Silverman: Crucial 3-Game Stretch Will Almost Certainly Define Jets’ Season
By Steve Silverman
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The Jets have been one of the teams on the positive side of the NFL ledger, because they have surprised a lot of their critics by getting off to a 3-3 start despite a dearth of offensive talent and a rookie quarterback behind center.
Their start looked even better a week ago after they got the best of the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football and before they got taken down a peg by the desperate Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Tomlin’s team finally found a way to focus for 60 minutes and they took it out on Geno Smith.
Those kind of games happen. But for all the talk of the good start, the Jets now move into a part of their schedule that’s going to be quite difficult to survive. They host the New England Patriots this week, before facing the Bengals in Cincinnati and then come back home to take on the explosive New Orleans Saints.
Of the three opponents, the Patriots appear to be the most beatable because they simply don’t have the offensive weapons that Patriots teams have had in the past. They are also missing nose tackle Vince Wilfork (Achilles tendon) and inside linebacker Jerod Mayo (torn pectoral muscle), their two best defensive players.
But the Patriots are a 5-1 team and they are coming off a home victory over the Saints. Tom Brady threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds remaining, and the Pats stole a victory they deserved and played their best game of the season in the process.
This is a game that the Jets must win if they are going to survive their three-game gauntlet prior to their bye week.
The Bengals are in first place in the AFC North and have been formidable at home, having already beaten Green Bay and New England. The Saints are flying high as the combination of Drew Brees and Sean Payton has been terrorizing opponents this year.
If the Jets lose to their arch-rivals at home this week, where are they going to find the confidence to compete with the Bengals, a team with Super Bowl aspirations? The Saints simply have too much firepower for the Jets.
But the Pats are vulnerable. They have made great strides on defense since the midway point of last season, but the losses of Wilfork and Mayo should open them up against the run. If Bilal Powell runs with a purpose and gets just a little bit of blocking, he should be able to gash the Patriots’ front seven.
If the running game gets going, Bill Belichick will have to make several adjustments to his defense and that could allow Smith to hit open receivers.
That’s just what the rookie quarterback needs. He has shown the ability to connect with open receivers for big plays, but he can’t fit the ball into a tight window at this point in his development.
Opportunities will not be plentiful against the Patriots, and it will be up to the Jets’ fourth-ranked defense to shut down Brady and Co. The Pats are not going to string drive after drive together, but the test for the Jets’ defense will come at the end of the game if the Pats need a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win.
That’s when it’s toughest to stop Brady. That’s no newsflash, but Brady did it once again against the Saints and he will be hungry for another opportunity against the Jets.
David Harris, Muhammad Wilkerson and Dawan Landry are all primary role players for the Jets’ defense, but Rex Ryan needs even more. He needs interceptions. The Jets have registered just one this season, and if they can’t force Brady into turnovers, this game will be almost impossible to win.
This is a must-win game. If they don’t beat their old rivals, look for the Jets to go into the bye week with a 3-6 record.
If they can come up with the home win, they just may turn out to be that tough, feisty opponent that makes the second half of the season very interesting.
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