The Jets' magical season (made somber this week after the serious injuries to Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker) enters a new realm Sunday afternoon as they take aim at the New England Patriots.
Setting their road warrior success aside for the moment, the Jets would love to secure their fourth straight win to improve their record from their crazy 5-2, and to do that they will need to get a two-game MetLife Stadium win streak and a two-game streak against the AFC East rolling. And who better to test their improved selves against than the 3-4 Patriots, who have had the Green & White's number for most of the past decade.
Here are five Jets to keep an eye on to see if they've got what it takes to move three games ahead of the always tough, always competitive Patriots in the division standings for the first time since 2000:
RB Michael Carter — The loss of brilliant rookie RB Hall for the season is a setback for the Green & White. But the loss can be overcome as Carter steps right back into the role he annexed last year as the tailback starter beginning in Week 3 and their scrimmage yardage leader as a rookie, averaging 4.3 yards/carry and 9.0 yards/catch. And he's got 379 YFS this season playing off of Hall's dynamic debut. With New England ranked 25th in the NFL in rush yards allowed/game and 26th in yards allowed/carry, it's a great opportunity for Carter, Ty Johnson, Bam Knight, new trade arrival James Robinson and OC Mike LaFleur to attack the Pats defense, control the ball and determine the winner of this game.
Tackles Duane Brown and Cedric Ogbuehi — QB Zach Wilson could be protected by the Jets' third different set of bookends since he returned from his knee injury and their fifth overall counting training camp. Brown and Ogbuehi have the résumés — Brown's a 15th-year vet who's started 206 games and has been to five Pro Bowls, while Ogbuehi, who took over at RT for Vera-Tucker at Denver, is an eighth-year pro with 61 games and 30 starts. They'll be tested by Patriots pass-rushers Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise. Judon, the red-sleeved left end, leads the league with 8.5 sacks and is tied for second (with the Jets' Carl Lawson) with 15 QB hits. Wise moves around more but often winds up on the left side of the offense and has five sacks. Protection for Wilson is paramount.
See the top photos from Wednesday's practice leading up to the Patriots game.
CB Sauce Gardner — We could watch this hot Sauce every week. He's got at least one pass defense in every game. His 12 PDs lead the NFL and are the most breakups by an NFL rookie corner in the first seven weeks of a season since 2015. His 10 tackles at Denver are the most by a Jets rookie CB since Dwight Lowery had 10 vs. KC — in 2008. As fellow CB D.J. Reed said after the Broncos win, "He's ready for this, man." If D.J. and the Sauce (sounds like a sports podcast, no?) are ready to blanket the likes of Patriots WRs Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor, well, the Pats QBs (Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe) have put up nine interceptions, tying for the NFL lead. Gardner and the Jets' pass defense have eight picks of their own and want more.
LB C.J. Mosley — It's time to follow the leader. The Patriots always find ways to open rushing lanes, fiercely protect their quarterback, convert third downs and not turn over the ball. (Well, except they lost four TOs and had a minus-3 turnover margin in the Monday night loss to the Bears.) On the back end, they find ways to get open for backbreaking completions. We suspect the Jets will rally around their captain, Mosley, who's averaging exactly 10 tackles a game, nearly had his first INT since 2019 vs. the Broncos (until replay review turned it into an incompletion), and who will have just the right encouragement and advice to keep his defense focused against the relentless Pats down the stretch.