By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 19, 2003

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This might just have been the work of Pedro Martinez.

Lawyer Milloy is released five days before the season opener, and morphs suddenly into a Patriot opponent. Strike one.

Ted Johnson sustains a severe foot injury and is out for about six weeks. Strike two.

Now, ahead in the count 0-2, here comes the knee-buckling changeup which Martinez is famous for.

Rosevelt Colvin sustains a severe hip injury against Philadelphia while recovering a key Donovan McNabb fumble. Out for the year.

Strike three, the Patriots are out.

Patriots/Jets
Close-Up
Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Sunday 9/21/03
1:00 PM EDT
Television: CBS
WBZ Channel 4 in Boston
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 706, 930
2003 Team Records: Patriots 1-1
Jets 0-2
Latest Line: Patriots by 6 1/2
Well, calling the Patriots "out" might be a little extreme, but it certainly seems like a typical Martinez ponchado. Three key members of the Patriot defense are now gone, and one has to wonder how much more severely the Patriot depth, especially at linebacker, will be tested.

The loss of Colvin, the prize free agent catch of the offseason, might be the worst of them all. Calling it "crippling" is hopefully not prophetic, if medical reports are to be believed and a worst-case scenario is envisioned. Right now, Colvin is merely lost for the season. It remains to be seen if this hip injury is also career threatening. If normal blood flow cannot be resumed to the hip region, it could cripple Colvin for life.

No wonder Bill Belichick was testy the other day to that poor reporter from Worcester.

The timing, naturally, stinks. The Jets are heading to Foxborough this weekend.

The Jets always give the Patriots trouble, though this rivalry has lessened a bit since Bill Parcells took his leave of Chez Kraft. The Jets still have Curtis Martin, and have won the last five meetings between the two teams at Foxborough. The Jets have been even more decimated with attrition and injury bugs than the Patriots, but still present some matchup problems that the Patriots will have trouble dealing with.

Martin has been slow in getting untracked this year. In two games thus far this year, Martin has 80 total yards on 25 carries. His average is 3.2 yards per carry and his longest rush of the year is 12 yards. Whispers of Martin slowing down and having passed his physical peak have changed to murmurs and mumblings. The former Patriot, by all accounts, seems to finally be over the hill.

That is what they once said about another former Boston athlete who would wind up with a New York team, Roger Clemens.

And, thank goodness, the Patriots are taking this "over the hill" talk with a grain of salt. The team's approach regarding Martin will be to expect him to have his usual terrific day against his former team he delights in beating. Martin always gets up for the Patriots, and labels each game against them as "personal".

With the linebacker situation the way it is for the Patriots, the Jets would have to be idiotic to not try and break Martin out. Given the additional problem of having to start Vinny Testaverde instead of the injured Chad Pennington, if the Jets can get a huge day from Martin, they likely win the game. This would enable Testaverde to settle in and play pitch and catch with Wayne Chrebet and Santana Moss with the Patriot defenders preoccupied with the run.

The key matchup of the game, as Nick Cafardo of the Globe said two days ago, is Jet center Kevin Mawae against Ted Washington. If Washington can win this battle, then Roman Phifer and Tedy Bruschi will have a good chance in keeping the lid on Martin. A good idea might be to bring in Rodney Harrison for extra protection if the Jets decide to run Martin off tackle or even around the ends. If Martin really has slowed a step as many folks think, the linebackers ought to be enough.

Interestingly enough, this could also open a door for rookie Dan Klecko. Klecko, who has spent most of the season as inactive, has been looking for a foot in the door ever since his impressive debut in the preseason opener against the Giants. The smallish but speedy Klecko might just be an interesting alternative to help fill the void of Colvin; by putting him at the outside linebacker position, Belichick could get a good look-see as to how really fast the son of the former Jet great is.

It's almost like this had better work for the Patriots, because there are so many other matchups which present problems, except that they involve the Patriot offense against the Jet defense instead of the other way around.

Right behind the Mawae-Washington matchup is the battle between Matt Light and John Abraham. Light won the battle last September (a 44-13 Patriot win) and got killed in the December rematch (a 30-17 Jets win). Light handles speed rushers poorly, but sometimes Light can outsmart Abraham. Putting this matchup at the top spot isn't something too many people should question you over.

The entire front seven for the Jets could very well win the battle of the line of scrimmage. The rest of the down linemen (Shaun Ellis, Dewayne Robertson, Jason Ferguson) and the linebackers (Mo Lewis, Marvin Jones, Sam Cowart) are all top-flight players whom the Patriots have had problems with in the past (except the rookie Robertson). Damien Woody will likely return as the starting center, while Mike Compton is listed as questionable. Even at full strength, the offensive line will be hard pressed to find open holes for the running game, and to buy time for Tom Brady to throw.

Brady does have one fish out there. Cornerback Donnie Abraham is out with an injured shoulder, and Ray Mickens will take his place. Mickens is a decent backup corner, but Brady may test the waters if he has time to throw. If Aaron Beasley draws Troy Brown, Brady might want to send David Patten and Deion Branch out towards Mickens and free safety Jon McGraw and see what happens.

Basically the game comes down to two things for the Patriots. The offensive line has to be able to at least protect Brady properly, and Martin cannot be allowed to have a stellar afternoon. Despite how banged up the Jets are, they can win fairly easily if these aforementioned matchups go their way.

This game is basically a matchup of depth. Now it remains to be seen which team prepared for this eventuality better.

If there is any comfort, the Patriots may have gotten three strikes, but the Washington Redskins inflicted more than that on the Jets. A kicker named John Hall beat them in Week 1. That's really all you need to say on that subject.

Meanwhile, the son of Joe Klecko sits and waits for his turn to make his permanent mark on the NFL. His wait may not be that much longer.


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