This week, the 6-2 Patriots host coach Mangini and his New York Jets for a Sunday afternoon showdown. The Patriots are coming off a hard 20-27 loss to their conference rivals, the Colts. This is a division game, and Tom Brady threw a career-high four interceptions last week – something that's only happened five times in his career – so the Pats will be looking to shut down the Jets. If they can, they'll improve to 58 games without consecutive losses, two shy of the NFL record. Here are five things they'll need to do in order to keep the streak alive.
1. Don't allow big plays on defense
The Patriots were beating the Jets handily in their first meeting this season. Then the Jets scored 17 unanswered points and were on their way to the end zone when Tedy Bruschi grabbed a game-ending interception. How did the Jets mount such a comeback after being down 24-0? Big plays. Chad Pennington threw a 71-yard touchdown pass to Jerrico Cotchery and another 46-yard TD pass to Laveranues Coles in the game, and bad tackling really hurt the Pats. "They have those in every game," coach Bill Belichick said Thursday. "You can go right down the line. Those plays show up in every game. That's who they are." The Jets have 17 passes of 20 yards or longer. The Patriots secondary is banged up with Artrell Hawkins filling in for Eugene Wilson (hamstring) at free safety, and Chad Scott taking over for Rodney Harrison (broken scapula). Those safeties are veterans and Scott has had picks in the last two games, but they'll need to keep communication flowing and be careful not to get beaten down field if they want to keep the Jets from making big plays.
2. Run the football
The Patriots allowed five turnovers against the Colts last weekend, four of which came through the air in the form of interceptions. Of his four previous four-interception games, Brady has never followed one of them with a bad game. In fact, he's never even thrown a single interception in those following games. The best way to prevent turnovers and keep the Jets offense off the field is to run the football. Many fans were surprised that the Patriots didn't run the ball more against the Colts, who had the league's worst rush defense entering the game. The Pats actually ran the ball almost exactly as much as they threw it, but this will be one of those weeks where the Patriots need to get back to their bread-and-butter. Running the ball worked well against the Jets earlier in the season. Their defense has allowed the third-most rushing yards in the league, so there's little reason to believe the same strategy won't work again.
3. Be special on special teams
The Jets kick returner, Justin Miller is the second best kick returner in the NFL, averaging 29.7 yards per return. He ran one back 99 yards for a touchdown last week against the Browns. According to coach Belichick, Miller has great timing as a kick returner and can really make things happen, so the Patriots kickoff team will have to be good on coverage. They allowed Terrence Wilkins to average 35 yards per return last week against the Colts, including a 70-yarder, so they definitely need to improve in that phase of the game. Fortunately, the only player in the NFL who's better at returning kicks this season is Laurence Maroney. He's ranked first, though his 29.7-yard average matches Millers. The Jets did recover an onsides kick against the Colts earlier this season, and could try to do it again if the Pats get a hearty lead, so that's another thing they'll need to keep in mind on kick return. Also, don't forget that the Jets blocked a field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth quarter of their first meeting this season that gave them one more opportunity to tie the score. Gostkoski out kicked former Patriot Adam Vinatieri last week, who missed two field goals for the first time in what felt like eons. Gostkowski nailed a season/career-high 49-yarder, but also missed a 36-yard attempt. He'll need to keep his composure if the Jets play well in this game.
4. Don't underestimate their running game
Although the Jets don't have the best ground game in the NFL, it has improved since their last meeting. Curtis Martin is officially done for the season, and Kevin Barlow is still the starter in the Jets backfield, but rookie Leon Washington has emerged as their top rusher. Washington only had one carry in Week 2 against the Pats, and New York only averaged 2.1 yards per carry. Washington is now averaging 4.6 yards-per carry, and although his longest run on the season is only 23 yards, he could break out and make a couple big gains in this game. Obviously, the Patriots defense, sporting three first-rounders in Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork is well matched against the Jets running game, but if they underestimate Washington's play-making ability in the running game, it could cause problems. The Jets still haven't been able to construct long drives on the ground, but Belichick couldn't stress their big-play ability enough this week, in every phase of the game.
5. Finish them
Nobody in their right mind would say that the Patriots have trouble finishing games. But one exception was the last game against the Jets. The Pats had a chance to shut them out, before bad tackling let the Jets back into the game. They'll need to play until the last whistle against this team, which has already won as many games in half a season as they did during all of 2005. They have tried to sneak back into a number of games this season, including last week when they played the Browns. And Pennington's no-huddle offense can cover a lot of ground in no time. Moreover, this Jets team is Patriots closest pursuer in the AFC East. Shutting the door on them in this game will essentially mean sealing the division. Carpe Diem, Pats.
Notes: The Patriots held practice outside today wearing shorts/sweats, helmets and shells. The only players not seen during the portion of practice available to the media were Rodney Harrison (out) and Garrett Mills (questionable). … The injury report has not changed since Wednesday. … Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft presented Troy Brown with a game ball to commemorate his franchise record-breaking 535th reception. Former record holder Stanley Morgan also spoke at the ceremony.