Jets vs. Patriots: Playoff Consequences and Keys To Victory in Game of the Year
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If there is one thing we can be thankful for this holiday season it is this: In a matter of days, the New York Jets and New England Patriots will renew acquaintances on Monday Night Football for all the marbles, the AFC East title and most likely the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
In college football terms, games like this during the regular season are called de facto championship games, i.e. whenever Michigan and Ohio State match-up, it is usually with the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line.
Never in recent memory has a regular season game mattered so much in the NFL, but this season, we are witnessing one of the greatest divisional races in recent memory.
The game may not be the Super Bowl, but it is definitely going to garner enough eye ball action from across the country and in the NFL as every football die-hard, casual fan, player and coach watches this high stakes drama play out, because this time around, everything in the AFC playoffs will hinge on this contest.
The winner will have a strong claim to the AFC East title and the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
The loser faces the likelihood of slipping to the fifth or sixth seed in the postseason, and with the way the San Diego Chargers are playing out West, neither the Jets nor the Pats would want to see them come Wild Card weekend, on the road no less.
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The Jets and Patriots entered Thanksgiving Day at 8-2. It was a day for the ultimate scoreboard watcher; even Rex Ryan admitted in his postgame press conference Thursday night that he was giddy when the Lions held a 17-10 lead over the Pats at the break.
New England knew that it needed to find a way to win that game, with the chances that the Jets would beat up the hapless Bengals. Tom Brady was brilliant, throwing four touchdown passes in the second half as New England blew away Detroit, 45-24.
Now the pressure was on the Jets to win.
To be a Jets fan or coach and watch the Jets stumble through the first half, trailing the Bengals 7-3 had to put knots in their stomachs.
Thanks to Shoeless Brad Smith, his two touchdowns paved the way to a convincing 26-10 win, setting up Armageddon Day in Massachusetts.
"I don't look forward to playing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady," Rex Ryan said. "They are clearly the best team in football, at least that's what all the experts say. Except me."
Ryan added that he was aware of Brady's personal 25-game winning streak at Gillette Stadium, and said that "we are the right team for the job," to end that streak.
This chapter adds to the long hatred between the Jets and Pats.
I could spend countless paragraphs describing the intensity of this rivalry since 1997, when Bill Parcells left New England for the Jets.
Since that time, we have seen it all with players switching teams, i.e. Curtis Martin leaving the Pats for the Jets; we have seen Bill Belichick resign as Jets coach to only go to New England and lead them to three Super Bowls; we have seen Spy-gate; and Rex Ryan telling everyone he won't kiss Belichick's rings.
It's the rivalry that keeps on giving.
For the Jets, a victory Monday night would be oh-so-sweet.
For the last decade, the Jets have watched the Patriots dance over their grave at a moment's notice, with three Super Bowl titles, as well as dominating the head-to-head series against Gang Green in the Brady/Belichick era.
In fact, entering 2009, Brady was 12-3 against the Jets since he took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
The Jets have gotten the best of Brady and the Pats of late at home, winning their last two meetings against them in Jersey, including a dominating 28-14 victory in Week 2, but a victory on the road in Foxboro would rank among the great wins in Jets lore if they can get it.
Can the Jets do it? Absolutely, and here is how:
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Jets Keys To Victory:
The biggest key to victory for Gang Green is to get pressure on Tom Brady. The Jets have really struggled to rush the passer this season, recording only 24 sacks, and have allowed the likes of Colt McCoy and Matt Schaub enough time in the pocket to make precise passes down field.
Failing to knock down Brady is only asking for trouble. The Lions hit Brady hard in the first half, and as a result, held a shocking 17-10 lead into the break. Once the Patriots protection improved, the two-time Super Bowl MVP ripped them up for 341 yards and four TD's.
Even the mighty Steelers couldn't get a hand on Brady, as he went 30-of-43 for 350 yards, no sacks, no picks and three touchdowns.
Brady alone is the key. The Jets sacked Brady a couple of times in Week 2 and put some good pressure on him, forcing an Antonio Cromartie pick and a forced fumble.
The Jets edge pass rush of Bryan Thomas, Sean Ellis, Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor better bring its A-game.
Bump and Run with Rob Gronkowski. Not easy to do with a man who is 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds and can make plays with the football, but the Jets have to find a way to put a hat on this guy.
Gronkowski has been eating up defenses with 15 catches for 209 yards and three TDs in his last four games.
The Jets struggled to cover Joel Dressen two weeks ago; they need to improve here, because if Darrelle Revis and Cromartie do their job against Wes Welker and Deion Branch, Gronkowski will be Brady's target.
Revis Island: Darrelle Revis is now healthy, having held TO to three catches for 17 yards last week, Andre Johnson to three catches and Calvin Johnson to just one catch.
He will have to shut down Branch, who, even though he isn't Randy Moss, is still Brady's favorite weapon on offense. He had 14 catches for 141 yards combined against Indy and Pittsburgh, and had 113 yards receiving against the Lions.
If Revis Island can shut him down, the Jets have a shot.
Mark Sanchez: The young man has played in big games already, having played in three playoff games a year ago.
This season, he has developed a knack for the fourth quarter comeback, a great trait to have. This week, he has got to get back to making smart decisions with the ball, the way he did the first five weeks when he threw eight touchdowns and no picks.
Against Cincinnati, he threw a terrible interception when he should have thrown the ball away, and even misread some plays in coverage in a game he admitted was a sloppy effort.
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The Patriots have the 32nd ranked pass defense, but be careful, because there are play-makers there in Brandon Meriweather and Devin McCourty in that secondary.
I have a very good feeling that Dustin Keller and Santonio Holmes could have big games on Monday. Both players have been Sanchez's security blanket this year.
Keller has been key in making the tough catches down the middle, and I could definitely see him having a big night against that porous Pats D down the middle.
Holmes is never shy of the spotlight—in fact, he plays great when it matters most (YouTube Super Bowl XLIII, the Cleveland/Jets game or the Houston/Jets game for examples).
If Sanchez is in trouble and needs to find a hot receiver, Holmes is his man—he has 22 catches for 360 yards and four TDs in the last four weeks.
Ground and Pound: At some point, the Jets are going to have to slow this game down and keep the Pats offense off the field.
LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene have got to touch the football in this game. There have been times this year that Brian Schottenheimer has gone away from the run, i.e. running it only 22 times against the Packers in a 9-0 loss in a game that was very winnable.
Both players run the ball for more than four yards a carry, with LT having a renaissance season with 741 yards rushing to date. This two-headed monster is key to any Jets victory.
Nick Folk: Unless your name is Adam Vinateri, nobody in their right mind wants the kicker to determine the fate of any game.
Folk has been putrid: Three missed field goals against Cleveland, a missed field goal against Houston that almost killed the Jets, and a missed field goal with nearly a missed extra point against the Bengals.
Folk stinks to put it lightly. The game could come down to him, and if it does, I'm hiding under a pillow and I think every Jet fan will be hiding under a pillow when that moment comes.
Turnovers: The Jets could run wild on the Pats in the stat book, but it won't mean anything if the Jets put the ball on the ground.
Tomlinson and Greene each have three fumbles, and Sanchez has thrown eight interceptions in the last six games.
Ball control is the only way the Jets can win this game.
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