Christopher Gasper of The Boston Globe reports that Jets coach Eric Mangini's father died when he was 16. Various paternal figures emerged in Mangini's life, including Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "I think any time you have a mentor, there are elements of that," said Mangini, who spent 10 seasons coaching with Belichick in Cleveland (1995), with the Jets (1997-99), and in New England (2000-05), where he was defensive coordinator his final season.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald drops the Mangini-Belichick angle and brings the upcoming wild card game back to the field. He offers a position-by-position breakdown. Overall, the Patriots have the edge according to Felger.
The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss explains that the longest scoring drive the Patriots allowed this season was a 16-play march by the Jets in mid-November. "Even on a regular day, that's pretty much unheard of," cornerback Ellis Hobbs said of the drive that lasted 9 minutes 12 seconds. The key to any long drive is third down, and the Jets finished the season ranked fourth in the NFL, converting 43.8 percent of the time. The Patriots ranked eighth in third-down defense. Also included are notes on Ty Warren, who was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month and backup quarterback Matt Cassel, who's been playing Chad Pennington in practice.
Shalise Manza Young of The Providence Journal reports on the Patriots defense, which gave up two big plays in the first game against the Jets and allowed a few long drives in the second. "To me, the most important stat is points," Belichick said. "There's only two ways a team can score -- one is on big plays, and two is to drive the ball, and that means red-area defense." The Patriots red-zone defense has been pretty good overall, but buckled a bit in the November meeting with the Jets.
Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe explains that coach Bill Belichick believes the Jets will be a worthy adversary this weekend. They are a big-play team, and dangerous on special teams, according to Belichick. Ryan thinks Belichick is serious, though he's said teams were good before that turned out to be terrible.
Ron Borges of The Boston Globe reports that changes to the Patriots have occured since their last meeting with the Jets, which are probably making Mangini a little nervous. For one, AFC Defensive Player of the Month of December Ty Warren will be in the lineup this time. Borges compares and contrasts specific Jets units to Patriots units.
The Boston Herald's John Tomase features the Patriots defensive line, which boasts three first-round draft picks. "Watching them is a thing of beauty," cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "They're like an orchestra." The Patriots set a franchise record for fewest points allowed (237) in a season and finished sixth in overall defense (294.4 yards allowed per game). "Defensively, it always starts with the people on the line of scrimmage," Pats coach Belichick said. "Without consistency on the defensive line, it's almost impossible to have any consistency at the next two levels."
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant reports on the consistency of the Pats defense, which allowed more than 17 points only once (in a 27-20 loss to the Colts) through the first 11 games. The Patriots (12-4) also set a franchise record for fewest TD passes allowed (10) and tied the 2003 record for fewest touchdowns (not including returns) allowed (21). Even in 1977, when the Patriots allowed the fewest points in franchise history (217) while playing a 14-game schedule, they allowed 16 TD passes.
Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald wonders if the Pats untested rookie kicker has what it takes to perform under playoff pressure. "As if to fuel the debate, there appeared in Gostkowski's locker yesterday a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, complete with the handy plastic cup," writes Buckley. "It's easy to take the ball - or, in this case, the bottle - and run with it. We picture the youngish, inexperienced Gostkowski sitting in a back room, gulping the thick, pink liquid right out of the bottle," his nerves about to break. But Buckley's not buying it. He explains why.
Joe McDonald of The Providence Journal also reports on the kicker. Gostkowski finished the regular season 20-for-26 in field-goal attempts -- Adam Vinatieri was 20-for-25 in his last year in New England last season -- and was 43-for-44 in extra points. He nailed a 52-yard field goal, the longest ever by a Patriots player at Gillette, against Chicago on Nov. 26. His 12 touchbacks were good for fifth in the AFC.
The Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin features tight end Daniel Graham, also interviewing Jon Embree, Graham's tight ends coach at the University of Colorado. Graham discusses the finer points of blocking on the edge.
Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe reports on running back Laurence Maroney, talking about the rookie ball-carrier with nine-year NFL running backs coach Kirby Wilson. "He's explosive, one of the best in the league that I've seen in a while like that," said fellow Pats running back Kevin Faulk, now in his eighth season. "When he gets the ball, you just never know what's going to happen. That's the special thing about him."
Albert Breer of The MetroWest Daily News offers a feature on Patriots defensive lineman Ty Warren, who was selected as the AFC's defensive player of the month for December by the NFL. "It's a tremendous honor for me," the fourth-year end said. "I'm happy that whoever voted on that voted for me. It's a good thing. You have so many other names out there, you wouldn't think a guy like myself, kind of a hermit in the league, would be honored like that."
Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald reports on reserve quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who should've been in "West Side Story." "One day when I do retire, it will be as a Jet," said Testaverde, who grew up on Long Island and played parts of seven seasons with the Jets. "That's no secret."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald features cornerback Ellis Hobbs, was beaten for the winning touchdown the last time the Patriots played the Jets on a fade to Jerricho Cotchery, and it would be easy for him to blame the broken left wrist that turned his hand into a club. But Hobbs didn't go that route after the game and he's not doing it now. "You want to throw in the towel, but mental toughness is a big part of this game," Hobbs said. "Lots of guys are naturally talented, but it's about how tough you are when things aren't going your way."
Mark Farinella of The Sun Chronicle reports on defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who was emotional and outwardly upset after the Pats loss to the Jets in November. Seymour also talks about his former defensive coordinator, Eric Mangini. "It's important for us to prepare well for this football team throughout the week, because it's going to be a situational type game, where we are just going to have to be aware of all the things that they can do to us defensively," he said of this week's game.
Jennifer Toland of The Worcester Telegram & Gazette features Tom Brady. "It's my favorite time of year," said the Patriots quarterback, who takes a 10-1 postseason mark into Sunday's first-round game against the Jets at Gillette Stadium. "You know, you look over the course of the 16-game season and you come to this week and you are so fatigued from 16 games, but you definitely get a second wind."
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reports on Jets QB Chad Pennington, who was recently named the Associated Press' Comeback Player of the year. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's done for this team and this organization. (The award) is only scratching the surface," Coles said. "Any time you have a guy who fights back from everyone saying nothing but negative things about him, coming back from where he did, putting himself in front of a team in the playoffs, you can't help but have nothing but respect for him."
Hector Longo of The Eagle-Tribune offers a feature on running back Laurence Maroney and the threat he posses to the Jets. "Maroney is an outstanding problem," admitted Mangini. "One of those guys that can really cause you problems on defense." Last time the teams met, it was Corey Dillon's day, with the elder statesman grinding out 98 of the team's 377 offensive yards on a horrendous grass field here.
Jennifer Toland of The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports on the Jets special teams department, which has been excellent this season.
Michael Parente of The Woonsocket Call explains that the Patriots need to improve their special teams play before the Jets game, since it floundered a bit in the Titans game last week, with Tennessee return man Pacman Jones carving the coverage up. "In playoff football, field position is a factor," Patriots' special teams captain Larry Izzo said. "The Jets are obviously very strong in the kicking game. They have a Pro Bowl returner, they're good in coverage and they're well-coached, so it's going to be a challenge for us to get the edge in that phase of the game."