Some think the 3-7 Jets should throw in the towel against the 8-2 Patriots on Sunday, but that's definitely not the feeling in the Jets' locker room.
"I'd like to see us win some games," said QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, the starter against Tom Brady and the dudes from up I-95. "I think that's the goal for everybody. We've got to continue to fight. I don't think that's something that's been an issue yet. But we've got to be able to finish these games, too, put together a complete game with great execution, not just in one quarter or one half but for the whole game."
And for the defense, a voice we don't hear that often offered his impassioned view.
"When you take the field, man, you take the field, no matter who it is, no matter what the circumstances are," said nose Steve McLendon, coming off his second multisack game of the season vs. Los Angeles. "You play to win your individual matchups, you play to win on the scoreboard, you play to win as a team. Those are the things we're looking for. Those are the things we're trying to do."
Can this jaw-setting determination plus some bye-week healing rally the Green & White for a winning effort against the Red, White & Blue, similar to those rousing home overtime triumphs in 2013 and last December? Who might be the one to reprise Eric Decker's iconic MetLife Leap just 11 months ago? Here are seven more points to consider as we get ready for this year's Jets-Patriots Round 1:
1. Flying out of the GateHead coach Todd Bowles, Fitz and the defense all stress the need for fast starts. Well, the Patriots are the NFL's poster team for fast starts. They have outscored opponents 87-26 in first quarters, with that plus-61 margin the second-largest in the league for any quarter. (Denver is plus-76 in the fourth.) And they have scored the first touchdown in a game eight times, with their record in those games 7-1. The Jets, meanwhile, have scored just one first-quarter TD in their last nine games. A Jets win likely will need a shift in these trends.
2. .400 HitterThere are many things we can say about Tom Brady, but for these 7 Points we'll say this: He's a real Ted Williams. Just like that other Boston icon, Brady is hitting .400 again this season, as in touchdown drive rate. Since his return from suspension, the Patriots QB has produced 24 TDs on his 60 drives, .400 on the nose. We've charted TD drives for the last 20 years and only two QBs have operated at a .400 rate — Brady in 2007 (.423) and Boomer Esiason, not as a Jet but as a seven-start Bengal in '97 (.407). That's a blistering pace that TB can't keep up over the last six weeks of the season ... can he?
3. Tom AntidotesOne way to possibly cramp Brady's style is to limit his run game. The Jets have been strong this year with the NFL's No. 4 run defense at 85.4 yards/game and No. 2 at 3.49 yards/carry, and their 20 tackles for loss/no gain vs. the Dolphins and Rams are their most in back-to-back games since 2013. LeGarrette Blount has pounded out 12 TD runs at 4.0 yards/carry to help the Brady drive machine, but as Mo Wilkerson said, "I believe we can stop those guys as far as running the ball and making them one-dimensional."
4. Drive It HomeAnother way is to hold onto the ball yourself. Fans may have forgotten that even though Fitzpatrick has scuffled to make the '16 offense purr like '15 again, in his last two games at Cleveland and Miami, he orchestrated eight drives of 70-plus yards, a consecutive-games total that **we documented two weeks ago** had been done only two other times since the '70 merger. With Matt Forte and Bilal Powell averaging 174 scrimmage yards/game over the past four games, that's a foundation for Fitz being able to find his receivers down the field to extend and hopefully finish drives against the Pats.
5. Tall Turnover OrderYet one more way to keep it close vs. the Patriots is to win, or at least draw, in the turnover battle. That's a tough one for the Jets, whose minus-11 margin is 31st in the NFL and who've had no opponent fumble recoveries the past two games and no interceptions the last three. But this year, unusually, the Patriots are not near the top of the TO list. Their plus-1 margin is tied for 15th, and their defensive takeaway drive rate of 6.5% is 31st (the Jets at 7.3% are tied for 28th). It's a tall order, but when the Jets have been plus or even in takeaways vs. the Pats since '06, they're 7-4, including those last two home OT wins.
Top Photos of the Division Rivals Over the Years.
6. Late Heat NeededLeonard Williams is showing a second-year growth spurt with his team-leading six sacks. Lorenzo Mauldin is, too, with 16 QB hits, tied with Leo for the team lead despite getting almost half as many defensive snaps. Of course there are Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, and David Harris has been known to savor a blitz sack or two of Brady over the years. However, the Jets' pass rush has been spotty, and it's tailed off late in games — with five second-half sacks this year, they're on pace for their first single-digit second-half sack season in 40 years. Especially as the Meadowlands grows cold after 6 p.m. Sunday, the Jets need to find a way to generate heat.
7. Extra PointsNot long ago, Nick Folk and Stephen Gostkowski were gold standards for NFL clutch kicking. They're both still very good, but the 33-yard extra point has hit them hard. Folk extended his league record for most regular-season PATs without a miss to 312 before missing twice at home, in the opener vs. Cincinnati and last game vs. the Rams. Gostkowski hit 478 consecutive XPs for the Patriots — until he missed three in the last five games. Every short kick will help in this rivalry game, the previous six of which were decided by seven points or fewer, and against a forecast of MetLife winds gusting to 15 mph.