What you see transpire on the field tonight is going to tell you quite a bit about your 2013 New England Patriots.

When the Jets invade Foxboro later this evening, we’re going to witness what may be one of the most intriguing games of the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era, because it’s really tough to predict how this one is going to go. On one hand you’ve got the fact that judging by the reports from New York, Rex Ryan’s bunch – even if they don’t want to admit it – clearly smell blood in the water and know that this is as vulnerable a Patriots team as they’re ever going to get.

By now most fans know Danny Amendola is sitting out with a groin injury, and there’s not even a guarantee he’ll be back against the Buccaneers one week from Sunday. They also know that Shane Vereen is sidelined and on injured reserve with a designation to return, which hopefully means we’ll see him come back by week eleven. Both were heroes in Buffalo, and both will be spectators tonight.

At the tight end position, Rob Gronkowski is still out and hopefully this will be the last game he misses. Zach Sudfeld has a hamstring injury and will join him on the sideline. We may see recently reacquired Matthew Mulligan for the first time tonight, along with Michael Hoomanawanui, and it’s tough to know what to expect from either player.

So many questions, and the only way we’re going to really get the answer is to see how it all plays out tonight on the field.


Fans have no idea which receiver is going to be the one to step up and have the big game tonight.
(USA TODAY Images)

Let’s face it, you don’t know which rookie is going to step up. You know – or at least one would think – Julian Edelman is probably going to be targeted heavily by Brady in this one, but you don’t know if the Jets are going to shut him down or if he’s going to go out and catch 14+ passes and have a big game. It could honestly go either way. You don’t know if Kenbrell Thompkins will have a better performance this time around, or if he’ll struggle the way he did in Buffalo a few days ago. You don’t know if Josh Boyce will break through, or if he’ll spend yet another game in obscurity. Should Aaron Dobson play you don’t know what to expect there either because the last time you saw him on the field was during the exhibition season.

But one thing to remember is each of the newcomers are the future of this football team. Right now they’re young and inexperienced, but they were selected because they’re in the long-term blueprint. Having them play was obviously in the plan, although the Patriots were probably just hoping to have a little more experience around them. Right now injuries have changed everything and now they’re all facing a massive opportunity to go out and prove themselves in a key division game in front of the fans that will be cheering for them in the years to come.

That’s probably the reason Brady doesn’t see a depleted roster. He instead likely sees a lot of potential.

“When people are injured, that’s why you have a deep roster,” that’s what Tom Brady said on Tuesday. “We have a lot of good running backs, we have a lot of good receivers, we’re trying to do the best we can this week to go out and win a very challenging game against a very good team.”

Lost in all of this is the Patriots defense, which will probably be the key part of tonight’s equation. If they can get to rookie quarterback Geno Smith and force some turnovers, that will certainly be a difference maker against a Jets team that lost a fumble and threw an interception on Sunday. New England currently has a streak of 28 straight games with a turnover, and extending that streak will certainly improve their chances of coming away with a victory. Save for a couple of miscues, they played well in the secondary against the Bills, having not allowed any pass plays from beyond 20 yards. Against the run, they were nearly as effective and held C.J. Spiller to a 2.4 yards per carry average, with 9 of his 17 carries being of just 1-5 yards, while 3 more went for no gain and he had two for negative yardage. That’s a pretty impressive performance against one of the better running backs in the AFC.

Another area to watch will be New England’s ground game, which puts running back Stevan Ridley back in the forefront of the Patriots offense. Ridley had a rough outing in the opener, but the odds are pretty good he’s learned his lesson and will be playing with a lot to prove. He looked good early on before being benched on Sunday, and one would have to believe he’ll be ready to play. The last time these two teams faced off Ridley rushed for 97 yards on 21 carries (4.6 avg) including a touchdown. Overall the Patriots rushed for 152 yards against the Jets’ defense, and with the uncertainty in the passing game it’s tough not to think they’ll try and establish something early on in the running game this time around as well.

Win or lose tonight, this game will be one that will help make this team a better one for the latter part of the year because it’s going to put the younger players through a battle that’s going to be intense. First off, they’re playing at home on a Thursday night and fans aren’t going to be sitting down the way we’re used to seeing. They’ll be up on their feet as long as this one remains close, and when you factor in the rivalry behind it you’ve got a perfect storm that will probably make this a pivotal game in the learning process.

Tonight’s showdown will give them the experience of playing a meaningful game while learning how to deal with adversity. Hopefully each of these players can learn from it and it will be just a small step in their overall development, while for others, maybe it will be their defining moment should they emerge in their role. However, it will likely be one of the most exciting lessons any of these new guys ever learn, and if all goes well it will also be the first chapter for a team that is need of a younger group to develop and help Brady finish off his storybook career.

DE CHANDLER JONES KNOWS GENO SMITH WELL

As mentioned above the key success of the Patriots tonight is going to getting to Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, and it appears they have one player who has some experience in that field. The Boston Herald’s Mark Daniels pointed out that Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones finished his collegiate career with 10 sacks, four of which were on Smith. Tonight would certainly be a great time for him to add to that total, so that will definitely be something to watch heading into this evening’s game. One other thing worth mentioning, Bill Belichick has never faced rookie QB’s in back-to-back weeks, but he’s not exactly alone in that regard. According to ESPN’s Rich Eisen, the last team to face two rookie QB’s to start a season was the Redskins in 1950. Overall Belichick’s teams are 10-4 in his career against rookie quarterbacks.

THURSDAY NIGHT MARKS THE START OF A NEW ERA IN THIS RIVALRY:

With Mark Sanchez’s future with the Jets hanging by a thread, it appears tonight may mark the start of a new era in this rivalry.  Sanchez is reportedly dealing with a torn labrum that has him on the brink of surgery and being placed on injured reserve, which will almost certainly spell the end of his future in New York if Smith continues to play well.  Tonight’s game will be the first time someone other than Sanchez lined up under center for New York since Brett Favre beat Bill Belichick’s team back on November 13th, 2008.  However it was last November’s Thanksgiving day debacle that will forever be in the minds of Patriots fans when they think of Mark Sanchez, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up after this season.

BIG PLAYS A KEY IN LAST YEAR’S WIN:

Last season the Patriots had a total of 5 passing plays of over 50 yards, and 2 of those came in their final meeting against the Jets, with Julian Edelman (56yd touchdown) and Shane Vereen (83yd touchdown) on the receiving end of each of those two plays.  Unfortunately only one of those two will be active tonight.  On the other hand the Jets held the Patriots ground game to just one carry over 10 yards in that one, with 19 of their carries having gained 1-5 yards, while 13 of them were from 6-10 yards.  Hopefully they’ll have a little more success there tonight.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Patriots’ keys to a win vs. Jets – Jim McBride – McBride has his keys to tonight’s game, and believes Stevan Ridley will be an important factor in tonight’s game.

NOTEBOOK: Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski doubtful – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young files her notebook this morning, including a note from Kyle Arrington who was impressed by the poise that Geno Smith showed on film.

Versatile Julian Edelman ready for his biggest role? – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has a good article this morning on Edelman, who he writes transformed himself from a college quarterback into something totally different here in New England.

Game 2 preview: Jets at Patriots – Zuri Berry – Berry has his preview for tonight’s game, including some notes from this season along with projected starting line-ups for both sides.

Rex Ryan again set to take on Bill Belichick - The Globe has a graphic this morning with summaries of how the Jets and Patriots have fared since Rex Ryan’s arrival in 2009.

Patriots must hand Stevan Ridley the ball against Jets – Adam Kaufman – Kaufman focuses on the importance of Ridley in tonight’s showdown against New York.

BOSTON HERALD:

Five keys to a Patriots victory – Jeff Howe – Howe has his 5 things for tonight, and feels keeping the pedal to the medal is going to be one of the more important parts of this one.

Chatham: Tape, not stats, key to game – Matt Chatham – Chatham files his “Chatham Report” this morning took a look at the game tape and has some interesting insight on this match-up in his report.

Notebook: Healthy, veteran unit can help banged-up ‘O’ - Jeff Howe – Howe Files his notebook this morning and writes that with the defense being the healthier of the two units, the onus is on them tonight to help make sure the Patriots beat the Jets.

Pats, Jets have plenty to prove - Karen Guregian – Guregian has a good column this morning on this game and writes rivalries lose a bit of their luster and spark when one team is struggling and can’t carry its weight.  But the Jets will be coming in swinging tonight as they try and rebound from last year’s 6-10 season.

ESPN BOSTON:

Projecting the Patriots’ inactives – Mike Reiss – Reiss takes  a look at who he expects to miss tonight’s game, and there any surprises with the exception of maybe Brandon Bolden, who will Vereen out one would have thought he would have seen some time.  However, Reiss writes Bolden missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury and may still need some additional recovery time.

WEEI:

No sacks, no problem: Look for Pats’ defense to practice policy of containment again – Christopher Price – Price writes that while everybody loves sacks, when you’re facing a mobile quarterback they’re not nearly as important as containing him.

ENTERPRISE NEWS:

Patriots renew acquaintances with Jets – Jim Fenton – Fenton has an article this morning on tonight’s game and which leads off with some thoughts from Kyle Arrington, who noted the difference in the feeling this week due to their rivaly with New York.

SOUTHCOAST TODAY:

Patriots vs Jets: Five Things to Watch – Andrew Tornetta – Tornetta has his “5 Things” for tonight, and wonders if Stevan Ridley can regain his confidence against the Jets.