Patriots Excited For Big Challenge

The New England Patriots are tied for the lead in the AFC East. They have to beat division rival New York to take the lead, or face becoming a chaser in the division.

Brady: Pats excited for 'great challenge'

   The Patriots don't often lose back-to-back games, so you can imagine the feeling in the locker room with the chance of losing three in a row seeming like a realistic possibility.

   Believe it or not, it's not all doom and gloom in Foxboro following back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Giants.

   "We're excited," said quarterback Tom Brady. "We've got a great challenge. (When) you play a division team on the road, I think everyone is very excited about the challenge and guys came in ready to work and hopefully we get off to a good start."

   Despite what Brady says, there has to be a bit of trepidation as the Patriots to travel to New York, where they haven't won in three years.    

   The Jets have been hot of late and these two teams always seem to split the season series, which, by the law of averages, means New York is due for a win on its home turf Sunday night.

   Yet this road seems all too familiar. Whenever it seems like the odds are stacked against New England, the team tends to play its best. The only problem is that familiar script played out primarily during the championship era. This is a different team with different players, new attitudes and an entirely different ideology.

   There aren't as many players in the locker room these days with championship experience. Most of the Super Bowl veterans have retired or moved on to another city. This year's team needs to find its own source of motivation, not a borrowed storyline from the past.

   Can this team find it in time to salvage the season? Three consecutive losses wouldn't be the nail in the coffin, but it would create some space between them and the Jets. Don't forget, too, that the Bills already have a game in hand in the season series, which means the Patriots will need to beat them as well in order to avoid a messy tiebreaker scenario.

   Suffice to say, Sunday's primetime showdown with the Jets is yet another big game, mostly because of playoff implications, not just for standard rivalry purposes.

   "I just think we need to do a better job at everything," head coach Bill Belichick said. "There are a lot of positive things but we just need to do better all the way around, in all three
phases of the game; there's room for improvement everywhere. Each player, each coach, everything we do -- we just all have to do it a little better."

   That must start this weekend in New York, or else the wheels could fall off what was once a promising season sooner than expected. Thankfully, a familiar opponent looms on the horizon.

   "I think we've played them a bunch of times over the last few years and we know them probably better than anybody else in the league," Brady said. "They kind of do what they do. There is some game plan-type elements to each game. I'm sure they'll have some for us this week. They're a tough team to prepare for. They've got a lot of stuff, they've got a lot of really good players, good scheme. They play well at home. It's a great challenge."

   SERIES HISTORY: 103rd regular-season meeting. Jets lead series, 51-50-1. The overall series, including playoffs, is now even at 52-52-1 following the Patriots' win at Gillette Stadium earlier this season. As New England travels to New York on Sunday night, it hopes to snap a two-game losing streak on the road against the Jets. The teams have split the season series in each of the last two years.   

Patriots in New York state of mind

   --Sunday's game against the Jets is the second of two consecutive games against New York opponents after the Patriots faced the Giants last Sunday.

   It also marks the second time in franchise history the Patriots will face the New York teams in consecutive weeks. In 1990, the Patriots closed out the season with games at the Jets and home against the Giants. It is the ninth time since 2000 that a team has played both New York teams in consecutive weeks and first since the 2009 Saints hosted the New York teams in back-to-back weeks.

   --Head coach Bill Belichick used Wednesday's daily press briefing as a forum for discussing recently-released DL Albert Haynesworth, who never really made an impact in his short stint with the Patriots.

   "I'll just say this on the Albert situation -- both he and myself, speaking for the (coaching) staff -- we really tried to make it work," Belichick said.

   "He had a few physical limitations to overcome when he got here, but I thought he really tried to do what we asked him to do. We tried to work with him. In the end, it just didn't work out. I think the best thing we could do was just move on."

   --LB Niko Koutouvides, one of two players re-signed this week after getting cut during training camp, has a lot of catching up to do in order to have a chance at contributing Sunday night in New York.

   "I think the foundations are usually put in during training camp and you kind of go off of that," Koutouvides said. "It's been eight weeks since I've seen this playbook. It's just basically refreshing my mind and getting back to the terminology and the new stuff that was added."

   --Not surprisingly, the Patriots' Dec. 4 home game has been flexed to a 1 p.m. start by the NFL.

   The game was originally scheduled for primetime, but the winless Colts have fallen apart without QB Peyton Manning, so the league decided to move what figures to be a lopsided game into a more manageable 1 p.m. time slot.

   --Patriots' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien spoke last week about wanting to get WR Taylor Price more involved with the offense, but Price wound up missing Sunday's game due to a hamstring injury.

   "I was disappointed for him, but you can't control injuries," O'Brien said, "and as it was related to that question last week, I really would like to get a lot of people involved.

   "We play a lot of guys and each game go into it with that thought process and we take what the defense gives us. Like in this past game, Wes (Welker) and Rob (Gronkowski) had a bunch of catches, but hopefully in the next game, we can get some more involved. It's not just one guy -- it's trying to get a lot of guys involved."

   --WR Deion Branch is preparing to see a lot of different looks from the Jets this week, which is part of what head coach Rex Ryan does best in confusing opposing quarterbacks.

   "The thing is, we know the depth and we know exactly who they have on the roster and what guys may be available for the game," Branch said. "As far as what it does to us, that stuff varies during the course of the game. It's all about adjusting to whatever they're throwing at us.

   "I think so far we've been doing a pretty good job at it, but at the same time they've been doing a good job of mixing a lot of different looks and causing a little confusion here and there for us as well. Like I said, mainly that stuff varies during the course of the game."

   --QB Tom Brady has thrown 10 interceptions this season, which is more than twice as many as he threw all of last year. Brady acknowledged that some of those interceptions have come on deflections at the line of scrimmage.

   "Some teams have gotten their hands on some balls and tipped some balls," he said. "Every team does that. Every team tries to bat balls down, especially when they feel like they're engaged and they see the quarterback. You throw the ball and they get their hand on it and make a play. It's just part of the game and part of football.
"You try to not have it happen as an offense; when it does, you just move on."

   BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- The number of times this season the Patriots have had two players with 100 or more receiving yards in the same game (at Miami in Week 1 and last weekend at home against the Giants).

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "One of these days it really is going to click for all of us." -- Patriots QB Tom Brady on whether or not WR Chad Ochocinco will make an impact this season. 

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