They are coming off a Super Bowl victory and haven’t lost a game since last December. Tom Brady is putting up numbers befitting his status as the most successful quarterback in NFL history. And Bill Belichick is doing one of his best coaching jobs with the Patriots’ defense – which is saying something considering the man has presided over six Super Bowl championships with New England and another two as the former Giants defensive coordinator.
But as daunting as the challenge of facing the 6-0 Patriots would appear, the Jets actually may be catching a break by facing New England at this point of the season. Sounds crazy to say about a 1-4 team facing the greatest and longest-lasting dynasty in NFL history, but this could be about as good a chance as any of sneaking in an upset.
That doesn’t mean it will happen, and the Patriots certainly deserve to be strong favorites coming into the Monday Night Football matchup at MetLife Stadium. But the Patriots have at least a few cracks in the foundation worth noting.
Their reconstituted offensive line, which has been wracked by injuries and the free-agent defection of left tackle Trent Brown to the Raiders, has been a source of concern through much of the early going, even if the won-loss record might not show it. The Giants managed to put good pressure on Brady in their 35-14 loss last Thursday night, and one of the Giants’ scores came off a sack-forced fumble by Lorenzo Carter, with Markus Golden returning the fumble for a touchdown. The Patriots’ current left tackle is journeyman Marshall Newhouse, now on his eighth NFL team (including the Giants).
New England’s receiver position is in flux after the ill-fated experiment with Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon’s knee injury. Gordon apparently escaped serious injury against the Giants, but his status is in question. That’s not good news for a receiving corps that was already challenged – at least by Patriots standards. Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman still is a mainstay, but the Patriots were so short at receiver against the Giants that they used rookie free agent Gunner Olszewski, a Division II player out of Bemidji State in Minnesota who had made the team as a punt returner. The Patriots may soon have N’Keal Harry, their first-round pick this year who is recovering from a preseason ankle injury.
Safety Patrick Chung had to leave the Giants game with a chest injury. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower aggravated a shoulder injury against the Giants. In all, six players left that game because of injury.
The Patriots have a glaring hole at tight end after Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Gronk hasn’t ruled out a return this season, but he’s not coming back against the Jets.
The Jets, meanwhile, are finally settled at quarterback now that Sam Darnold has recovered from a case of mononucleosis that forced him to miss three games. One of those games was a 30-14 loss to the Patriots with Luke Falk at quarterback. Darnold looked mostly terrific in a 24-22 win over the Cowboys on Sunday, and his confidence is high — in himself and in his teammates. Darnold threw a 92-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson, had good chemistry with slot receiver Jamison Crowder and got help from Le’Veon Bell, who had only 50 yards rushing but was nevertheless a valuable piece of the offense and had a rushing touchdown.
The Jets’ defense was much better against the Cowboys, and if linebacker C.J. Mosley can come back from a groin injury, they’ll be even more effective.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson appears to have his act together after running afoul of the coaches earlier in the season.
The Jets wisely are taking nothing for granted after a well-deserved win over the Cowboys. They’re aware that it’s just one win and there is much work to be done in the weeks ahead. Starting with the team that has dominated the AFC East for nearly all the last two decades.
“It’s just one, but it’s a good one,” safety Jamal Adams said. “It’s just another stepping stone. Everybody didn’t have faith in us as far as wins. We just want to get that faith back into us. We understand it’s a long season. Just want to take it one game at a time.”
Darnold won’t look too far ahead either.
“That’s the fun part about the NFL is you get a win and next week, you’ve got the (Patriots) on Monday Night Football,” he said. “We just got to go back to work, watch the tape and continue to get better as the season goes on.”
Let the watch-the-tape and one-game-at-a-time clichés start flowing. The Jets have earned the right to proceed with optimism after Sunday’s win. And they’ve also earned the right to give themselves at least a puncher’s chance against a Patriots team with issues that belie its perfect record.
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