New England Patriots (12-2) at New York Jets (11-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein; DirecTV, 7
SERIES: 90th meeting. Jets lead series 47-40-1, but the Patriots have won the least three and five of six. Series dates to 1960. New England won earlier meeting, 13-7, at Gillette Stadium and has won three in a row against the Jets at Giants Stadium.
2004 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 10th (7th rush, 13th pass); defense 9th (5th rush, 16th pass). Jets: offense 11th (2nd rush, 21st pass); defense 5th (7th rush, 6th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Jets QB Chad Pennington proved last Sunday that his shoulder is strong enough to push the ball downfield. Opponents have finally begun to take advantage of the Patriots' beat up secondary, and receiver-turned-corner Troy Brown has been picked on in recent games. The good news for the Patriots is CB Ty Law is expected to return and at least provide more depth even if he doesn't play the entire game. The Patriots offense can do the defense a big favor by controlling the clock, and RB Corey Dillon has averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry in 12 of his 13 games played. That includes 22 carries for 115 yards and a 5.2-yard average in the first meeting with the Jets. New York's goal is to improve on that performance to create long passing situations in which it can attack QB Tom Brady, who is coming off a four-interception performance Monday night.
FAST FACTS: Patriots: Will clinch a first-round playoff bye with a victory. ... Are 18-5 (.783) in their past 23 games against AFC West opponents. Jets: Will clinch a playoff spot with a victory. ... Pennington is 9-1 in his past 10 home starts.
PREDICTION: Patriots 20-17
- --WR David Givens claims that he doesn't know why his production has dropped
of late. In his last five games, Givens has 10 receptions for 70 yards while
being inactive for one and shut out in another while barely playing, apparently
due to injury. In the five games before that stretch, he caught 24 passes
for 391 yards. While Deion Branch was out with an injury, Givens caught 38
passes for 630 yards. Since Branch's return, he has just those 10 aforementioned
receptions. Monday night in Miami he played sparingly, but was used primarily
as a run blocker and had only one pass thrown his way, and that was Brady's
final attempt, which was intercepted.
"You tell me," Givens told the Providence Journal when asked about his limited role. "It's got nothing to do with my body."
That last statement is odd considering he was held out of the Cincinnati game when Bill Belichick said he "tightened up" and then was listed on the injury report last week with an ankle ailment that kept him out of practice. He remains questionable this week and has missed more practice time, according to the team's injury report.
Givens will be a restricted free agent after the season and he leads the team with 52 receptions for 780 yards, but his role in the offense has diminished lately, something that clearly bothers him as he looks to earn a decent pay day beyond a restricted free agent tender offer.
- --S Rodney Harrison was flagged for a costly pass interference penalty
in the end zone late in the loss to Miami and complained vehemently about
the call. After watching it on tape, he withdrew his complaint. "I think
I got him a half-second before the ball got there and it was a legitimate
call," Harrison admitted. "That normally doesn't happen to me. I
just lost focus on the receiver and lost him on the sideline. That was a mistake
- --LBs Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel have not provided the Patriots with
needed big plays from the outside linebacker position. The two have combined
for 8.5 sacks, but neither has an interception, a forced fumble or a fumble
recovery. Fellow outside linebacker Willie McGinest, on the other hand, has
8.5 sacks with an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
- --CB Ty Law is still pushing to play this weekend, even of on a limited
basis. The Patriots aren't likely to put Law on the field until they are 100
percent sure that he is healed so that he will be available in the playoffs.
He missed some portion of practice again Thursday. "Ty is one of those
guys that, if he has one leg, he'll be hopping around there trying to do his
best," quarterback Tom Brady said. "He did that last year a bunch
of times and he's a tough guy. I know how bad he wants to be out there. You
can tell by the way he trains and by the way he's been out there trying to
get his treatment."
- --P Josh Miller injured his shoulder last week covering a punt and almost
did not return to action, which would have left the punting chores to Adam Vinatieri. Miller is sore, but will play this week, something that was confirmed
by his absence from the injury report. A snap could be difficult for him to
handle, but fortunately for him, long snapper Lonie Paxton is near perfect
deep snapping the ball.
- --RB Corey Dillon is one of only two backs to rush for 100 yards against
the Jets this season when he did so on 22 attempts for 115 yards with a 44-yard
run to his credit. He has rushed for 100 yards a career-high eight times,
which ties for the most in the NFL this season and is the most by a Patriot
since Curtis Martin did it nine times in 1995. That was the season Martin
set the Patriots franchise rushing record with 1,487 yards, a mark Dillon
needs only 58 yards to break. He also needs just six yards to set a personal
best for single-season rushing yards. Dillon has played in 12 of the Patriots
13 games and his 110 rushing yards per game average leads all NFL running
backs currently active. He is just three rushing touchdowns shy of the Patriots
single-season best mark, which also is held by Martin (1995 and 1996).
- --CB Hank Poteat reportedly had a tryout in Foxborough this week along with former Titans WR/KR Jake Schifino.
- --QB Chad Pennington struggled against the Patriots in Week 7, and threw
five interceptions against New England in last season's meeting in The Meadowlands.
"It is going to be an interesting chess match because they have lost their two starting corners, which may have changed their defensive philosophy as far as man coverage and things," Pennington told the team's website. "They are doing an excellent job in the other things that they are doing now with changing up their zone coverages and still pressuring their quarterback. They are getting an excellent rush by their front four when they are in a four-down front. Even though they don't have their two starters out there at corner, they are playing really good team defense."
- --DE John Abraham is listed as out for this Sunday and he is unlikely to
play in the regular season finale. In fact, there's no guarantee he will be
ready to play by the first game of the playoffs.
"I'm not going to say it's certain," Abraham said. "But based on everything I've heard, that's a good aiming point."
Abraham, who has 9.5 sacks, was still selected to his third Pro Bowl.
"This is the happiest I've been making the Pro Bowl," Abraham said. "I worked harder than ever before to get back and prove myself this year."
- --RB Curtis Martin, who was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl, bought his linemen Louis Vitton luggage. His 1,511 rushing yards comes after saying in training camp he felt he could still hit the 1,500-yard mark at the age of 31. "I always work hard, but I made a special effort this year to go all out and it has paid off," Martin said.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Patriots and Jets couldn't be much closer. Sure they are only 300 miles apart, but we're talking football here. The Patriots rank 10 in the NFL in total offense while the Jets rank 11th. The Jets are 5th on defense while the Patriots are ninth.
New York's Curtis Martin leads the league in rushing with 1,511 yards while averaging 4.6 yards per carry with 12 rushing touchdowns. New England's Corey Dillon is fourth in rushing with 1,430 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry with 11 rushing touchdowns.
The Jets' Chad Pennington ranks eighth in the league in passing with a 94.9 passer rating while New England's Tom Brady ranks 11th with a 90.3 rating. The Patriots are 12-2 and the Jets are 10-4. Both are likely headed to the playoffs and both have a lot at stake this week.
"This is a game that traditionally is just a good football game," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "The team that goes out on executes and is more physical and converts on third down and handles the little things is usually the one that wins."
That's been the Patriots lately. They've won three in a row in the series and five of the last six. But the Jets have won four of their last five games entering Sunday's division tilt while New England is reeling from a devastating loss to the cellar-dwelling Dolphins.
"The Jets are a football team that is hot right now," Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. "But if we win, we get a bye and that is what we want. We have the heart of a champion and we are going to come back and put our best performance out on the field Sunday."
That performance, particularly on defense, has been missing of late. But with two games to go, New England still has time to right the ship in preparation for the playoffs.
"You're never out of time until the fat lady sings," Seymour added. "We still feel like we can go out and shut teams out. We're capable of doing it."
They'll have to shut down Martin this weekend if they want back up those words. The former Patriot running back is certainly on the mind of the Patriots defense.
"It's all about Curtis Martin," linebacker Tedy Bruschi stressed. "Every time we play the New York Jets, all of the talk is about Curtis. I don't want to say anything good about him because I have said so much before. The last time we played them, he was playing great and everybody was saying he has a new life. Now he is leading the league in rushing. I'm not surprised.
"When a team likes to run the ball the way they do, you know it's going to be physical. You know you are going to rustling with that line a lot. Hopefully when you beat the block you can tackle number 28 and that's never easy."
Neither is beating the Jets. Four of the Patriots last five wins over New York have been by one score and eight of the last 11 games in the series have been decided by one score, including the first meeting this season, a 13-7 Patriots win that wasn't decided until a Jets late fourth quarter pass in the end zone fell incomplete.
"We always play each other tough," wideout David Patten said. "It doesn't matter what the records are, it's always going to be a tough game."
The Jets can't catch the Patriots for the AFC East title, but there will be plenty on the line when New England visits on Sunday.
The Jets have all but secured a playoff spot, but it would become official with a victory. And the Patriots are still holding out a slim hope of catching Pittsburgh for home-field advantage while trying to hold off San Diego and Indianapolis for a first-round bye.
The Patriots are coming off a stunning loss in Miami on Monday night, and haven't been playing at their typical high level at the end of the season.
"I'm sure they went through the same emotions that we felt a few weeks back," guard Pete Kendall told the team's website. "They probably felt like they gave away a game that they had in hand. That being said, I'm sure that they'll be ready to play when they come here."
The Patriots have a three-game winning streak in the series, including a 13-7 win in Foxborough in Week 7.
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