FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Some players shook their heads. Others couldn’t help but cringe.
The New York Jets’ defense sat in the film room, stunned while watching the video of the last time it played the New England Patriots. There was Tom Brady leading his offense on a clock-chewing, victory-sealing drive, and the Jets unable to stop them.
“The guys, especially up front, those guys looked at it and said, ‘Who is that impostor wearing my jersey?’” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said Thursday. “There were a bunch of guys that I think felt that way. That’s not us, and that’s not where we are now.”
Not even close. Since that game — a 30-21 loss at New England on Oct. 9 — the Jets have turned their defense around. Not that it was at all bad at the beginning of the season. Far from it. It’s just that the dominant defense Rex Ryan insisted the Jets would have has started to show up in a big way.
“It’s all about executing and playing better football,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “You look at that film and we didn’t execute, we didn’t tackle well. That was kind of the beginning of us trying to make our way back to playing at a high level. I think since then, every week we have gotten a little bit better.”
The Buffalo Bills found that out the hard way last Sunday, when the Jets caused turnovers, stuffed the run and put constant pressure on the quarterback. Next up: Brady and the Patriots on Sunday night in an AFC East showdown for first place.
“I think last week was our best performance to date,” Scott said. “We know it’s going to take that same type of effort, if not a greater one, to try to beat these guys.”
In the last meeting, the Jets got within six points at 27-21 with 7:14 left in the game on a 21-yard touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes. Suddenly, a game in which the Patriots had mostly held a comfortable lead throughout was turning into a possible nailbiter. All New York had to do was stop New England from scoring and give the offense time for a winning drive.
Brady went to work, though, leading the Patriots on a 13-play drive that lasted 6 minutes, 12 seconds and was capped by a field goal by Stephen Gostkowski that put the game out of reach.
“That’s something we always stress every week is getting off the field,” safety Eric Smith said. “There were times we could’ve gotten off the field, penalties extended drives, things like that. Self-inflicted wounds.”
The Jets gave up 446 yards to the Patriots in that game, including 136 yards rushing by BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It’s the last time New York allowed a 100-yard rusher — and the last time the Jets lost. They allowed 308 yards against Miami the following week, 268 against San Diego, and 287 last Sunday against a Buffalo team that had been one of the NFL’s best.
Fred Jackson had a quiet 82 yards rushing, and Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled mightily with a 15-of-31 performance that included a late touchdown, when the game was already decided, and two interceptions.
“We’ve been trying to get rolling these last couple of weeks,” said linebacker David Harris, the AFC’s defensive player of the week after getting five tackles and an interception.
The Jets were ranked eighth in overall defense the last time they played the Patriots, and are in the same spot entering this matchup. But the last few games have proven that New York’s defense is now much more of a presence.
“We feel good about this week,” Pettine said. “We feel we’re a different team. We’re much improved over that performance from the last time.”
In the three games since, the Jets have five sacks, six interceptions, seven forced fumbles and a whole lot of confidence.
“We’re just stopping the mental mistakes,” said cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is having another Pro Bowl-caliber season. “We’re being a little bit more aggressive on defense.”
And that’s exactly the way Ryan likes it. Especially with the Patriots up next.
“We weren’t good enough to beat them the last time we played them,” Ryan said. “I think we will be this week, but we’re going to find out.”
New York might be wise to borrow from the defensive game plans Pittsburgh and the Giants used to beat New England the past two weeks. The Steelers had primarily played a zone defense this season, but surprised the Patriots with a lot of press coverage in a 25-17 win two weeks ago. The Giants won 24-20 last Sunday, helped in large part by their front four putting consistent pressure on Brady — always a key part of the game plan to beat him.
“It seems to me that he gets a little more anxious at times,” Pettine said, “where before you would see him sit in that pocket and not move and scan the field.”
As evidenced by his 10 interceptions after four all of last season, Brady can be forced into mistakes — something the Jets intend to do.
“Oh, yeah, he’s mortal,” Harris said with a laugh. “He’s not an alien, after all.”
Notes: WR Plaxico Burress refused to answer a question about the terrific play recently of Giants quarterback Eli Manning, his former teammate. “I’m not talking about Eli,” he said, before repeating it. Burress has chosen to focus only on his current teammates. … Burress, Holmes and quarterback Mark Sanchez have started meeting together in the morning, just the three of them. “It’s veteran leadership from both wide receivers,” Holmes said. “Carrying our young quarterback under us and teaching him things that we see that he hasn’t seen.”
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