Patriots and Jets Go Undetected
By John MacKenna, Patriots Insider
Only in the week when the Red Sox play the Yankees could an upcoming Patriots game against an undefeated division rival be so overlooked in New England.
Sunday's showdown between the 5-0 Patriots and the 5-0 New York Jets should be a major event on in the Northeast, but fans in both towns are so consumed with Red Sox vs. Yankees that no one is talking about--or even thinking about--Sunday's huge AFC East game.
These are the glory days for Boston. By rallying from a three-games-to-none deficit to beat the dreaded Yankees, the Red Sox have given their fans a sweet quandary: Which is more satisfying, being the first baseball team to win a series after losing the first three games or pinning the most ignominious defeat in baseball history on the Yankees? Both are immensely satisfying; the combination is nirvana.
And the Sox delivered this sweetest of victories at a time when the Patriots are reigning Super Bowl champions and winners of 20 straight games. Is there anywhere else in the country where a team carrying the longest winning streak in the history of its league and facing a game against an unbeaten opponent could be so thoroughly ignored?
And the distraction is hardly over. Come Sunday, the Red Sox will be playing Game 2 of the World Series. One has to wonder how much passion the exhausted, exhilarated New England fans will have to spare for their Patriots. Gillette Stadium has been a hellhole for opponents, with fans as vocal and supportive as any in the NFL. But it's very possible this week that there will be a lack of hunger in the stands in Foxborough, and that it might spread to the field.
That scenario represents the Jets' best hope.
The Jets should be plenty motivated already, and head coach Herman Edwards can now serve up an extra incentive: New York needs heroes now. Why not us? The Jets are traveling into the heart of Red Sox country with a chance to exact meaningful revenge. If they win, they will put an end to the Patriots' record winning streak and do it in the Patriots' house, where the home team has won 15 games in a row. That would certainly ease New York's pain.
The Jets surely are capable of winning on Sunday. With QB Chad Pennington and RB Curtis Martin, they have the kind of balanced attack that can move the ball consistently against the sometimes-porous New England defense.
Martin is making his 10th NFL season one of his best, with 613 yards rushing (122 per game) and an outstanding average gain of 4.6 yards. With good power and excellent change of direction, Martin might get the better of second-year defensive end Ty Warren and rookie nose tackle Vince Wilfork. The New England defensive line handled Seattle's Shaun Alexander last week, but Martin is as powerful as Alexander and more elusive. If Martin starts busting into the New England secondary the way he has in the past, he will command the attention of the linebackers and safeties and create opportunities in the passing game.
Given those chances, Pennington is very dangerous. The Jets run a West Coast offense perfectly suited for their deadly accurate fifth-year quarterback. Pennington has completed 70.4 percent of his passes this year. Like his New England counterpart Tom Brady, Pennington spreads the ball around. Five Jets receivers have more than 10 receptions, and tight end Chris baker has nine.
This game will be a test for Pennington. When the teams last met, on Dec. 20, 2003 in East Rutherford, N.J., New England confused him and intercepted five of his passes. Will Pennington emerge as a Patriots killer, or will he be another Peyton Manning-a winner everywhere else who can't sort out the complex New England defense?
With its quick routes and precise timing, the Jets' passing game is vulnerable to the jamming tactics the Patriots use on receivers. If Ty Law and the other New England DBs succeed in disrupting New York's routes, they can take away the downfield passing attack. Pennington is happy to throw to his running backs, but that strategy plays right into New England's hands. Veteran linebackers Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer specialize in stuffing short passes to the outside.
The Jets will probably need a strong performance on offense because their defense will be overmatched against the Patriots' balanced attack. Patriots RB Corey Dillon is averaging 104 yards a game and a gaudy 4.9 yards per carry, and the Jets defense lacks run stoppers. The linebackers are young and fast, but they could struggle against Dillon's power, especially if the Patriots succeed in putting blockers on them.
A look at the injury list would suggest that New England is handicapped in the passing game, with WR Deion Branch doubtful and Troy Brown questionable. But both players were missing last week against the Seahawks, and the Patriots gained 231 yards in the air with Brady completing 19 of 31 passes. And the Jets' secondary is not nearly the equal of Seattle's.
The Jets have a solid pass rush led by DE John Abraham with seven sacks.
The 5-0 Jets are a serious threat to snap New England's record winning streak, but they need to play a near-flawless game and catch the Patriots guessing wrong on defense. But this is Foxborough, where the Colts and Seahawks have already failed this season. Unless there is a baseball hangover that starts in the stands and spreads to the field, look for the Patriots to pin the first loss of '04 on the Jets and take sole possession of the AFC East lead.
NOTES: Both teams have provided excellent pass protection, with Brady and Pennington
being sacked only six times apiece.
The Jets are 11th in the NFL with
224.4 passing yards per game. The Patriots are 12th with 223.6.
are allowing 17.8 points per game, 13th best in the NFL. The Seahawks, New England's
last opponents, are fifth, allowing only 15.2 points per game.
John is a regular contributor to the Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: oldnslow. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna"
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