The wisdom of head coach Todd Bowles' postseason approach is no clearer than it is heading into Jets-Patriots at MetLife Stadium.
As much as many would like to turn this into Armageddon in the Meadowlands 2015, Bowles and his team know there's enough on their plates in trying to win out these last two weeks, get help from one of three AFC foes (Chiefs, Steelers, Broncos), and climb onto the conference's playoff grid.
Are the Patriots the envy of the AFC East? Bowles: "I think that's a fan question. I'm trying to get our own team off the ground so I don't worry about the envy or anything else like that."
Did the Jets blow their game in the 30-23 loss to the Patriots in October? Ryan Fitzpatrick: "They're a great team. ... I don't know if I'd put it in those terms, but we've got to do a better job when it's a got-to-have-it play. Versus the Giants we kind of did that and last week versus Dallas we did that. So hopefully, we'll continue to improve in that area as a team."
But if you want to add a little Jets-Pats color to this game, LB Calvin Pace said, "I think they bring the best out of us."
Here are seven more points to consider heading into Jets-Patriots: The Rematch:
1. The Rivalry...Tightens?
It can't be sugar-coated: The Patriots have dominated the Jets in the Brady/Belichick era — 23 wins, 7 losses since 2001 and 8-1 since the Jets' 2010 AFC Divisional Round success. And yet ... in the last six in the Meadowlands, the teams are 3-3. The last five overall have been decided by 7 points or fewer. And in those last five, the Jets have outgained the Pats each time, by 74 yards/game. The Jets and Jets Nation want a breakthrough, and why not Sunday as the biggest gift of all on Fan Appreciation Day?
2. Blame Game
Pace was discussing Tom Brady's genesis Wednesday. "Blame Shaun Ellis," he said about the 2001 game when Drew Bledsoe was KO'd vs. the Jets and Brady first saw significant action. "Was that Mo Lewis?" asked a reporter. Pace: "I'm sorry. So blame Mo Lewis." Actually, it was both. Ellis brushed Bledsoe from behind, distracting the QB and leaving him open for Lewis' crushing frontal hit. But we suspect Brady (career vs. Jets: 62.0% accuracy, 6,894 yards, 42 TDs, 13 INTs, 91.4 rating, 22-6 record) would have emerged at some other point to have what Bowles labeled a "storybook" career.
3. Who is Joey Iosefa?
Iosefa was the Pats' latest featured RB, when he came up from the Pats' practice squad and carried the ball 14 times for 51 yards vs. Tennessee. Who'll be featured Sunday? It could be Iosefa, James White or Brandon Bolden. Steven Jackson, just signed after not playing anywhere this year, can't be counted on for a big contribution, can he? Or will Belichick, as he did in October (9 carries, 16 yards, 57 Brady dropbacks), say never mind, we'll just pass?
4. The Gronkowski Defense
With WR Danny Amendola (knee), WR Julian Edelman (foot), WR Brandon LaFell (foot) and TE Scott Chandler (knee) all limited at practice, where will Brady turn in the pass game? To Gronk, of course. TE Rob Gronkowski had his third 100-yard game and sixth TD vs. the Jets in Foxboro and he's already secured his third 1,000-yard season and fifth 10-TD season. How to stop him? Bowles: "You've just got to pick and choose your poison against him." At least there's Gronk's Achilles heel: He leads AFC tight ends in penalties (10) and pass interference calls (6).
5. Turning the Takeaway Tables
The Green & White pass defense's four-INT showing at Dallas leads to this bit of trivia: Since 2009, the NFL has had 47 weeks of regular-season football after Week 10. For 45 straight weeks the Patriots had the better turnover margin than the Jets. Last week the teams were tied at plus-5. This week the Jets have the better margin, plus-8 to plus-7. What does that mean for Sunday? Maybe nothing, except that winning the turnover battle is always important, especially against the league's takeaway tsars.
6. Difficult D Ahead
Remember when the Patriots' defense used to bend but not break? Not much bend this year. "They're good kind of all over," said OC Chan Gailey. "It's the best overall defense I cam remember in New England for a while." Chan's right. The Pats rank sixth in the NFL in total defense, 10th vs. the run, eighth vs. the pass and tied for sixth in points allowed. For the last time they were in the top 10 in these four categories in Weeks 16 and 17, you'd have to go back to their undefeated regular season in 2007.
7. Do You Believe in FitzMagic?
Yet in October, Fitzpatrick and the Jets produced 23 points, 25 first downs (most vs. the Pats this season) and 372 yards. Their O hasn't been ranked this high in yards (10th) and points (11th) combined this late in the year since '98. And the crowd roars could come rapid-fire ... Brandon Marshall needs one catch to pass Al Toon's franchise mark of 93, seven to break the NFL record with six 100-catch seasons ... Eric Decker, 70 receiving yards for 1,000 ... Chris Ivory, 49 rushing yards for 1,000 ... Fitz, three TD passes to tie Vinny Testaverde's franchise-record 29. Can FitzMagic go toe-to-toe with the defending champs? Let's get it on.