season starts at home, tying Brett Favre's NFL record. ... The Jets won, 28-14, at home Sept. 19 with QB Mark Sanchez passing for 220 yards and three touchdowns. ... The Jets have a franchise-record eight-game road winning streak. ... Brady has tied a franchise record with six consecutive starts without throwing an interception.
What makes Tom Brady so good?
That question has come up many times this week, as the Jets prepare to face New England and its matinee-idol quarterback. And to his credit, the always insightful Jets' defensive end Trevor Pryce came up with an interesting answer.
"His concentration is better than anybody else's and he's always angry," Pryce said of Brady. "His mental aptitude for football goes beyond winning and losing. ... He's the type of guy [that] he'll win and still be angry.
"What makes him better than anybody," Pryce added, "is he's chasing perfection, he's not chasing wins. ... He's chasing perfection, like how can I be perfect? He might have had a perfect quarterback rating [at Detroit] last week, but [six] of his passes were incomplete and that's what he's concentrating on."
Brady went 21-for-27 for 341 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in the Patriots' 45-24 Thanksgiving Day win over the Lions. That gave him a perfect passer rating of 158.3 for the day, the second time in his career Brady has accomplished that feat. He also currently has 199 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, the longest such streak of his career.
Brady has thrown for 2,703 yards and 23 touchdowns this season with only four picks. He has been sacked 15 times, once by the Jets in their 28-14 victory over the Pats on Sept. 19.
"He gets rid of the ball very quickly," Pryce said. "He knows where the rush is coming from and he has a good offensive line."
New England has had to do some shuffling with that offensive line. Right guard Stephen Neal (shoulder), who had missed the last three games, was put on injured reserve Thursday. And right tackle Nick Kaczur (back) was placed on IR last month. But left guard Logan Mankins has started the last four games after a protracted holdout that stretched into November.
"We've got to stop [Brady], get some hits on him," linebacker Calvin Pace said, and "show him a couple of things he hasn't seen. ... They don't give up a lot of sacks, [so] getting some hits on him, [and] a hand in his face is going to be very important."
Pace then admitted Thursday, "I don't know if you actually stop [Brady], but you [can] disrupt him. ... You put any quarterback back there and you don't get any hits on him, its like seven-on-seven to those guys. ... The key is getting to Brady and confusing him a little bit."
The Jets sacked Brady twice in their last meeting in Foxboro, Mass. on Nov. 22, 2009, but Brady mostly was unharassed that day as he completed 28 of 41 attempts for 310 yards and one touchdown with no turnovers in an easy 31-14 victory. Wes Welker had 15 catches for 192 yards that day.
"When you play against the Patriots," Pace said, "you've got to be on point. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time will cost you against those guys."
This has been a crazy week and a half in Foxboro with a big rivalry game against the Jets coming up on Monday night -- so crazy, in fact, that Bill Belichick actually gave his players the day off on Wednesday, which is typically an important practice day during the week leading up to the game.
Belichick is hoping the extra day benefits the players as they prepare to play for the first time in 11 days (they last played on Thanksgiving in Detroit).
"I think anytime you have some time off, you have that energy, but you also have to get back into it," Belichick said, "so, it's a little bit of both. There's an energy, but there's also getting back into the flow of it.
"When you're doing it every single day, there's something to be said for that and there's also a little bit of a grind to doing that - it's sort of the flip side of it. If you can't get ready for this week, then I don't know when you can get ready to go. If you like football, this is a good week to be playing."
The biggest weapon for New England could be rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, who caught six passes for 101 yards in the Patriots' Week 2 loss to the Jets. Hernandez has been an important part of the formula all season, but could come in handy again Monday against the Jets' stout defense.
"A couple of times he beat man coverage and broke a tackle," Belichick said of Hernandez's Week 2 performance. "He broke a tackle on two of those catches, so anytime you can break a tackle in man coverage, it's usually a ways until the next guy can get you because everybody's tied up in man-to-man.
"There are opportunities for big plays in man coverage if you can get by the guy that's covering you, either get open or he misses the tackle or whatever it is. The flip side of it is, usually, after you catch the ball in man coverage, the guy's usually close enough that he can make the tackle and you can limit those yards as opposed to zone where sometimes there's some space in the zones depending on the route and the throw and so forth."
As for how the team spent its Wednesday off, Belichick channeled his inner Rex Ryan, showing he, too, can be humorous when the situation calls for it.
"We played golf -- golf, bowling, a little badminton tournament, ate some watermelon, played cards ... (It was) all about the Jets, other than the pony rides and canoeing," Belichick quipped.
Perhaps this is a sign that the team is as confident as ever heading into its most important game of the season.
--WR Jerricho Cotchery practiced on a limited basis Thursday and expects to play at New England on Monday.
--RT Damien Woody (sprained MCL in right knee) didn't practice again Thursday but expects to play Monday against the Patriots.
--CB Dwight Lowery (concussion), who has missed the last two games, has returned to practice on a limited basis, wearing a red no-contact jersey. He is likely to play Monday.
--WR Santonio Holmes, who has 22 receptions over the last four games and four touchdown catches in the last three games, said Thursday that he can't be covered by a rookie CB, such as New England's Devin McCourty. "I wouldn't do it if I was [New England]. Don't do it," Holmes said.
--K Nick Folk has retained his job for now, despite The Jets bringing in journeyman Kris Brown for a tryout Tuesday. "Quite honestly, if Nick misses extra points or something like that, then we're going to have to do something about it," coach Rex Ryan said Thursday. "But I have confidence in Nick Folk." Folk has missed five of his last 10 field-goal attempts.
--QB Tom Brady returned to practice Thursday as the team worked in full pads. Brady is nursing a sprained foot, but will be ready to go Monday night.
--OL Stephen Neal is still recovering from a shoulder injury and was not in practice Thursday. Neal will likely be out of action Monday.
--DL Mike Wright also missed practice Thursday. His situation is a bit more worrisome since he hasn't practiced all week. This will likely be a game-time decision.
--CB Jonathan Wilhite, who has been injured on and off throughout the year, was not at practice Thursday and will most likely be a game-time decision on Monday night.
--DL Ron Brace returned to practice Thursday and should be ready for Monday's game barring any unforeseen setbacks.
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