New England Patriots: New York Jets Re-Emerge as Threat to NE's AFC Title Dreams

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New England Patriots: New York Jets Re-Emerge as Threat to NE's AFC Title Dreams
Nick Laham/Getty Images

All right, raise your hands if you thought the New York Jets were dead.

For those of you guilty, detention. Report after school for hours of film from the Jets 2009 and 2010 seasons.

Maybe then you'll see what you hopefully knew coming into this year and should have never forgotten, even after the apparent disaster of a 2-3 start.

The Jets are resilient. They're tough. They're well-coached when it's most important to be. Sometimes they win games and look good. Sometimes they win games and look lucky. But they win.

And because of that, they're still entrenched on the New England Patriots' "teams to fear" list, regarding an attempted run through the AFC playoffs.

Bill Murray must be behind the scenes somewhere. This is the NFL's equivalent to "Groundhog Day."

On Nov. 22, 2009, the Jets lost to New England, 31-14 to fall to 4-6. They were dead. Then they weren't. They won five of the last six games and rolled to the AFC Championship Game in January. They were a better team at that point than was New England, the AFC East Champion busy licking its wounds after a divisional round shellacking by the Baltimore Ravens.

On Dec. 12 of last year, the Jets lost at home to Miami, 10-6, after getting destroyed in New England, 45-3. They were 9-4 and playoff-bound, but as a dysfunctional sixth seed with no playoff potential.

Wrong. The Jets smacked the Patriots in the mouth in a rematch and carried on, again, to the AFC championship game.

Eight days ago, the Jets were 2-3, on a three-game losing streak, suffering from major locker room issues, unable to run the ball or complete a pass beyond the sticks and trailing 3-0 to the winless Miami Dolphins, who were in the red zone and looking to make it 10-0. Surely, finally, at long last, the Jets were ready to be finished off, sabotaged by another bad start.

Wrong. The Jets are back, courtesy of yet another one of their ugly, cheap, flukey, masterful getaways against San Diego. They're 4-3, and unfortunately for New England, they're not going away.

They've put themselves in position where, if they split against Buffalo and beat New England at the Meadowlands (where they've won the past two years), they have a good chance at a 10-6 record and place in the postseason.

It's bad news for the Patriots, but not because they're better than New England. Stop me if you've heard this one, but the Patriots are the better team. They're deeper, they have the better quarterback, they've been the better rushing team, they're a far better offensive team, they've been better against the run and they have the coaching advantage.

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But the Jets have two advantages that become key in the playoffs. They have the better defense overall. And they're much better at getting the Patriots to play their way than the other way around.

The Jets aren't the tough matchup the way the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Ravens would be. Those teams are right up there with the Patriots. Put the Patriots and Steelers on the field, line them up and it's anyone's guess who wins. It's the same with Baltimore. On paper and between the sidelines, it's pretty even.

It's not that way against the Jets. The Patriots have the clear advantages, but, as they do against everyone, the Jets boil the game down. Rex Ryan is the best in the league at handling Tom Brady. He takes away Brady's ability to destroy the Jets and makes him kill them gradually in a slow-paced, physical game, the kind where a fluke bounce or missed opportunity determines the winner.

In other words, the kind of game the Jets love.

It's not all bad news for the Patriots, however. Far from it. After all, Bill Belichick's men found the antidote in Week 5, when the Jets tried to pull the same tactic and the Patriots rendered it useless by running the ball effectively and often.

It's hard to win a physical, gritty game when you're the second-most physical and gritty team on the field. Call it an NFL rule of thumb.

The Patriots found what could be the answer to their Jets woes in that victory. Ryan's scheme can't stop the Patriots. Not the Week 5 Patriots, at least. Ryan makes you change your style to beat him, which these Patriots did. Rex's scheme stops you if you stubbornly do one thing over and over. When New England passed, passed and passed in January, Rex stopped New England.

If the Patriots remember that and dedicate themselves to staying balanced, they'll be able to handle whatever challenge Ryan throws at them. It could happen as soon as three weekends from now, when they travel to the Meadowlands.

Imagine that. If the Patriots got a win in that game, then the Jets would really be done for.

Wouldn't they?

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