By Peter Schwartz
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What seemed impossible a month ago is now reality.
The Jets and Patriots meet on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium with first place in the AFC East on the line. Heading into play this weekend, the Jets, Pats, and Bills are all tied at 5-3.
“It’s a big game,” said running back Ladainian Tomlinson. “The division is on the line. They beat us the first time and they did what they were supposed to. They took care of their home field, and we’ve got to do the same.”
Four weeks ago, the Jets were 2-3 after three straight losses and there were many who thought that the Jets season was going nowhere.
Perhaps the only people who still believed were those who work at One Jets Drive in Florham Park, New Jersey.
“I don’t know who would’ve counted us out, but we certainly didn’t count ourselves out,” said head coach Rex Ryan. “We knew that our team could improve. We knew we put together a good football team. We thought we could get better, and we have gotten better. So, we’ll see how much. This is the tops. If you want to win your division, you’ve got to beat these guys.”
The Jets have won three in a row with their last defeat coming against these very same Patriots in Week 5. Since that time, the Jets have showed improvement every week. While the Jets have cleaned things up a big on both sides of the ball, there is one word to describe why the Jets now own a share of the AFC East’s crowded penthouse.
“Execution,” said center Nick Mangold who anchors an offensive line that has made tremendous strides since the losing streak. “We’re hitting our assignments and techniques pretty well. I know that’s been a big help to this success.”
Depending on what the Bills do against the Cowboys on Sunday, at least a share of first place in the division is at stake Sunday night. This is the time of the year that the Patriots usually excel. Since 2002, they are 24-7 against the AFC East in games from November until the end of the season. That winning percentage of .744 is the highest in the NFL for any team against division foes.
The Jets would like to push the worm in the other direction. This game is a match-up of two teams going in opposite directions. While the Jets have won three straight, the Patriots have dropped two in a row including this past week to the Giants. Even though the Pats are struggling, the Jets aren’t about to take them lightly.
“It happens,” said safety Jim Leonhard. “They’re not invincible. They’re a great football team, but they’ve got beat by some pretty good teams, as well. I don’t think they’re going to panic up in New England, and we’re not going to feel sorry for them, either.”
There are two ways of looking at the Patriots. You could say that they are in a vulnerable stage right now but it’s also safe to say that they are a desperate club. Whichever way the Jets view the Pats, one thing is for certain.
They better bring it.
“A team like New England is always going to be hungry,” said linebacker Aaron Maybin. “They’re not a team that takes the vulnerable route too easily. We’re not expecting that they’re going to come out sluggish or anything. We know that they want to win just as bad as we do, and we’re going to have to come with our A game.”
The Jets weren’t at their best during their last meeting against the Patriots, a 30-21 setback up in Foxboro on October 9th. That was the last time that the Jets lost a football game.While the Jets suffered their third of three straight losses that day, there were signs that the Jets were coming out of their funk. Most notably was the improved play of the offensive line and the running game.
Since that time, the Jets have won three in a row. A big reason why is the play of the defense. In fact, the Jets have now held opposing quarterbacks to an NFL-low 59.4 passer rating. This week, that unit will be facing Tom Brady, who leads the AFC with a 100.0 passer rating.
The Jets have recorded at least one interception in each of their last five contests including two in each of the last three games. Gang Green is second in the NFL with 19 take-aways.
On the other side of the ball, the Jets offense has begun to take flight.
The running game has picked up in a big way as the Jets have returned to their “Ground and Pound” mentality. Since the loss to the Patriots, Shonn Greene has averaged 86.3 yards a game.
But even though the Jets have gotten into a rhythm on the ground, you couldn’t blame them for thinking about an aerial assault on Sunday. The Patriots are dead last in the NFL giving up over 416 total yards per game and 314 yards a contest in the air.
The Jets aren’t giving away any secrets, but they feel that they have the right recipe for a successful game plan.
“I’m excited about it,” said Sanchez. “I think our game plan’s great. “I don’t care if we throw it 100 times or run it 100 times, as long as we’re winning. We’re in the winning business and we’ve got to win, so whatever it takes.”
One of the areas that the Jets were looking to improve in this year was their offensive success inside the twenty-yard line. They now rank second in the NFL with a 64% conversion rate inside the “Red Zone”. A big reason why is wide receiver Plaxico Burress. He has finally developed chemistry with Sanchez including a three-touchdown performance against the Chargers.
“That was a huge emphasis in the off-season,” said Sanchez. “We’re getting down there, we’re getting more touchdowns than we did last year.”
Execution inside the “Red Zone” is a big reason why the Jets signed Burress and it has worked out. The Jets have already scored 16 touchdowns inside the 20 this season after scoring 20 all of last season.
The atmosphere Sunday night should be electric and the fans could play a huge role in the outcome. That was the case in 2009 when Ryan called on the Gang Green faithful to make life difficult for Brady and the Pats. In that game, the Jets fans affected the Patriots communication causing New England to commit penalties and burn timeouts.
Rex would like to see it happen again Sunday night.
“Our fans could be the difference,” said Ryan. “That’s a challenge that I’m taking to our fans this week. We’re undefeated at home and let’s make it miserable (for the Patriots). I think, without question our fans are going to be ready. They’re going to be excited about this game and be there throughout that whole game. Let’s see if you can’t make them burn timeouts. See if our fans can’t make them false start. Our team is going to be ready, there’s no doubt. Their team is going to be ready. I wouldn’t ask the fans to do this if I didn’t think they can be the difference.”
There’s no question that Jets vs. Patriots is one of the best rivalries in the NFL.
“We’ve been competitive, they’re competitive,” said Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. “I think that’s what we’ll get on Sunday. Two good football teams going toe-to-toe. I think we’ll have a very competitive game.”
First place will be on the line.
To quote Faith Hill…”I’ve been waiting all day for Sunday night!”
Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t see the Patriots losing three games in a row. But these are not normal circumstances. The Jets have battled back from their three game losing streak and have their AFC East destiny in their own hands. Two things come into play here.
First, the Jets are on a roll and they are starting to click on both sides of the ball. They’ve been good all year on special teams.
Second, they have a chance to kick the Patriots when they’re down.
I can’t see Ryan not having his team prepared for this one. The changing of the guard in the AFC East begins on Sunday night.
Jets 28 Patriots 20.
THE JETS/PATRIOTS SERIES
This rivalry, dating back to the old AFL days, is dead even.
Including postseason play, the Jets and Patriots all-time series is knotted at 52-52-1.
“Oh, it’s fantastic,” said Nick Mangold of the Jets/Patriots rivalry. “The New York-Boston rivalry, it spans across different sports. We’ve been going back-and-forth since my time coming in. We’ve had some great games and that’s what makes sports awesome when you get rivalries going. It makes for exciting football.”
Sunday night marks the 103rd regular season meeting between the Jets and Patriots. Gang Green holds a 51-50-1 edge overall and they are 8-5 against the Pats in primetime games.
The last time these two teams met in primetime was last season when the Patriots crushed the Jets 45-3 in Foxboro. Three years ago Sunday, the Jets beat the Patriots 34-31 in overtime on a Thursday night up in Foxboro.
Earlier this season, the Patriots beat the Jets 30-21 at Gillette Stadium, so New England is looking to sweep the Jets for the 14th time. The Jets and Patriots split their season series in 2009 and 2010. Since Rex Ryan took over as Jets head coach in 2009, the home team has won all five games in the regular season series.
The Pats have won two out of three postseason meetings against the Jets.
FOOD DRIVE SUNDAY
The Jets will be holding a food drive on Sunday to benefit the Interfaith Nutrition Network. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food donations (no glass items) to the game. The items will be collected at all gates when you enter the stadium.
The Interfaith Nutrition Network, founded in 1983, addresses the issues of hunger and homelessness on Long Island by providing food, shelter, long-term housing and supportive services in a dignified and respectful manner for those who seek their help. They are a not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization with a dedicated staff, a broad base of community support and a commitment to educate the public about these issues.
GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN
There’s no question that many women love football, even if it means losing their husbands or boyfriends on Sundays from September to February.
But as the NFL has grown in popularity, women have grown to love the sport, learn the rules, and be there for their men on gamedays!
Just look around stadiums and you see more and more women experiencing NFL football.
But getting your nails done at a football game?
On Sunday night, Suzanne Johnson, wife of Jets owner Woody Johnson, will host the first ever “NFL For Her” Lounge celebrating football fashion and the newest Jets gear for women.
It takes place on Sunday night at the Jets/Patriots game from 6:20 until 10pm at the Verizon Gate on the plaza of MetLife Stadium.
The first 50 people in line will receive a free hat or t-shirt.
Raffle tickets will be given out for the chance to win an Anastasio Moda Jets Handbag (value of $900) and a women’s Apparel Gift Pack (value of $250). The event also will include a meet & greet with Jets Flight Crew Cheerleaders, complimentary manicures featuring Jets colors as well as a DJ and refreshments.
Manicures? At a football game?
What has the world come to?
That’s all for now. Enjoy the game! Check back for more on Monday!