In this season marked by COVID, it seems normal and yet highly unusual in several regards for the New York Jets to host the New England Patriots tonight (8:15 p.m ET kickoff) at MetLife Stadium.
For starters, the Jets and Patriots will meet for the 119th time in their regular-season history as divisional mates, twice a year like clockwork. Normal.
However, the Patriots aren't used to being on a four-game losing streak, on a three-game road skid to start a season, on a slide of four straight games without even holding a lead, in a five-game hole of not having scored a single first-quarter touchdown. Yet here they are, coming into Week 9 primetime at 2-5 and hoping to end all those slumps.
The Jets, on the other hand, are winless after eight games for only the second time in their history and have never started a season 0-9. These are two teams that clearly want a victory tonight.
Then there are the quarterbacks. The Green & White have grown used to prepping for Tom Brady, having last beaten the Pats when they were led by a different starting QB in 2008 and last defeated them at home when led by a different starter in 2000.
But Brady left some months ago for Tampa Bay, so Cam Newton has been the Patriots' signal-caller for six of the seven games this year.
See the Green and White Arriving at MetLife Stadium for the Week 9 Matchup Against the Patriots
And for the Jets, usually since 2018 it would be Sam Darnold stepping under center, except that Darnold's sore right shoulder was aggravated at Kansas City and so as head coach Adam Gase said Saturday in declaring Darnold doubtful for New England, "unless something strange happens, Joe will be the starter."
That's Joe as in Flacco, the veteran who started two games after Darnold's shoulder was first jarred vs. Denver.
For those keeping score at home, Flacco is 2-1 for his career vs. New England, Newton is 2-0 career vs. the Jets, and the two old QB hands have split their two meetings against each other, with Flacco and Baltimore beating Carolina in 2014, 38-10, and Newton and the Panthers repaying that loss with a 36-21 win in '18 (in Flacco's next-to-last start as a Raven before moving on to Denver the next year).
But at least the Jets are moving toward providing Flacco with the three wideouts they envisioned as their starters at the beginning of the season possibly playing together for the first time as Jamison Crowder (groin), Breshad Perriman (concussion) and Denzel Mims (back in action the past two games after sitting since training camp with two sore hamstrings). "We're trending in a good direction," Gase said of putting all three on the field against the Patriots.
Then again, the Jets' front seven has suffered some corps-thinning injuries, to DL Quinnen Williams (hamstring) and ILB Blake Cashman (hamstrings). Both are inactive, and so is K Sam Ficken, with 30-year-old-first-year man Sergio Castillo handling the placekicking for the third game.
Here are the Jets' seven-player inactive list for tonight's game:
- QB James Morgan
- K Sam Ficken
- QB Sam Darnold
- WR Vyncint Smith
- LB Blake Cashman
- OL Cameron Clark
- DL Quinnen Williams
And the Patriots' seven-man inactive list:
- QB Brian Hoyer
- WR N'Keal Harry
- CB Stephon Gilmore
- RB J.J. Taylor
- TE Dalton Keene
- LB Ja'Whaun Bentley
- DT Lawrence Guy