October 23, 2004
One New York Foe Down, One To Go
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Yikes. Yankees finally vanquished. Now this.
On the same week (almost) that the Red Sox did the most unthinkable feat this side of winning the 1967 pennant in beating the Yankees in the ALCS after being down three games to none, now the Patriots have an undefeated New York Jets team coming to Foxborough with intentions as evil as George Steinbrenner. The Jets want badly to be the team that snaps the Patriot streak, and if they do so, they also vault into sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
Now that's really something. In one fell swoop, the Jets can remove some of the veneer off the glow over the Sox beating the Yankees, snap the win streak, and actually make the Patriots give up the division lead. How psyched up must Curtis Martin feel over the prospect of inflicting this on his former team which he hates with a passion?
To say nothing of Chad Pennington, who will be hell bent on improving on his dismal five-pick performance at Exit 16-W last December. Pennington is one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL who can match Tom Brady from an efficiency as well as a field general standpoint. Brady still has the rings which Pennington doesn't have, but Pennington is a very scary quarterback who can kill the Patriots if he is on.
Disagree? Who was the last team to beat the Patriots at home? And who was that team's starting quarterback?
This is an odd series, one in which the road team has tended to do better. The road teams won in 1999, 2001 and 2002. The Patriots took both games in 2003, but the winning margins were only seven and five points. In a year where Pennington was hurt most of the year and the Jets fell off their division champion perch with a thud, they still managed to play the Patriots tough in both games despite losing both.
Except for Martin and the top Patriot coaches, little of the late 1990s border war still exists between these two teams. The Jets have had to sit back and watch with disgust as the Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls, all the while mortgaging their future in stealing Bill Parcells and Martin from the Patriots for a ton of draft picks. They have also sat back in anger and watched Bill Belichick emerge as the top head coach in the NFL when he could have been their head boss, but for a change in Belichick's heart and a trade for a first round draft pick which became Shaun Ellis.
Ellis is good, but he is nowhere near a counterbalance for what Belichick has done in New England. Whatever animosity the Jets will bring to the table on Sunday to make them play beyond their physical limits will have its root in this anger they have for their more successful division rivals. That the Patriots have a 5-0 record and a 20-game win streak on the line will make the Jets only that much more dangerous.
Having read this up to this point, you might think that the Jets will take the place of the Yankees as the New York bane of a Boston area sports team. Far from it. It's all about intangibles thus far. When tangibles are explored, the Patriots are in great shape and should win the game if they play as smartly as they did last week against Seattle.
The Jets have had an easier five games than the Patriots. The five Jet wins have come against Cincinnati, San Diego, Miami, Buffalo and San Francisco. That's a combined record of 6-22. Their last three conquests were against teams which are a combined 2-15. The Patriots have wins against Indianapolis and Seattle, whom are a combined 7-3, but their other three opponents are currently 2-14. The Jets have yet to face an opponent who has a winning record, and only San Diego wasn't a total cupcake.
If Belichick can baffle Pennington like he did last December, and induce him to throw several interceptions, the Jets have very little chance to win the game. Martin, who has set a personal goal of 1,500 yards this season, will be effective only if the Jets have the lead. Trailing, the Jets will be forced to try and win with Pennington. Granted, he has a trio of tough receivers in Santana Moss, Wayne Chrebet and newly acquired Justin McCareins, the former Titan. The Patriot secondary has to have a great game on Sunday.
The real factor to a Patriot win on Sunday is how well the Patriots attack the Jet defense. As is always the case, much depends upon the matchup between Matt Light and pass rusher John Abraham. In past matchups, Abraham sometimes exposes Light as too slow to stop him. But Light has improved lately in this matchup, and help from Daniel Graham at blocking is always an option. If Brady has time to throw, he should be able to find open receivers downfield.
But to whom? Deion Branch is listed as doubtful, Troy Brown as questionable. Rookie P.K. Sam was recently placed on injured reserve. Brady had no problem finding receivers last week, especially Bethel Johnson. The second year receiver, coming off a week where he was inactivated for a non-injury reason, made the catch of the season with a 48-yard grab to help seal the 30-20 win over Seattle last week. David Givens remains the go-to guy if Branch is out.
What the Patriots will try and do is to pound their new toy much like they did against Seattle. Look for Corey Dillon to try and engage Martin in a steel cage match, running hard up the middle and off tackles. Someone who bears watching is rookie middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, former teammate of Vince Wilfork at Miami (Fla.) and who is turning heads in Joisey. Vilma will start at middle linebacker and will see lots of Dillon on Sunday.
Basically, this game comes down to stopping Pennington. Martin has not been the thorn in the side against his old team like he had been in years past, but he is running well thus far this year (613 yards in five games, including 196 against Cincinnati in the opener) and is always a threat. But if the Patriots can defense Pennington well and get pressure on him, they can force him into a subpar afternoon.
A victory gives the Patriots a record 18th straight regular season win. And a win sticks it to New York City once again. Whereas the Red Sox ventured into rarefied air on Wednesday night in the Bronx, the Patriots are experienced at this win stuff and will know how to get it done.
So, start spreading the news. The Red Sox can make it there. The Patriots can make it anywhere.
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