E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. — You have to love every moment that you see Bill Belichick roaming the Patriot sidelines.
When Belichick was the defensive coordinator for the Jets (translation: DC of the NYJ), he had this menacing look on the sideline during a game. You looked at Belichick looking at Drew Bledsoe, and you just knew that Belichick had Bledsoe cold. As is his custom against certain top tier NFL quarterbacks, Belichick knew Bledsoe’s weaknesses, and just exactly how to exploit them.
In the nine meetings since Bill Parcells left town, the Jets are 7-2 against the Patriots. Eight of those nine games were with Bledsoe at quarterback (the other was Scott Zolak in the ’98 regular season finale). Six of these games had Belichick wearing green instead of blue. Belichick is 0-3 against the team he was groomed to coach some day, all of it with Bledsoe as his quarterback.
East Rutherford, N.J.
1:00 PM EST
|Television:||WBZ Channel 4 in Boston|
Channel 711, 940
|Team Records:||Patriots 6-5
|Latest Line:||Jets by 3|
In the time since Belichick moved up I-95, nothing has changed thus far. Both Al Groh and Herman Edwards were able to confuse Bledsoe just as well as Parcells and Belichick could. Admittedly, the 20-19 loss in Week 2 last year was more Antonio Langham’s fault than Bledsoe’s, but a loss is a loss is a loss.
Week 2 of 2001 was still another Jet win. The 10-3 loss the Jets hung on the Patriots was a stinger. With the Jets ripe for the picking due to the proximity of September 11, the Patriots instead came out as flat as they always do against the Jets, and Bledsoe had his worst game as a pro. We say worst because, as you all know, Bledsoe wound up in the hospital that night thanks to a near-fatal hit from Mo Lewis in the fourth quarter.
Now here we are, seven games later, and that hit by Lewis might just be the biggest thing to affect the rematch this weekend. The course of the entire Patriot season was changed thanks to that hit by Lewis. And if things keep going the way they are, perhaps the course of the next ten years have been changed for the Patriots.
Lewis may have clobbered Bledsoe that awful September night. But in doing so, he may have turned a supposed “gimme” win this weekend into a real battle that could finally, after all these years, be more equal and compelling than ever. The Jets may know Bledsoe better than Bledsoe knows himself, but the Jets may not be able to have that kind of success against Tom Brady.
Ah, yes. Tom Brady. The reigning NFL player of the week has literally turned into the top story in the NFL this year, or darn close to it. Brady has led the Patriots to a 6-3 mark in his nine starts since Bledsoe (0-2) went down. The Patriots have a new attitude, a new confidence, a new swagger, and a new belief that they can win this game whereas they might not have if Bledsoe were still healthy.
Except for the 1999 season opener (a 30-28 Patriot win at Exit 16-W), Bledsoe has generally looked like an inept rookie against the Jets. He is totally unable to read the Jet defensive schemes, is prone to the foolish pick, and looks like a deer in the headlights out there. The Jets have him completely psyched out. He will never admit to such, but you don’t need a confession from Bledsoe to know that he chokes and gags all over Jet Green.
But Brady presents a whole different scenario for the Jets.
Brady does read defenses. He is more mobile. He doesn’t get rattled. Playing against a team previously coached by Parcells won’t mean a hoot to Brady (does Brady even know Parcells?).
Best of all, the Jets don’t have a feel for Brady’s tendencies and weaknesses like they do Bledsoe. Whereas the Jets simply knew what to do against Bledsoe, they don’t have that luxury with Brady. Brady presents a whole new look and feel for the Jets, and they don’t figure to fluster him like they do Bledsoe.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course. The Jets may give Brady his official NFL comeuppance. He may have an entire game like he did in the fourth quarter against Denver.
Except that he was supposed to have that kind of game against New Orleans last weekend. Instead, Brady responded with his finest effort of the season. If Brady plays at least that well this Sunday, the Jets will have their hands full.
Naturally, other factors will come into play. You still have to deal with Curtis Martin, and the Patriots have yet to find an answer for John Abraham.
Martin remains the last true remnant of any Tuna Bowl mystique. The Patriots can stop him if they really put their mind to it, but only if the secondary doesn’t allow Wayne Chrebet, Lavernues Coles or rookie Santana Moss to have big days.
With Ted Johnson and Bryan Cox likely to return, the run defense improves greatly. Martin seemed to grow in size since he left Foxborough, and added strength to his already slippery self. If the Patriots play a 3-4 (they are prepared to play both a 3-4 and a 4-3), Cox and Johnson become the chief Martin stoppers. Martin cannot be allowed to blast through heavy traffic up the middle and still wind up with seven yards per blast.
Most every expert thinks that the real key to this game is the matchup of Matt Light on Abraham. Light, also recovering from his share of owies, will be charged with checking the speedy Abraham. This puts Light at a disadvantage since he works better with big and powerful rather than fast.
It may not matter, since Abraham often lines up on either side of the line of scrimmage. Sometimes Greg Robinson-Randall will have to deal with Abraham. Whatever the case, both tackles will have to be light on their feet (pardon the pun), and stay with their blocks. The Jets have a solid front seven, but Abraham remains the key man. Holding off Abraham will give Brady needed extra time to throw, and this one element here might actually decide the whole game.
Antowain Smith also needs to come up big for the Patriots once again. The Jets have been unilaterally concerned that the Patriots “finally” have a running game, and that Smith has given the team that missing element for the first time since the departure of Robert Edwards. Patriot Nation will be all smiles if Smith can once again crack the century mark in rushing, because it will likely mean that Brady also had a great day passing.
But the fact that Brady will line up behind center rather than Bledsoe is the most intriguing aspect of this game. Nobody really knows what Brady will do Sunday, least of all the Jets. It really gives the Patriots a boost, as well as a chance.
This is not meant to condemn Bledsoe. Bledsoe looks like he does against the Jets much like Peyton Manning, Doug Flutie and Aaron Brooks have looked like against a Belichick defense. Belichick, who is right now really beginning to hit his stride as a head coach, has always been a master of defense, and he brought that mastery to the Jets. Belichick simply had the right ingredients to stop Bledsoe, and the current Jets still have that recipe.
But there is no such book on Brady, and there may never be. It could be that the Jets don’t figure Brady out.
Or, they merely do to Brady what they’ve done to Bledsoe. The Jets aren’t 7-3 for nothing. Patriot Nation may resume its yearly depression at 4:00 on Sunday following a midseason loss to the Jets. Believing that the Patriots can win Sunday is chancy at best and foolish at worst.
But Brady gives the Patriots that chance.
And on Sunday, Patriot Nation will have a darned good idea of where this team is headed for the next several years. Just another ho-hum game, right, folks?
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