SERIES HISTORY: 95th meeting. Jets lead series, 47-46-1. The Patriots had won the last seven meetings until the Jets pulled a 17-14 upset at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 12. New England opened a 24-0 third-quarter lead in this season's first meeting between the teams on Sept. 17 at Giants Stadium, but the Jets rallied with two Chad Pennington touchdown passes and a Mike Nugent field goal to get within seven. They couldn't get closer. In the second meeting, the Pats had the ball on the Jets' 46 on the final play, but Tom Brady was sacked by Shaun Ellis to end the game.
The only other post-season game between the teams occurred in 1985, when the visiting Patriots won the wild-card game, 26-14. For you history buffs, much-maligned Jet QB Ken O'Brien left that game with a concussion. Tony Eason, who later played for the Jets in 1989-90, had a TD pass for New England.
2006 RANKINGS: Jets: offense 25th (20th rush, 17th pass); defense 20th (24th rush, 14th pass). Patriots: offense 11th (12th rush, 12th pass); defense 6th (5th rush, 12th pass)
PREDICTION: Patriots 23-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: Jets coach Eric Mangini wants his defense to get after Patriots QB Tom Brady and rattle him into frustration. But first, New York's erratic but improving run defense has to slow the tandem of RBs Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney. If New England has success on the ground, it will set the table for Brady to attack a Jets secondary that could be without its top cover man in CB Andre Dyson. Jets QB Chad Pennington did a masterful job of engineering long drives in his team's win at New England on Nov. 12. New York will have a difficult time running the ball with any consistent success, so it will be up to Pennington to complete a high percentage of passes to complement the weak ground game. Pennington thrives off play action, and the Patriots will be without their secondary leader in injured FS Rodney Harrison.
FAST FACTS: Jets: Are 2-0 in the playoffs when Pennington throws at least two touchdown passes and 0-2 when he does not. ... Rookie RB Leon Washington, who leads the team with 650 rushing yards, has averaged 102.0 total yards the past two games. Patriots: Brady's 89.4 postseason passer rating is seventh all-time among players with at least 150 attempts. ... Attempting to join 1974-79 Steelers as the only teams to win four titles in a six-year span.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS
While the chess match between the Jets' offense and the Patriots' defense figures to be the focal point of Sunday's game, the battle of wits on the other side of the ball will be equally as telling toward the eventual result.
Although Chad Pennington's excellent game management contributed greatly toward the Jets' 17-14 upset victory in Foxborough on Nov. 12, the key to that game was the way the Jets' defense confused the normally unflappable Tom Brady.
One week after an uncharacteristic four-interception performance in a loss to Indianapolis, Brady was harassed and hurried. He was sacked four times as the Jets unleashed a torrent of blitzes that rivaled the rainstorm at Gillette Stadium that day. The Jets were able to disguise their blitzes well, foiling Brady's ability to audibilize.
While Brady's final numbers--25-for-37, 255 yards, one touchdown, one interception--look OK, they were a bit misleading. Of those yards, 104 came on two desperate fourth-quarter drives. The first one came with the Patriots trailing, 17-6, as Brady took them 61 yards in only 31 seconds in the no-huddle offense to their lone touchdown of the game. Even that was a bit tainted, as Brady's 15-yard scoring pass to Reche Caldwell was deflected before it reached him.
The Pats' final drive ended with Brady being sacked by Shaun Ellis on the last play of the game. Interestingly, on that play, the Jets didn't blitz, and rushed only three defenders.
Eric Mangini's experience around Brady certainly helped defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to game plan that day.
"We knew what to do," linebacker Jonathan Vilma said of that game. "It was really more that we wanted to take it to the offense instead of the offense taking it to us. We were at the point where as a team, we decided as a team or as a defense that we wanted to take it to the offense. We wanted to dictate to the offense how the game was going to be played. "If they're going to hit a big play, fine," he added, "but for the most part, we want to put pressure on them and get after them. That's what we did last time. I don't know what Bob has in store for this coming Sunday, he might switch it around and he might not, but that was the big thing--that we wanted to dictate the offense."
Brady has admitted since then that he was confused. But those know him well, such as ex-Michigan teammate and Jets' linebacker Victor Hobson, know it won't be easy to confuse him a second time.
"He was always one of those quarterbacks," Hobson said, "that no matter what the score was, if we were down, as a defensive unit and as a team, we felt confident that he would be the guy to bring us back. That was a feeling that we always had through college and obviously, it's translated through his play in the NFL."
The Patriots are 9-1 in post-season games that Brady has started and finished, so he obviously has been able to make adjustments.
"I think his record speaks for itself," Hobson said. "There aren't too many with winning records like that in the playoffs, especially when it's a tournament. If you lose, you go home and he's been able to move on."
Perhaps New England's one touchdown drive that day might point the way to success this time. More use of the no-huddle would make if more difficult for the Jets to disguise their blitz packages.
"It doesn't matter about the game plan we used in the regular season," said veteran defensive end Bobby Hamilton, a former Patriot. "It's a new ballgame right now, everybody is 0-0."
After recording 43 tackles and four sacks in his last five games, Patriots defensive end Ty Warren was named him the AFC Defensive Player of the Month. Some thought Warren should have made the Pro Bowl this year but will have to settle for this as a consolation prize. "I mean I think it's a tremendous honor for me," Warren said in the Patriots locker room on Thursday. "And I'm happy that whoever votes on that voted for me. That's a good thing."
Warren has always been an unselfish player since the Patriots drafted him in the first round of the 2003 draft and was taken back by the award.
"It did catch me by surprise," he said. "You wouldn't think a guy like myself, kind of like a hermit in the league, would be honored like that. But it's definitely an honor."
Warren finished the season ranked second on the team with a career-high 117 tackles and tied for second on the team with a career-high 7.5 sacks. He helped anchor a defense that allowed a franchise low 14.81 points per game. Warren said that while he didn't make the Pro Bow this year, his hard work will eventually earn a trip to Hawaii.
"I said what I said about the Pro Bowl. I think that those honors and stuff like that, they'll come in due time," Warren said. "I'm not really too worried about that. I'm just worried about improving my play and the accolades will come in due time."
Warren missed the Patriots last meeting with the Jets, snapping a 64-game active streak, but said the recovery time helped. It was the only game he's missed since entering the NFL in 2003. Now back to his old dominating self along the Patriots defensive line, Warren is starting to open some eyes.
"I think it feels good to be honored," he said. "I just want to continue to play consistently throughout the playoffs so we can get where we need to go. I would say this is my biggest honor so far. So I mean it kind of makes you hungrier to do more. Not that I'm not already hungry. I don't think I can get any hungrier. But it definitely makes you hungrier to get more."
--WR Laveranues Coles (jaw) practiced on a limited basis Thursday and is listed as questionable. Coles will play.
--CB Andre Dyson (sprained knee) has been doing some light running, but isn't expected to play. Figure David Barrett to get the start, with Justin Miller in the rotation as well.
--LB Matt Chatham, a key special-teams member who is part of the rotation at LB, returned to practice after being out for personal reasons Wednesday.
--C Nick Mangold (thigh) was more active in early individual drills than he was Wednesday, although he missed some team drills. He likely will play.
--RG Brandon Moore (ankle) was more active in early individual drills than he was Wednesday, although he missed some team drills. He likely will play.
--QB Chad Pennington was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year by AP after returning from undergoing two shoulder surgeries in 2005. "There are so many people who have been involved in this process," Pennington said, "that have been selfless and provided me the resources and opportunities to get healthy. It's definitely special."
--RB Corey Dillon wore a black jersey as he was honored Wednesday as the team's practice player of last week.
--S Rodney Harrison was the lone player not present for the media-portion of Thursday's practice. Harrison is out this week for the Patriots first-round playoff game with the Jets.
--RB Kevin Faulk missed last week's game in Tennessee. He remains questionable (back) for this Sunday's matchup with the Jets.
--LB Mike Vrabel is a new addition to the Patriots injury report. Vrabel is probable (back) for Sunday's game.
--NT Vince Wilfork and TE Ben Watson have missed the Patriots' last three games and are both still listed as questionable for this week. Watson with a knee injury and Wilfork with a bad ankle.
--WR Bam Childress was added to the active roster late in the year but was inactive last week against the Titans. He's questionable (ankle) for Sunday's playoff game.
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