After a dramatic, come-from-behind victory in Buffalo on Sunday, Tom Brady and the Patriots host the New York Jets on Thursday night. This gives them a short week to recover from potentially devastating injuries to Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola and to re-establish Stevan Ridley in the power running game.
Vereen dazzled in the season opener, breaking loose for 101 yards rushing on 17 carries and an additional 58 yards through the air on seven catches. Perhaps even more impressive was the manner in which he reached his totals.
Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reports that Vereen broke a bone in his wrist on the first play of the game but played through the injury.
Vereen has since been placed on short-term injured reserve, according to Patriots.com, and will be sidelined for at least the next eight weeks.
New England’s leading receiver, Danny Amendola, aggravated his groin injury during Sunday’s comeback and was officially listed as a limited participant in practice on Tuesday. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that Amendola likely won’t play against the Jets on Thursday.
According to the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian, Amendola’s availability is in doubt even beyond this week’s matchup.
In recent seasons, the Patriots have dominated their yearly meetings with their rivals to the south, compiling a 6-2 record in eight regular season meetings since 2009. During that span, the Patriots have outscored the Jets by a combined 101 points. Quarterback Tom Brady has averaged 292 yards passing in those contests and thrown 16 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
But these are not the same Patriots.
Already short-handed due to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski’s ongoing rehabilitation, the Patriots could ill afford to lose any more offensive production. Yet here they stand, on the verge of facing the Jets without their two most dynamic weapons thus far.
Patriots fans need to brace themselves for a Thursday night starting lineup consisting of Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman at wide receiver, paired with Michael Hoomanawanui at tight end. The team’s “next man up” mentality will be put to the test like never before.
Preseason darling Zach Sudfeld certainly looked like a rookie in Week 1 and was also a limited participant in Tuesday’s walkthrough, casting doubt on his game-time availability as well. About the only positive from an injury standpoint is that rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson expects to play after missing the opener with a hamstring issue, according to Patriots.com.
The good news for New England is that the Jets, led by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, must travel to Foxborough on short rest with very little time to prepare and implement their game plan. The Patriots also face the same time crunch, but they don’t need to travel and they aren’t starting a rookie signal-caller in just his second NFL game.
Head coach Bill Belichick will have his team as prepared as possible and will undoubtedly have a few defensive wrinkles in store to welcome Smith into the AFC East’s most heated rivalry. Under Belichick, the Patriots enter Thursday's contest with a 14-4 record vs. rookie quarterbacks.
If they can avoid the coverage breakdowns that resulted in the Bills’ two offensive touchdowns, the Patriots should have no trouble containing the Jets’ hapless receiving corps and the rookie Smith. Their focus will be on stopping the Jets’ running attack and forcing Smith into passing situations—and hopefully a few rookie mistakes.
The key for the Patriots will be how effectively they execute their own running game. In the two losses to the Jets, the Patriots were out-rushed 253 yards to 135.
Vereen will be sorely missed, as he contributed 192 total yards and a touchdown in two meetings last year. With him out of the picture, the Patriots will once again turn to Stevan Ridley, who was benched in the season opener following a costly fumble that the Bills returned for a score.
Ridley could well be the most important player on the field for the Patriots, considering how severely depleted their receiving corps is.
If the Patriots can’t run the ball well, Brady will be forced to once again work miracles with a supporting cast that frankly isn’t equipped to shoulder the offensive load.
As mediocre as the Jets offense is, their defense can still get the job done. Antonio Cromartie is more than capable of covering whoever the Patriots are able to throw at him this week. Rookie Dee Milliner has tremendous talent opposite Cromartie and should present quite a challenge for anyone he matches up with as well.
The Patriots will still make plays in the passing game, simply by virtue of Brady being Brady. But they don’t have the weapons to consistently exploit the Jets defense the way fans are used to seeing.
From where I sit, it all boils down to Ridley. If he can redeem himself and set the tone for the offense, the Patriots should be able to control the tempo, manage the clock and methodically wear the Jets down to their breaking point. If the Patriots can ride their running game to an early lead, it will help open things up in the passing game and allow them to dictate the flow of the game.
The Jets aren’t built to play from behind.
The Patriots are not currently built to execute their high-flying offense.
This has the makings of an old school game of ground and pound and the Patriots need Ridley to be the hammer that breaks the Jets’ backs.