Tomorrow night's meeting between the 12-2 Patriots and 6-8 Jets at Giant Stadium is a big game for all involved. The ramifications for the Patriots are obvious. Win and extend a spotless streak that has the team on pace for home field advantage throughout the postseason. The hype around the nationally televised game that will be ESPN's 200th NFL telecast will certainly add to the excitement of the rare Saturday night prime time affair.
And the sports rivalry between New York and New England, including games between the Patriots and Jets in which six of the last nine meetings that have been decided by a touchdown or less, goes without saying.
The one thing that might get lost in the shuffle though is that the Jets are playing their best football of the season and are fighting hard to finish a disappointing 2003 campaign at the .500 mark. New York has won four of its last six games with the return of Chad Pennington, including three in a row at home, and enters the matchup with the division-leading Patriots seeking revenge for a 23-17 loss at Gillette Stadium in September.
"We have had a lot tough games with the Jets, none more so than the end of the year last year and we're playing them at that same time," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said referencing New York's 30-17 win in Foxboro last season. "I am sure it will be, as it usually is, a tough division game on the road like they all are, especially against the Jets.
"Chad is a very high completion percentage quarterback. He has been since he came into the league last year and played. I think he spreads the ball around well to a lot of different receivers. He uses his backs, he uses his check downs but he also gets the ball down the field. We saw that last year but you see it this year. I think his completion percentage is high. He reads coverages well."
Along with Pennington, leading receiver Santana Moss and old reliable running back Curtis Martin have given the Jets enough offense in recent weeks to combine with a defense that has held tough for most of the season.
"He is amazing," Belichick said of Martin. "He looks really good. He has had a tremendous career and tremendous production. Week after week, year after year, we keep saying the same thing every year but it just never stops. I think he has really looked good lately. We can go to Indianapolis game, the Pittsburgh game last week, he has run very well and has a lot of production and you can see it in the yardage that he has. But he is breaking tackles, outrunning people, cutting back on them, catching the ball, doing all of the things that Curtis does and he doing them well."
"I think they do a tremendous job," Richard Seymour said of the New York offense. "They are a ball control offense. I think defensively we are going to have our hands full. Curtis Martin, he's the workhorse in their offense. I am sure coach [Herman] Edwards will have them highly motivated each and every week, especially when they play us. We really don't have to have much motivation to play those guys as well. It's going to be a tough matchup and it's going to be a game that's nationally televised. We all remember what happened when they came down here last year."
Defensively the Jets have kept the team in most games this season and have only given up an average of 11 points over the last month. Led by a front seven that includes 11.5 sack-man Shaun Ellis and leading tackler Sam Cowart as well as a secondary that ranks sixth in the NFL against the pass, the veteran New York unit presents a solid challenge for the Patriots offensive attack.
"They are obviously playing really good football defensively," offensive lineman Matt Light said. "They are obviously holding offenses, not allowing a whole lot of touchdowns, and we have to go into their place and try to beat them down there. They just keep getting tougher and tougher. You win a game, you move on to the next week and nothing gets easy around here."
"When we go down to the Jets they are not concerned about our record and what we've done and we are not concerned with what they've done," Seymour said. "The only thing that's going to matter is what happens on Saturday night. So what we did up to this point, it really doesn't matter. What you do from this point forward, that's our biggest concern."
And that should make for a made-for-TV, prime time affair tomorrow night that just might be able to live up to the "pressure" of being ESPN's 200th NFL broadcast.
Notes and numbers
New York has won each of its last three home games. … New England has averaged 30.3 points in its last three road games. … Tom Brady is 23-4 in his career in games played after Nov. 1 and will look to improve his career record against the Jets to 4-1. … The Patriots have won 10 games in a row, a franchise record for consecutive regular-season victories. … Saturday will be the 88th meeting between the two franchises, with the Jets holding a 47-39-1 advantage in the all-time series. The Jets hold a 25-18 advantage in New York. … The Patriots enter the contest with the NFL's 18th ranked offense and seventh defense (fourth against the run), averaging 21.1 points a game while giving up 15.9. New York has the league's 19th offense and 21st defense, scoring 17.6 an outing while giving up 18.2. … New England has a plus-10 turnover ratio. New York has a plus-three ratio. … New England has six former Jets on the roster and five coaches who have also coached for the Jets in their career. … The Patriots have a 13-5 record against the AFC East since the beginning of 2001 season, the best among the four division teams over that span. … New England has recorded at least one interception in 13 of 14 games this season. … Kicker Adam Vinatieri became just the second Patriot to eclipse the 900-point mark. Vinatieri is second on the franchise's all-time scoring list behind former kicker/wide receiver Gino Cappelletti (1,130). … The Patriots are 9-0 when recording a positive or even turnover ratio this season, 3-2 in games with a negative turnover ratio. … New England is 7-0 this season against teams with a winning record. … The Patriots rank fifth in the NFL allowing their opponents just 64 conversions in 202 third-downs opportunities (31.7 percent). … New England leads the NFL in opposing quarterback passer rating and is tied for first in fewest touchdown passes allowed. … Ty Law currently ranks second on the Patriots all-time interception list with 34 and needs just three more to pass Raymond Clayborn (36) for the top spot. … Eugene Wilson leads all AFC rookies with three interceptions, while fellow rookie Asante Samuel is one of eight rookies with two picks. … New England leads the NFL with 106 passes defensed. … Brady has the best winning percentage of any active quarterback (.727 with a 32-12 mark) with at least 25 career starts. … Rodney Harrison and Roman Phifer share the New England lead with 120 tackles each. … Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel share the sack lead with 7.5. … Tyrone Poole paces New England with six interceptions. … Kevin Faulk is New England's leading rusher with 166 carries for 604 yards. … Deion Branch is the Patriots leading receiver with 49 catches for 721 yards and three touchdowns. … Brady has completed 281-of-470 passes for 3,278 yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for an 82.4 passer rating this season. … New England has won 20 consecutive games when leading at halftime and 25 straight when leading after three quarters. … Curtis Martin tied a Jets record last week with 228 yards from scrimmage (174 yards rushing and 54 receiving). … The Jets will be honoring 25 players at halftime whom fans selected to their all-time team. Included in the group will be former Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko, father of Patriots rookie Dan Klecko. … Martin has rushed for 997 yards on 241 carries for five touchdowns in his career against his former team. … Santana Moss leads the Jets with 62 catches for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns. … Shaun Ellis is having a career year for New York, leading the Jets with 11.5 sacks, ranking second in the AFC and sixth in the NFL. … Chad Pennington has completed 143-of-226 passes for 1,689 yards for 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions for a 90.7 passer rating in limited action this season. He is 12-7 in his career at the Jets starter. … Martin has rushed for 1,127 yards on 277 carries this season, while catching 38 passes for 241 yards. … The New York offensive line has given up zero sacks in four different games this season, including last week's shutout of the Steelers. … Rookie defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson leads all rookie defensive linemen with 59 tackles and also has 1.5 sacks. … The Jets are the least penalized team in the NFL, having been penalized just 61 times for 485 yards while the NFL average is 93.3 penalties for 779.6 yards.