It doesn't get any easier for the Jets to right their ship when they take on New England at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Josh McCown, who gets the nod from head coach Todd Bowles at quarterback with Sam Darnold out still working through his foot strain, captured why the Patriots have proved such a tough nut to crack over the years.
"They are just fundamentally sound, they are well-coached, they will be where they are supposed to be and they play hard," McCown said. "I think that's what has allowed them to play at a high level all these years. You always have your hands full when you are playing against them."
It might seem a difficult task for the 3-7 Jets, after having the bye week to mull over their low-point loss to the Bills, to take down the 7-3 Patriots. But this is the NFL, which Jerry Glanville famously said stands for Not For Long, and that applies not just to job tenure but to all winning and losing streaks. And the Jets have fared well at home against their longtime AFC East rivals in recent years.
Here are seven more points of interest for Sunday's Jets-Patriots game at MetLife (kickoff at 1:02 p.m. ET):
1. Home Fire
The rivalry has been one-sided since, oh, about 2001, but as one would expect, the Green & White play the Red, White & Blue much better at their place. The Jets' all-time regular-season home record is 29-28, and they've won four of the last nine and two of the last five. Those two wins were the walkoff overtime successes in 2013 (Nick Folk's second-chance 42-yard FG) and '15 (Ryan Fitzpatrick's 6-yard toss to Eric "Meadowlands Leap" Decker). And in the last five at MetLife, the Jets have been outscored 110-106, hold a 106-105 first-down edge and have outgained the Pats by 59.4 yards/game.
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2. The Third Degree
With either McCown or Darnold, one thing the QB will need to address is the Jets' 32nd-ranked third-down offense, converting at 28.8%. OC Jeremy Bates' view of the problem: "We've got to get manageable down and distance. Having better execution on first and second down will help." In the first 10 games the Jets' average third-down distance was 7.95 yards, on pace for their longest since averaging third-and-8.07 in 1997. These are different teams than 2017, of course, but perhaps with McCown taking the snaps, he can rekindle the spark that enabled him and the Jets to convert nine of 17 third downs vs. the Pats in last year's 24-17 home loss.
3. The Brady File
What more can be said about Tom Brady? DC Kacy Rodgers: "I've faced him about 23 times in the last 12 years and it's just like he gets better with age." TB's numbers are very good but not great as in recent years. He hasn't had as low a passer rating (94.7) or TD/INT ratio (17/7) since 2013; as low plays/drive (5.9) or yards/drive (34.9) metrics since '15. Plus he's on the Pats' injury report with a knee injury, perhaps suffered at the end of the third catch of his NFL career last week. Something, though, tells us Brady will play and he'll be very Brady against the Jets, whom he's beaten 12 of 16 times as a starter in the Meadowlands.
4. Titanic Effort
How did Tennessee send New England on a one-game skid, that 34-10 surprise two weeks ago? "They made more plays," said Bowles, "that was really it." Specifically, the Titans started fast (17-3 first-quarter lead), ran much better (150 yards to 40), had better field position (plus-10-yard margin in average drive start) and played strong third-down defense (NE was 3-for-15). The Patriots also were "Gronk-less" as TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle/back) sat out his second straight game. Considering he has 60 catches for 738 yards and eight TDs in 13 career games vs. the Jets, they wouldn't mind if he rested again. Like Brady, not likely.
5. Defensive Game Plan
Gronk or no Gronk, it will take a well-coordinated defensive effort to keep Brady & Co. under wraps. As MLB Avery Williamson suggested, it could start with something the Titans did well, which was to snuff the run, then bring pressure up the middle and keep Brady on the move and "uncomfortable back there." He'll certainly find favorite WR Julian Edelman (averaging eight catches for 93 yards the past three games) but CB Morris Claiborne (tied for the NFL lead with 13 pass defenses), S Jamal Adams and the secondary need to keep a lid on late-September WR acquisition Josh Gordon, who has three 40-yards-plus catches the past four games.
6. Stop the Skid
Whatever you prefer to point at for the recent downturn, the bottom line is that many things going well for the Jets in their .500 start stopped going well in their current losing streak. After 15 takeaways and a plus-3 turnover margin in the first six games, they've had no TAs and a minus-10 margin the last four. After scoring 17 touchdowns in the first six games, they've scored four in the last four. As a result, they haven't even held a lead in the last four games. The last time they didn't lead for five straight games was in 2007. As Williamson said after the Bills game, "We definitely want to come out here and prove we're not that type of team."
7. Wind at Their Backs?
The forecast (temps in the 50s, light winds) may be agreeable for Jason Myers and Stephen Gostkowski to bomb their kickoffs through the end zones and hold the other team's top returners at bay. If the kickoffs are shorter, either the Patriots' Cordarrelle Patterson (30.9 yard/return, No. 1 in the NFL) or the Jets' Andre Roberts (24.1, seventh) could provide a field position edge for his team. Jets STC Brant Boyer says he's been on his coverage unit for relaxing on rundowns due to Myers' touchback abilities. If that happens this week, it could be costly because he says of Patterson: "I think he's the best kick returner in the game."