PHOTO: New England Patriots running back Antowain Smith (32) breaks a tackle by New York Jets linebacker Victor Hobson, left, as he follows fullback Larry Centers (31) during the fourth quarter Saturday night, Dec. 20, 2003, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford,N.J. Smith rushed for 121 yards as the Patriots beat the Jets 21-16. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
New York Jets (5-0) at New England Patriots (5-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein
SERIES: 87th meeting. Jets lead series 47-39, but the Patriots swept them last season. Before their 24-17 loss in Foxboro last year, the Jets had won five consecutive games on New England's home turf. This will be their third divisional game in a six-week stretch that includes two more games against AFC East opponents.
2004 RANKINGS: Jets: offense 8th (7th rush, 11th pass); defense 11th (8th rush, 19th pass). Patriots: offense 12th (12th rush, 12th pass); defense 19th (16th rush, 22nd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots have scored first in each of their past 13 games, which helps put pressure on opponents trying to break their record 20-game winning streak. If the Patriots have a weakness, it's passes over the top of the cornerbacks as S Eugene Wilson has struggled to provide help at times. The Jets have only two completions of more than 27 yards in their past three games, but getting WR Santana Moss back should help QB Chad Pennington take more shots downfield. Patriots QB Tom Brady has been winning despite a depleted receiving corps of his own. The Jets will gamble with various blitzes, and Brady's ability to get rid of the ball quickly and accurately will play a big role in the outcome.
FAST FACTS: Only the fourth meeting between undefeated teams with 5-0 records or better in league history. Jets: Are 5-0 for the first time in team history. ... RB Corey Dillon is on pace to rush for 1,670 yards. Patriots: Only other 5-0 start came in 1974. ... Have won four of the past five meetings.
PREDICTION: Patriots 23-17
- LG Pete Kendall (broken toe on right foot) has practiced the last two days
and will start this week after sitting out against San Francisco. His return
would give Chad Pennington more time to make the difficult reads against the
Patriots' complex defense. Kendall will wear a fiberglass cover over the tip
of his shoe to protect the toe.
- RG Brandon Moore (left hamstring) has practiced the last two days and will
start against New England this week.
- WR Santana Moss (right hamstring) returned to practice Wednesday and Thursday
and will probably start this week against New England after missing last week's
- LB Sam Cowart (knee) is still questionable but has practiced the last two
days. Coach Herman Edwards wouldn't say if Cowart would regain his starting
position upon his return, but with rookie Jonathan Vilma playing so well,
Cowart may get eased back in slowly.
- FB B.J. Askew (shoulder) has practiced all week and is probable for Sunday's
game in New England. Askew is occasionally used as an extra blocker but is
mostly a special teams player.
- RT Tom Ashworth's back injury could pose a problem for the Patriots this
week. He missed at least some portion of practice the last two days after
surprisingly popping up on the injury report and the Patriots are very thin
at tackle since Adrian Klemm already took his annual trip to injured reserve.
Brandon Gorin is taking the reps at right tackle this week, but the club has
no true backup tackle beyond Gorin. If something were to happen to Matt Light,
Gorin would move to the left side, where he is not accustomed to playing,
but there is no other experienced tackle on the roster. New England could
try to use its tight ends or move one of their guards to tackle, which is
hardly an ideal situation
- CB Ty Law tied the Patriots' franchise record for career interceptions with
36, equaling the mark of Raymond Clayborn. "I'm tied. I want to own it
for myself but I want to do that in due time as long as we keep winning as
a team," Law said. "The thing for me is to be patient and it will
come. It's not as big as you might think it is because I've won championships
and it's not the number of interceptions, but when they came. I made a lot
of my interceptions at key times. So I'm proud of my 36 interceptions."
Law met Clayborn last year when the Patriots were in Houston to play the Texans,
but admits not knowing much about the man with which he is tied.
- WR Troy Brown could be in his last season in New England given his contract
status and if so, it hasn't exactly been one to remember for the 12-year veteran
who started as a 1993 eighth round pick. Brown missed the season opener with
a knee injury, had one catch upon his return in Arizona and then injured his
shoulder in the team's third game of the season at Buffalo. Brown has just
one 6-yard reception to go with four punt returns for a 6.8-yard average.
The Patriots guaranteed Brown's $4 plus million salary for this year while
adding a year in 2005 to the deal. That extra year, though, is essentially
a fake year for accounting purposes. But Tom Brady certainly respects Brown's
ability to contribute even at what seems to be a late stage of his career.
"Troy is a big part of this offense and he has been since the day I got here," Brady said. "Any time you lose him, you lose a significant part of that. We are all anxious to get him back out there. Hopefully it is soon. I think this is his 12th year. That is a lot of years playing football with a lot of practice and a lot of time suiting up in a Patriots' uniform. He has respect from everybody. He is what this team is all about. He is tough, smart and he works his butt off. He is very coachable, has a great attitude. Winning is what is most important to him. He is a team captain and has been for a while. He is awesome. I would love to have him back out there."
- LB Rosevelt Colvin seems to be inching closer to full strength as he plays
a regular role in the Patriots' three-man rotation at outside linebacker.
He has just 14 tackles and one sack so far this season, but his burst seemed
to return for the first time last week in the game against Seattle even though
he says he will have to monitor his healed fractured hip all season and beyond
and keep treating it. Colvin did pick up an unnecessary roughness penalty
last week when he gave a cheap shot to Seattle's left tackle following a false
start penalty in which he then buried the tackle unnecessarily. He did the
same exact thing the week before against Miami and was not penalized. Asked
his feelings on the penalty against the Seahawks, Bill Belichick said, "It
doesn't matter what I think. I'm not going to be wearing the striped shirt
- RB Rabih Abdullah, who signed with the Patriots on Sept. 11, will see his role increase with Patrick Pass ailing with a thigh injury and Kevin Faulk's playing time being managed as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury. "He's come in and done a good job for us," coach Bill Belichick said. "His background is as a special teams player and then situationally on offense. He does have the physical stature and size to do a number of things offensively. He can catch the ball. He is a strong inside runner. He is good in blitz pickup. So it's not like you have to put him in the game to do one thing. He has some versatility and he is good in the kicking game because he can run and he has good playing strength. He has gotten us out of some spots at fullback, in short yardage, in passing situations and in the kicking game."
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Jets learned from Seattle wide receiver Darrell Jackson not to wake the
sleeping bear known as the New England Patriots. Jackson provided the Patriots
plenty of bulletin board material last week when he called them beatable and
proclaiming that he just didn't think the Patriots were that good..
Needless to say the Patriots won, so the Jets figured the best way to approach this game between two 5-0 teams in the same division was to heed their mothers' advice - if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
But they did pay the Patriots plenty of compliments.
"With the won-lost record I've had over my career, I don't think there's enough superlatives to describe a 20-game winning streak," C Pete Kendall said. "It's incredible. My best season is 9-7. I didn't win 20 games over the last three years (with Arizona). It's a remarkable run they're on."
It's actually the first time unbeaten teams have met this late in the season since 1973 when the 6-0 Vikings played the 6-0 Rams.
Besides their record and defensive play through the first five games, the Jets can also enter this game with some confidence at how they've played the Patriots in Foxboro over the last several years. The Jets had won five in a row at New England before the Patriots beat them in last year's contest there.
Of course, the last time these teams played, at Giants Stadium, quarterback Chad Pennington was abysmal with no touchdowns and five interceptions. Edwards blamed the whole team but that game was probably the only time in his career that Pennington's mistakes truly cost the Jets in a game - a 21-16 loss.
It may be a battle of undefeated clubs fighting for first place in the AFC East and it might be a prime matchup between two of the league's young star quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Chad Pennington, but the Patriots are worrying about Jets defensive end John Abraham every bit as much as they are Pennington or NFL leading rusher Curtis Martin.
When Bill Belichick talks of disruptive defensive players, he discusses their ability to "ruin the game" and Abraham certainly has that ability from his hybrid defensive end/stand-up linebacker-type position.
Abraham has seven sacks through five games with two multiple-sack games to
his credit in 2004. In his five previous games against the Patriots, Abraham
has sacked Brady 2.5 times, and the Jets sacked Brady five times in their September
visit to Foxborough in 2003.
So left tackle Matt Light will likely be getting some help on the edge from backs and tight ends to help keep Abraham from ruining the game with a backside strip sack or pressure-induced turnover.
"He is trying to break the quarterback's back," Brady said of Abraham.
"He comes hard and he comes fast and he comes all the time. It is a very
good defensive front. Shaun Ellis is a very good player. (Dewayne) Robertson
is good. They have an excellent front four and they put a lot of pressure on
the quarterback. I think the secondary realizes that they are good and they
are on those receivers tight and they are forcing the quarterbacks to make good
If the pressure becomes a problem, the Patriots might adjust and go to some short drops, but with wide receivers Deion Branch and Troy Brown likely out of the lineup, his options will be limited because of the Jets tight, press coverage. The worst-case scenario in that situation would be the Jets jumping the short routes while Brady stands in a more confined collapsing pocket.
"I have to get that ball out quick because they are coming," Brady said. "It is one of those things where John Abraham is as good as there is and he is coming off that edge and attacking the quarterback. If you are standing around too long with that ball in your hand, you are going to have helmet marks right in the middle of your back at some point, which I'm not intending to do this week."
Brady has made defenses pay for blitzing him this year by burning them for
big plays, so the Jets may try to generate most of their pressure with the front
four before mixing in some blitzes. The Patriots offensive line's ability to
handle that front will likely play a role in the Jets defensive strategy as
the game unfolds.