By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
So here the Patriots go again with the Jets.
One would think after the absolutely thoroughly embarrassing mauling they took just a month ago on December 6th, the Jets would come in quiet and unassuming in trying to pull off a victory this Sunday in Foxboro, but that isn’t the case. Apparently not even 45-3 humbles this team. Rex Ryan has been in full throat this week, dissing everyone from Tom Brady to essentially the entire Patriots team by claiming that it was only Bill Belichick who was the difference last time. Meanwhile, he gives himself credit alone for beating Peyton Manning last week. The man is bizarre even beyond his fetishes. The Jets players seem to play happily along, loudly telling the press they’re going to get revenge as Dustin Keller did. Or that the Patriots ran it up last time but the Jets are still the better team as wide receiver Braylon Edwards publicly claimed. Or LaDanian Tomlinson, who always has been self-proclaimed “classy”, complaining about trash talk. These people have no shame.
The bottom line is the Patriots are a better team. Upsets can happen. If the Patriots play an off game, turn it over and the Jets execute, sure there is probably some percentage chance of winning. But its unlikely. The Patriots have weapons the Jets can’t handle. The Jets defense hasn’t really played up to last year’s unit and has been at least semi-exposed this season. The Jets offense can run a bit. They can occasionally hit a pass. But they’re inconsistent and far from efficient. Its just a tremendous stretch to envision them putting up more points than the Patriots. Anything is possible, but its just not likely.
So, I suspect the Jets will be comfortably vanquished this Sunday. Maybe not 45-3 thrashed, but comfortably. The Patriots will move on to AFC Championship game, perhaps the Super Bowl and maybe, just maybe, a championship.
The Jets will move on to commencing an off-season filled with more talk. Because that’s what that tiring team is good at.
Mark Sanchez (#6), Quarterback: Sanchez became the Jets all-time leading playoff winner at quarterback this past week with his third playoff win. That tells you something about the general success of the Jets franchise over the years. There are a number of questions surrounding Sanchez heading into this game. First, since starting out the season with an 8-0 TD/INT ratio, he has fallen back to a 9-14 ratio if one counts the playoff game over the last 11 games he has played. And while the Jets managed to win that playoff game last Saturday versus the Colts, Sanchez wasn’t exactly impressive with a 62.4 QB rating. That despite a strong running game. After his miserable performance in fairly cold weather versus the Patriots in a 45-3 loss on December 6th, another question arose about the California-bred Sanchez’ ability to deal with cold weather. He followed it up the next week with a 45.3 rating in a loss to Miami on a blustery day. There was somewhat a rebound in cold weather when he put up an 81.1 rating in a win versus Pittsburgh and an 84.2 in a loss to Chicago. But still, neither of those games was he better than average when one actually looked at his play closely. So, Sanchez has a difficult task. He’ll be in a hostile environment in elements he generally doesn’t handle well against an opponent that knows his weaknesses well. If he can overcome that and put up a great game, that would be very impressive. I wouldn’t hold your breath though.
LaDanian Tomlinson (#21), Running Back: Tomlinson had a decent game against the Colts Saturday with 82 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Colts defense was banged up, but still it was a surprise performance for the man known as “L.T.” given how badly he struggled down the stretch for the Jets. It was his first game of better than 55 yards since week 5. What’s more, L.T. had averaged a miserable 3.3 per carry since week 5. The 31 year old seemed worn down the end of the season. He received a week off the last week of the season in a meaningless game versus Buffalo and that no doubt helped re-charge his batteries. But now after a 16 carry game, a burden he was only given twice since the start of November, he undoubtedly will feel some bumps and bruises which slow him down again. The Colts game also marked a decent playoff performance for the notoriously un-clutch Tomlinson. While one could point to a game here or there that was good in the post-season….lets say by disingenuously going back five seasons to find one…the fact is until last week Tomlinson had put up historically bad playoff performances in his last five games there. The totals are ugly. Over those last five playoff games Tomlinson rushed 47 times for 124 yards or 2.6 per carry. Amazingly, Tomlinson couldn’t even quite crack 25 yards per game in the biggest games he’s played in. That is incredibly bad. To ignore that would suggest either one doesn’t know what they’re talking about or simply has an agenda. L.T. came into the last Patriots game screaming “We’re physical, they finesse!!!“. There’s plenty of evidence that will be how he plays Sunday as the games get bigger.
Dustin Keller (#81), Tight End: Keller is a good player who has had some nice games against the Patriots in the past. But he’s been a bit inconsistent this season. He’s had his big games, like the 115 yard effort he had in the first game against the Patriots. But he’s also been shut down and had less than 30 yards receiving in 7 of the 15 games he played this season. Some of that may be a function of the poor play of Sanchez. And its probably no coincidence those games are games Sanchez has some of his worst QB ratings putting up 3 of his 4 worst of the seasons in those games. But there is also a sense Keller just hasn’t been as good as past seasons too. The Patriots will likely focus on taking Keller away as they did the last match up when he had only 3 catches for 27 yards. Doing this forces Sanchez to throw deeper, outside routes that he struggles more with and is indecisive performing. That can lead to overthrows or even worse for the Jets turnovers and sacks. So Keller, in many ways, is the key to Sanchez having good games and getting in rhythm. And if the Patriots do as good a job as last time its likely the Jets and Sanchez will struggle.
Sione Pioha (#91), Nose Tackle: For the second straight year, Pioha has filled in admirably for the Jets for injured nose tackle Kris Jenkins. And he’s done it so well, Head Coach Rex Ryan has argued Pioha is deserving of a Pro Bowl selection. I tend to agree. Pioha is not much of a pass rusher, but he is a stout run defender who clogs up the middle better than most defensive tackles in the NFL. And he does it quietly, efficiently, without any public comment or recognition or self-promotion. That’s a rarity, but something to be admired, for a Jet player. Last game, the Patriots ran fairly effectively, but at times Patriots center Dan Koppen has struggled against run defenders like Pioha who are physically stronger than him. Koppen at least holding his own against Pioha will be a big key to the game because if the Patriots can run effectively, it’ll make Tom Brady even more deadly to the Jets on the play-action passes.
Nick Folk (#2), Kicker: Here is a move that has to be considered one of numerous recent bad moves by Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. Last year he let very consistent kicker Jay Feely walk away and signed on Nick Folk as his replacement. All Feely did was rank 6th in the NFL with an 88.9 FG success percentage, including nailing 10 of 13 beyond 40 or 50 yards. Folk meanwhile was down towards the bottom of the NFL in the same percentage and only his 3-6 between 40-49 yards and 2-5 beyond 50. Yes, he did nail the game winner last week versus the Colts, but at 32 yards indoors that was a kick any NFL kicker would hit almost 100% of the time. He hasn’t been really tested and he could get that this week in the swirling cold of Foxboro. Folk struggled down the stretch, missing 6 field goals after November 1st. If the Jets get in a close game, its questionable whether Folk can hit a difficult kick for them as the pressure and weather ramps up on him this week.