by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
September 18, 2009

Just one week ago, New England looked ready to reclaim their proper place atop the AFC East. After an injury to phenom Jerod Mayo and 55 minutes of offense rusty enough to make the Tin Man cringe, expectations have been, shall we say, altered.

(And if Benjamin Watson has to bail this team out again, I might have to buy a defibrillator.)

The 2009 Pats resemble a hybrid of the previous two seasons, including flashes of 2007 dominance tempered with the necessity of 2008 resilience. If they can hold it together, this should prove a fun team to watch. Here’s what might get in the way…

Spare Jerod, Spoil The Defense: Mayo’s knee injury will keep him out for weeks. That means Gary Guyton starts in the middle, straining the Pats’ thin-as-a-coat-of-paint linebacking corps. Could it be time for a Rob Ninkovich close-up?

Did I really just write that?

Make His Mark: Anyone who watched Jets QB Mark Sanchez maintain consistent pocket awareness and find open receivers during last week’s 24-7 win saw a rookie on the rise. Sure, Sanchez beat less-than-hallowed Houston, but you can’t say he looked lackluster in his NFL debut.

Rush, Rush: (Ah, Paula. The muse of our generation.) New England’s defense allowed QB Trent Edwards (15 for 25, 212 yards, two TDs) too much time and made Fred Jackson look a little too much like Stephen Jackson. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots averaged 3.2 yards per rush, not enough to dull the buzz surrounding New York’s impending hornets’ nest of blitzes. Major concerns, there.

J-E-T-S-F-A-N-S: No offense intended, but some Jets supporters may be the worst examples of our species (some of them barely qualifying for that category).These mullet-headed, mouth-breathers would like nothing more than to beat the Pats and lord it over New Englanders’ heads, meaning that the stadium named after the other New York team will rock on Sunday.

Email Chris Warner at chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com