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By Peter Schwartz
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There’s not much that can compare to the Yankees/RedSox rivalry, but the Jets/Patriots is picking up some steam.
Well, the steam has pretty been one-sided in terms of talking and most of that has come out of the mouth of Jets head coach Rex Ryan. The AFC East rivals will meet on Sunday up in Foxboro in the AFC Divisional Playoff (430pm CBS2).
The Jets (12-5) and Patriots (14-2) split their two regular season meetings, but the last game was a no-contest as the Pats routed Gang Green 45-3 on Monday night December 6th. It was a complete domination by New England, but was there one particular reason why the score was so lopsided.
One person thinks so.
“After really looking at it, I realize that I was out-coached in that game,” said Ryan. “It’s a recognized fact that (Bill) Belichick is a Hall-of-Fame coach and he’ll go down in history as maybe the best football coach in the history of this game or close to it. He was at that level (during the last game) and I was not. For whatever reason, I did not have my team prepared the way it should have been prepared and that falls down on me.”
Ryan was clearly trying to take the pressure off of his team because it’s pretty difficult to comprehend how coaching can be the sole reason for a 42 point difference.
But regardless of what happened on that night at Gillette Stadium, or for that matter what happened in week two at the Meadowlands when the Jets prevailed 28-14, the page has been turned towards Sunday’s rubber match.
At stake is a berth in the AFC title game and that’s what should be the lead storyline for Sunday.
“I don’t think the last game or even the first game is going to mean a whole lot,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick who is now the first head coach in NFL history to win at least 14 games in four different seasons. “Both teams know each other well. Even though we’re familiar with them and they’re familiar with us, it feels like every time you play a team, games go a lot differently.”
And the Jets are hoping that things will play out differently this time around. Their confidence is high after stunning the Colts 17-16 last Saturday night in the Wild Card game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
After saying that it was personal between himself and Peyton Manning, Ryan is singing the same tune this week declaring that this game with the Patriots is about him matching wits with Belichick.
“I recognized that this week is about Bill Belichick against Rex Ryan,” said the Jets second year coach. “There is no question. It’s personal. It’s about him against me and that’s what it’s going to come down to. When you look at it, both teams are very even. When you look at the players, our teams are solid across the board. If you look at the assistant coaches, we’re on level ground. This is going to be about me raising my level against Bill Belichick. I recognize he’s the best, but I’m just trying to be the best on Sunday.”
Ryan and the Jets were far from the best back in December and they were hoping for another crack at the Patriots in the post-season. Now, they have their chance.
After being thoroughly embarrassed during the last meeting, the Jets have an opportunity to extract some revenge and put themselves one step closer to reaching the Super Bowl.
“It’s going to be tough football,” said Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis who held Colts’ wide receiver Reggie Wayne to one catch for one yard last Saturday. “This is our chance to prove ourselves again to the world. We’ve got another chance to go back at these guys and try and get a win.”
Easier said than done against a Patriots team that has been ripping through their opponents. Since losing to the Browns on November 7th, the Patriots have won eight straight games. They scored at least 31 points in all eight games and scored 45 points twice.
It’s been a magical year for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He set an NFL record with 335 straight passes without an interception. He has thrown 36 touchdown passes while also getting interception 4 times.
Brady has also won an NFL record 28 straight regular season starts at home. No matter how you dissect it, this is a monumental task for the Jets.
“He presents so many challenges because of the kind of quarterback he is,” said linebacker Jason Taylor. “He’s the best quarterback in the league. The biggest thing about him is that he’s a winner.”
Meanwhile, Brady’s counterpart is still learning how to win on a consistent basis but is coming off of an impressive fourth quarter comeback. Mark Sanchez engineered the game winning drive against the Colts including a brilliant 18-yard pass to Braylon Edwards down to the Indy 14-yard line that set up Nick Folk’s game-winning 32-yard field goal.
In just his second NFL season, Sanchez is now 3-1 in his post-season career. He now has more wins than any other quarterback in Jets playoff history.
“I love playing at this time of year,” said Sanchez. “It’s very exciting. It’s fun. We’ve just got to keep this rolling.”
The Jets would love to roll into their second straight AFC title game, but the Patriots stand in their way. After a season filled with drama, both on and off the field, Gang Green is one step away from being in the NFL’s final four.
“It’s huge for us,” said Sanchez. “This would set us up right where we want to be and put us in the AFC Championship game, where we were last year, and hopefully move on from there. It’s a tough challenge. We’re facing a very good defense and a great defensive coach in Coach Belichick, so we need to bring our best.”
The Jets used their “ground and pound” philosophy to escape Indianapolis with a win last week. Ladainian Tomlinson rushed for 82 yards including two one-yard touchdown runs.
Coupled with Shonn Greene, who rushed for 70 yards against the Colts, Tomlinson admits that there will be pressure to keep drives alive and ensure that Brady and company spend a lot of time on the sidelines.
“Absolutely,” said Tomlinson. We have two similar types of offenses that we faced last week in Indianapolis and this week with the Patriots. They spread the ball and run the ball some. For us, we want to sustain drives and we want to try and keep Tom Brady off the field. If we do that, we have a good chance of winning the game.”
The Jets certainly have some injury concerns heading into the game. Right tackle Damien Woody is out for the season with an Achilles injury so Wayne Hunter will get the start.
The status of Brad Smith remains up in the air after he suffered a groin injury on Saturday against the Colts. Its likely that Smith will play but kickoff duties will be handled by Antonio Cromartie. Cornerback Drew Coleman sustained a knee injury near the end of practice on Thursday but an MRI was negative and he is expected to play.
Throughout the season, the Jets have been a team that has thrived on adversity. Whether it was news on or off the field, they have found ways to get the job done when they’ve had to.
Pride is also an intangible in this game. The Jets were angry and embarrassed about the December debacle in Foxboro. One would think that just sheer emotion would make this a competitive game.
The Yankees/Red Sox rivalry was built during their regular season encounters and was enhanced during their post-season meetings. It was a one-sided rivalry until the Red Sox reversed the curse and won the World Series in 2004 after trailing the Yankees three games to none in the ALCS.
Its possible that, one day, the Jets/Patriots rivalry can mirror what their baseball counterparts have established. But the Patriots have won three Super Bowls and have been to four of them in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era.
The Patriots have also won both post-season meetings with the Jets.
So this rivalry is currently one-sided. The Jets need to add some hardware to get on a level playing field.
The Jets have dominated the verbal war, but talk is cheap.
It’s time to beat the Patriots where it counts. On the field.
The Patriots lead the all-time regular season series against the Jets 51-49-1. New England has also captured both prior post-season meetings including a 37-16 Wild Card win on January 1st, 2007 at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots also beat the Jets 26-14 in the 1985 AFC Wild Card game.
Since 2000, the Jets have beaten the Patriots in Foxboro five times, more than any other opponent during that time period.
Here are some other stats, facts, and notes courtesy of the NFL Media Relations department…
JETS: Incl. postseason, Jets are 14-6 (.700) on road under head coach REX RYAN…QB MARK SANCHEZ has 3-1 postseason record, most playoff wins by Jets QB in franchise history. Club 2-0 vs. NE when Sanchez has 100+ passer rating…Jets are averaging 149.8 rush yards per game in past 4 postseason games…RB LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON tied postseason-high with 2 rush TDs last week & had 82 rush yards, 2nd-most of career in playoffs (123 on 1/14/07 vs. NE). For career (incl. postseason), Tomlinson averages 5.0 rush yards per carry vs. Patriots. RB SHONN GREENE averages 93.5 rush yards per game in postseason (374 total)…14 of WR SANTONIO HOLMES’ 20 postseason receptions have been for 1st downs (70.0 pct.). WR BRAYLON EDWARDS averages 21.8 yard per catch in postseason (10 receptions, 218 receiving yards). WR JERRICHO COTCHERY had 4 receptions for 100 receiving yards, incl. 77-yard TD catch in only career playoff meeting vs. Patriots…TE DUSTIN KELLER has 3 TD receptions in 4 postseason games. Keller averages 14.9 yards per catch in postseason (15 receptions, 223 receiving yards)…CB DARRELLE REVIS has 2 INTs in 4 career playoff games & needs 1 INT to tie GREG BUTTLE (3) for most career postseason INTs in franchise history… CB ANTONIO CROMARTIE had INT in last playoff game vs. NE (w/ Chargers on 1/20/08). Cromartie had 2 KR returns for 88 yards (44.0 avg.) last week. incl. 47-yard KR in 4th quarter to set up game-winning FG…S ERIC SMITH led team with 10 tackles last week…LB JASON TAYLOR has 13 career sacks vs. NE…LB CALVIN PACE had 1st career postseason sack last week…Jets had 3 players selected to 2011 Pro Bowl (T D’BRICKASHAW FERGUSON, C NICK MANGOLD, CB Revis).
PATRIOTS: Since 2000, NE has won 8 division titles, most in NFL during that span…Club has 8-5 record in Divisional Playoffs (.615)…Patriots scored NFL-high 518 points in ’10, 7th-most points scored by team in single season in NFL history…NE has 8 consecutive 10-win seasons, 3rd-longest streak in league annals (16, San Francisco, 1983-98; 9, Indianapolis (2002-present)…With win, BILL BELICHICK will tie HOFer CHUCK NOLL (16) for 4th-most playoff wins all-time. Belichick is 1st head coach ever to win at least 14 regular-season games in 4 separate seasons…QB TOM BRADY has NFL-best 14-4 (.778) postseason record (minimum 15 starts). Brady has won an NFL-record 27 consecutive regular-season home games as starter. Brady owns active streak of 335 consecutive passes without INT this season, best in NFL history. Passed for at least 2 TD with no INTs in his past 9 games, longest such streak in league annals. Has not thrown INT in his past 11 games. At home vs. Jets as starter (incl. postseason), Brady has 7-2 record & has completed 190 of 295 passes (64.4 pct.) for 2,056 yards with 10 TDs vs. 3 INTs & 91.9 passer rating…RB BEN JARVUS GREEN-ELLIS (1,008 rush yards, 13 rush TDs) joined CURTIS MARTIN as only 2nd Patriot to have at 1,000 rush yards & 13 rush TDs in season. Green-Ellis will make playoff debut. RB DANNY WOODHEAD had career-best 104 receiving yards in last game vs. Jets…WR WES WELKER led team in receptions for 4th consecutive season, longest streak in franchise history (112 in ’07; 111 in ’08; 123 in ’09; 86 in ’10). Welker has 2 TD receptions in 3 career postseason games. Aims for 3rd straight game with TD catch vs. NYJ. WR DEION BRANCH (725) needs 75 receiving yards to reach 800 career postseason receiving yards. TE ROB GRONKOWSKI caught 10 TD passes in 2010, most by rookie in franchise history & 2nd most by rookie TE all-time (Pro Football Hall of Famer MIKE DITKA,12 in 1961)…CB DEVIN MC COURTY led all NFL rookies with 7 INTs, 2nd-most in NE history among rookies (HOFer MIKE HAYNES, 8 in ’76)…DT VINCE WILFORK had career-best 2 sacks in Week 17…LB JEROD MAYO led team with 193 tackles, 3rd-most in season in Patriots history (CLAYTON WEISHUHN, 229 in ’83; STEVE NELSON, 207 in ’84).
THE JETS RATE BIG
An average of 32.3 million viewers tuned in to watch the NFL’s four Wild Card games last weekend. That marks the biggest audience ever for Wild Card Weekend surpassing the 30 million that tuned in back in 1994.
The NFL reports that Saturday night’s Jets/Colts game on NBC drew 33.4 million viewers making it the most watched primetime Wild Card game and the most watched Wild Card Saturday game.
Okay, its prediction time. There’s no question that the Jets will play a lot better than what they showed in December, but it’s hard to imagine them leaving Gillette Stadium with a win.
Patriots 27 – Jets 20
That’s all for now. Enjoy the game!