Patriots vs. Jets: 10 Keys to the Game for New England
While the Patriots prepare for a gritty street fight with a familiar foe, we'll all sit around the table and celebrate with loved ones. But even hand-carved turkey, delicious side dishes and sugar-laced pies won't sweeten the bitterness of this game.
It's Thanksgiving, and the game of the year is about to begin. Days don't get much better than this.
The Jets will surely be out for blood, following their 29-26 loss to the Patriots last month. But the Patriots will approach this game with an equal intensity, searching for a series sweep and the glory that comes with being one step closer to the playoffs, and possibly, one step closer to a world championship.
Here are 10 keys for New England to celebrate Thanksgiving in winning fashion.
Zero Receptions for Hill
Stephen Hill and Mark Sanchez have struggled to connect this season, sharing a timid completion rate of 38 percent for only 196 yards and three scores.
There's also the issue of Hill's four drops. None was more crucial than his late-game drop against the Patriots last month, which played a significant role in spilling the game into overtime. The Patriots eventually escaped with a three-point victory.
Rex Ryan will certainly go back to Hill on Thanksgiving night, not only to boost the kid's confidence, but also to deflect any rumors of having lost faith (Rich Cimini of ESPN) in his struggling rookie receiver.
The theatrical side of Rex Ryan might also play a part here.
Successfully going back to Hill on Thanksgiving would provide the kind of dramatic flair that Ryan and the Jets feed on. If Hill could make a momentum-swinging catch down the stretch, it would feel like payback, like poetic justice. It would energize every player on the Jets and potentially propel them to victory.
The Patriots must defuse any notion of a redemptive performance from Hill.
The goal: Zero receptions for Hill.
Deliver the Knockout Punch
Last season, the Giants played the Jets. For Rex Ryan, that game was a battle for the soul of New York. For Tom Coughlin, it was about getting one step closer to the Super Bowl.
When the Giants beat the Jets, they put an end to a rivalry which they had no use for.
The Patriots now find themselves in a similar boat. Here they are, gearing up for a big rivalry game with the Jets, but it's a rivalry they have no use for.
The divisional component is crucial, but the bad blood is just noise.
For Bill Belichick and the Patriots, this game should have nothing to do with the noise. It's all about self-improvement, grabbing the divisional win and getting one step closer to the Super Bowl.
Great teams chase championships, not distractions.
Paint Sanchez into a Corner
Much like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez throws a beautiful pass every once in a while but then follows it up with a series of throws that are painfully mismanaged and inaccurate.
The Patriots must squeeze this pressure point.
They must encourage Sanchez to be a hero and win this game with his arm. Force him to make decisions with the ball. Paint him into a corner where he'll resort to his natural ways, somewhere around a completion mark of 50 percent.
If the Patriots can do that and get enough pressure on him, they'll have a great shot at winning this game in style.
Let Edelman, Woodhead and Lloyd Run the Show
Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Lloyd are becoming more important to the fate of this team with each passing week. They've all sculpted their own unique roles on the team, mostly modest in nature, yet they all have the ability to greatly influence the outcome of New England's entire season.
Bill Belichick would be wise to give these guys the keys to the kingdom on Thursday night and let them dictate the flow of the game. Each of them pose intriguing mismatches and complicated skill sets, which New York's injury-riddled secondary will find difficult to thwart.
Let Edelman, Woodhead and Lloyd run free. They'll find a way to win.
Get Tough in the Secondary
There's a difference between having the right ingredients for a great meal and actually fixing the meal properly. Finesse, talent, chemistry and a little "je ne sais quoi" are all necessary for success.
New England's secondary has no finesse, nor do they have elite talent.
They do, however, have chemistry and "je ne sais quoi." The Ramones formed a fine band with that much and the Patriots can form a fine secondary with that much, too.
Alfonzo Dennard, Devin McCourty, Aqib Talib and Steve Gregory are tough, energetic football players. They all share a bit of a misfit vibe and their rapport is undeniable.
These defensive backs don't need to be elite, they just need to be tough. If they're tough, they'll win on Thanksgiving night.
Face Reality with Your Chin Up
Rob Gronkowski was injured and ineffective throughout the single most important game of his career. He spent the offseason recovering from surgery, then eased into this season with less vim and vigor than expected, perhaps still recovering or struggling through more injuries. Then, as soon as he started finding his dominant form again, he broke his forearm.
Is it bad luck? Maybe. But a practical breakdown of this situation would point to something more grim.
It's not bad luck, it's fragility. Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are injury-prone. The evidence is there, and the Patriots must learn to live within the framework of this reality.
Thursday's game is about building a championship team, in spite of whichever tight end is in civilian clothing, whether it's a Thanksgiving game or the Super Bowl.
Surely, the Patriots will miss Gronkowski's blocking, his athletic catches, his resistance to tackles and his raw energy. They'll need to find a way to not only survive without it but flourish without it. If they can do that, they'll beat the Jets and have a great shot at a title this year.
100 Yards and a Touchdown for Ridley
Stevan Ridley ran for over 100 yards in four of New England's seven victories. He also chipped-in a crucial 98-yard performance in his team's win over the Bills a few weeks ago.
He has at least one touchdown in six of New England's seven victories. He has zero touchdowns in New England's three losses.
The statistics paint a crystal-clear picture: The better Ridley plays, the better the Patriots play.
If Ridley notches 100 yards and a score, the Patriots should cruise to victory.
Muhammad Wilkerson is a dangerous man who creates all kinds of ugly havoc. He defends the pass, stuffs the run and gets to the quarterback. He has 47 tackles, three forced fumbles and a pair of sacks.
He also has a proven ability to single-handedly turn the tide of games. Last week, Wilkerson's strip-sack on Sam Bradford led to a critical Jets touchdown and swung the momentum of the game.
New York's defense created three turnovers and essentially paralyzed the Rams offense throughout the game, with Wilkerson's strip-sack acting as the catalyst.
The Patriots must defuse Wilkerson's impact, both in regards to his physical prowess and in his ability to swing the emotion of a game. He must be contained in every way.
Eliminate the "Ground and Pound"
Bilal Powell, Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight form a three-headed monster for the Jets.
Powell's coming off an impressive two-score affair against the Rams. Greene has 172 carries, 631 yards and five touchdowns under his feet this season. McKnight is a speed demon, capable of bursting for big gains at the drop of a hat.
Any one of these running backs can emerge as a difference-maker in this game. Therefore, it's in the Patriots' best interest to view them all as legitimate threats and contain their production.
According to ESPN Boston, the Jets only average 2.13 yards before contact per rush, ranking them as the eighth worst in the league. That's a significant weakness in their armor.
If New England can clean up their tackling and stay strong, they should be able to exploit this fatal weakness and unravel New York's ground game.
When in Doubt, Rely on Old Faithful
Blueprints are intricate and tactical. Games are physical and chaotic. Wonderful things happen, and terrible things happen. Coaches react with a mixture of wisdom and intuition. Two teams beat the living daylights out of each other, each refusing to quit, each craving a taste of victory with equal passion and fervor.
But sometimes, the outcome of the most complex game boils down the simplest thing.
And, truth be told, there's nothing simpler than the relationship between Tom Brady and Wes Welker. They go together like turkey and cranberries, like Thanksgiving and football, like friends and family.
No matter what happens in this game, good or bad, expected or unexpected, Brady and Welker are there. That means help is always on the way. There's always an escape hatch. There's always a way to win.
If the Patriots find themselves in a pinch, all they need to do is rely on old faithful. Move the chains the old fashioned way, play Patriot football and win this game.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Go Pats.