The offense absorbed its share, and four of its opening day starters are done for the season. Now it's special teams being hit hardest. Standout cover man Je'Rod Cherry missed five games earlier this year with a knee injury. While he's back, another prominent coverage guy, Chris Akins, has missed the last three games and remains questionable. And now the Patriots have lost their second long snapper in as many weeks.
Sean McDermott, signed last week to replace the injured Lonie Paxton, hurt his shoulder in Sunday's win over Jacksonville and joined Paxton on injured reserve. The team signed 38-year-old veteran Brian Kinchen to replace him.
Kinchen was out of football for the last two seasons after spending the 1999 and 2000 seasons in Carolina and has played 13 NFL seasons as a tight end/long snapper. He has played in 191 games with 65 starts for Miami (1988-1990), Cleveland (1991-1995), Baltimore (1996-1998) and Carolina. His five seasons in Cleveland came under Belichick, who has remained in contact periodically with his former player.
"I talked to him through the years," Belichick said. "He expressed an interest in playing earlier, but we didn't have a place for him. Things have changed."
While Kinchen has 160 career receptions for 1,648 yards in his career, he will only long snap for New England.
S Chris Akins remains questionabl with a strained right calf muscle suffered Nov. 23 in Houston.
G Damien Woody is questionable with the flu.
WR Deion Branch is probable with a finger injury suffered last week on the game's opening possession. Branch left the field following the injury and did not return.
LB Ted Johnson is also probable with a neck injury.
DL Dan Klecko may play for New England, but he spent many years walking around inside Giants stadium watching his father, Joe, play for the Jets. So this week's game will mark a homecoming for Klecko not simply because he's returning to where he grew up, but because he has spent so much time at that stadium. "It will be nice to go down there," Klecko said. "I'm really excited to go back there to play. That's like my second home field. I've been on that field more times than I've been on this [Gillette Stadium] field. So it will be cool. I have no ticket requests. I have someone taking care of that, somebody who used to play for them." Hmmmm. Who might that be?
DL Richard Seymour cleared up any doubt as to his state of mind Wednesday when asked if he held any ill feelings toward his coach. He said, "No. I love him," which drew chuckles from the media.
P Ken Walter is coming off his best game of the season, and his roster spot appears safe now that Dorsch was let go. Walter's 40.5-yard net average last week was better than his 40.3 gross average -- a rarity for a punter.
CB Ty Law, who is having another standout season, enters this week just two interceptions shy of the team record of 36 held by Raymond Clayborn. Law's escalating salary leaves some doubt as to whether he will be a Patriot next season, which means he might need two picks in two games to leave his mark on the Patriots record book. While his salary cap number climbs to more than $9 million next season, which represents about a $1 million increase, he could remain with the club under a contract extension. He is more than willing to renegotiate his contract, but not to accept less money.
WR Bethel Johnson's status for the game remains uncertain. Johnson was apparently deactivated last week because of a lackluster practice effort. Belichick wanted to send the rookie receiver and kick returner a message. It will be interesting to see if Johnson is ready to go. It was only three weeks ago when Johnson's kickoff return for a touchdown and 67-yard return to set up the game-winning score helped the Patriots win in Indianapolis, 38-34. Johnson is averaging 28.3 yards per return.
PK Adam Vinatieri exceeded the 100-point plateau with 11 points last week and joined Denver's Jason Elam as the only two players to reach 100 points in each of their first eight seasons in the league. Vinatieri has 907 career points.
The Patriots had success running the ball against the Jets in the first meeting with 36 attempts for 147 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Faulk ran 17 times for 79 yards and Antowain Smith added 13 runs for 55 yards to lead the way. They will try to establish that same physical presence this weekend, but will likely throw early to set it up rather than simply come out running as they did in the first meeting.
The Jets sacked quarterback Tom Brady five times in the first meeting, which is the most any team has reached the Patriots passer. But the Patriots have done a solid job in pass protection most of the time since, especially when Brady has wanted to go down the field. Look for New England to max protect and take some early shots at a big play to create space underneath to run the football.
Without John Abraham to worry about, the Patriots will use tight end Daniel Graham down the middle of the field to disrupt the Jets cover-2 scheme. If New York blitzes to create pressure, look for Kevin Faulk to get more touches, particularly on screens. Defensively, New England will mix it up in coverage, sometimes doubling Santana Moss and other times using Ty Law on him man-to-man. Tyrone Poole will need another big day, as Chad Pennington is likely to test him deep with Curtis Conway. New England will have to get creative to generate pressure since they have not had a sack in either of the last two meetings with the Jets.
The Jet quarterbacks have been sacked just 23 times and do a nice job of avoiding negative plays and checking down when they feel pressure. The Patriots don't want to blitz Pennington and expose themselves to a big play with Conway and Moss both able to stretch the field and Martin able to catch a short pass and turn it into a big gain. But if they use safety Rodney Harrison in the box, which they probably will, they will likely blitz more often since they will be a man short in deep coverage anyway. That will leave the linebackers to sniff out any screens to Martin, who will have an advantage when Tedy Bruschi is on him.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Patriots NT Ted Washington vs. Jets C Kevin Mawae. There aren't many centers that can handle Washington one-on-one, but Mawae might be one of the few. The two have had some battles over the years and Washington might be miffed that it was a Mawae block that broke his leg back in Week 3. If Mawae is winning this battle, the Patriots may switch a 4-3 front to cover up the guards and give inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi more room to roam free.
Patriots S Rodney Harrison vs. Jets TE Anthony Becht. Harrison is having as strong a year as any Patriots defender and has won his share of matchups against tight ends. Becht had three catches for 30 yards in the first meeting and has 30 receptions and three touchdowns on the season. Harrison has nine pass deflections and two interceptions.
Patriots RT Tom Ashworth vs. Jets DE Shaun Ellis. Ellis leads New York with 11.5 sacks and nine pressures to go with 97 tackles. This will be the first time Ashworth faces Ellis for more than a brief stint since it was back in Week 3 against the Jets when starting right tackle Adrian Klemm broke a bone in his foot. Ashworth has fared well in protection against power rushers like Ellis, but may have trouble handling the 2000 first round pick in the running game.
Patriots WR Troy Brown vs. Jets CBs Donnie Abraham and Aaron Beasley. Abraham missed the first meeting between the teams and has just one interception while Beasley has a team-high three picks, but since the Patriots move Brown around, both corners will get a crack at stopping him. With Deion Branch's status for Saturday still up in the air, Brown will likely be Brady's go-to guy this week.
Ted Johnson is expected to play and continue rotating in to the middle of the defense where he shares time with Tedy Bruschi and Roman Phifer. If he can't go, it will simply mean that Phifer and Bruschi take all the snaps inside in the 3-4 while Bruschi takes most of the inside reps in any 4-3 alignment. If Branch can't play because of his finger injury, David Givens will start while Dedric Ward and Bethel Johnson round out the receiving group.
With Woody questionable, Russ Hochstein will get some first-team snaps this week and could play either guard spot. The Patriots have moved Joe Andruzzi to the left side in the past for a better matchup, but Hochstein would likely be the guy to fill in, whether at left guard or right. Akins injury has affected just about every special team since he plays on them all. Belichick pointed out that it often takes four or five guys to replace a player like Akins in the kicking game. Guys like Givens, Bethel Johnson, Antwan Harris and Shawn Mayer have filled some of his roles.