By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
It’s Jets week and that couldn’t come at a worse time for the Patriots. Suddenly, going back to their dramatic, comeback win over San Diego in Week 7, the Jets are looking like everyone thought they would and not the disorganized, confused, undisciplined mess they appeared to be up til that point. They are legitimately on fire headed into Sunday night’s home game against the Pats and are catching the local 53 at a horrible time.
After winning their first two games (the first with a virtual miracle over Dallas), the Jets tailspun into a three-game slide that included a loss in Foxboro in Week 5 in which they didn’t even try to exploit the Pats woeful pass defense, instead fruitlessly trying to jump start their non-existent running game. The result was a 30-21 loss but after a relatively easy win over the Dolphins the following week, they had the come-from-behind victory over San Diego and now seem on their way. Last week, they went into Buffalo to take on the surprisingly good Bills and blew them out, 27-11, looking like the same AFC finalists they’ve been the past two seasons. In that game, the defense posted one of its finest efforts of the season, holding the previously high-powered Buffalo offense under 300 yards while forcing three turnovers in the process. Their running game is working (126 yards against the Bills, 162 at 5.2 yards a pop against the Chargers) and quarterback Mark Sanchez is playing like the caretaker coach Rex Ryan wants him to be, throwing seven TD passes against just two picks and posting passer ratings of at least 87.1 in his last four games.
Sanchez’s recent success bodes very poorly for the Pats, who with the exception of the first half of their loss to the Giants last week, are shredded every week by the opposing quarterback, whether it’s a Super Bowl champ like Ben Roethlisberger or a scrub like Chad Henne or Jason Campbell. And with the Jets defense rounding into it’s usual form at the same time the Pats offense seems to have stagnated (under 20 points per game in their last three after over 30 per game in their first five), it could be a long night for the Pats.
The Pats have not scored a point in the second half of either game they’ve played in the Meadowlands since Ryan took the Jets job prior to the 2009 season. For the first time over that period, such a scenario doesn’t seem that far-fetched.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Green Bay: The Packers fell behind early in rainy San Diego last week. So what did they do? They scored the next 21 points and 28 of the next 38 to run away from the still skidding Chargers, before fighting off a valiant comeback attempt by their hosts. Aaron Rodgers, still the best QB on the planet, had a ho-hum, 21-of-26, 247-yard, four TD performance. Home games against the Vikings and Bucs the next two weeks practically guarantee the Pack will be 10-0 on Turkey Day when they visit Detroit.2. Baltimore: They probably should have lost to the Steelers on Sunday night. And they played like absolute dogshit the previous two weeks in losing to Jacksonville and escaping the Cardinals. But the Ravens game-winning drive in Pittsburgh, which also happened to be the most impressive thing Joe Flacco has ever done in his four-year pro career, was one of the defining moments of the season. On the road against your arch-rival, a division game, barely a minute left and 92 yards to go needing a TD not just a field goal? Great, great stuff.
3. San Francisco: The Niners continue to roll, moving to 7-1 with a road win over the pathetic Redskins. The reason they aren’t one spot higher on the list? Only two of their seven wins came against teams with winning records. This week’s home game against the streaking Giants will tell us a great deal about this team.
4. New York Giants: After breaking the Patriots hearts, Super Bowl XLII-style, the Giants had suddenly won three in a row and six of seven and formed a borderline chokehold on the NFC East (really, who’s going to challenge them? Dallas?). The only thing more impressive than Eli Manning being a legit MVP candidate is how well the G-men keep playing despite the rash of injuries that have plagued them since the first week of training camp. Against the Pats, top running back Ahmad Bradshaw, top receiver Hakeem Nicks and starting center David Baas al sat out but they won anyway, and in dramatic fashion to boot. Their next five games are at the 49ers, home for the Eagles, at New Orleans, home for Green Bay and at Dallas. If they come through that brutal run at 3-2 or better, they can coast into the playoffs.
5. (tie) Pittsburgh/ New Orleans: Don’t weep too hard for the Steelers. The Ravens loss was a setback and their chances of winning the AFC North are slim. But they led with one minute to play. They’d won four in a row prior and convincingly. And they’ve been there. This team is still as likely a Super Bowl representative as any in the AFC. As for the Saints, their roller coaster continued with a big, division win over the Bucs. Now they get another division rival, Atlanta, followed by the Giants and Detroit with a bye sandwiched in there too. It’s make or break time for the Saints.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams1. Indianapolis: The Colts are 0-9, their clueless GM Bill Polian is spitting fire at the local media for daring to suggest his hiring his unqualified son for a major personnel role has damaged the franchise (what nerve!!). And their Sunday night game against the Pats has been flexed into a 1 p.m. slot… three weeks early. It’s kind of fun to see the Colts humiliate themselves weekly, isn’t it?
2. St. Louis: The poor Rams. They finally got on track with a huge win over the Saints in Week 8 and had the winning field goal lined up last week at Arizona. Then, the kick was blocked, the game went to an extra period and they allowed just the second punt return for a TD in overtime in league history (and by the way, it was a 99-yarder). Just one of those years, I guess. It can get better this week against the equally lousy Browns.
3. Miami: All that hard work finally paid off for the Dolphins, who took advantage of a let down, emotionally exhausted Chiefs team and ran them off their own field, 31-3. Matt Moore (yes, Matt Moore) was the league’s Offensive Player of the week (17-of-23, 244 yards, three TDs) and Reggie Bush finally seems to be getting it (28 carries, 195 yards his past two games). And they can make it two in a row with a home game against the Redskins this week. Hope the fans didn’t have their hearts too set on Andrew Luck.
4. Arizona: Needing a late field goal block and an OT punt return just to beat the Rams at home doesn’t exactly breed a lot of faith in the Cardinals. But a win is a win, they looked great at Baltimore last week before falling apart late and backup QB John Skelton looks better than starter Kevin Kolb against St. Louis. Hey, I have to write something here.
5. Cleveland: It’s hard to believe the Browns could be worse without Eric Mangini than they were with him. But everything they’ve tried since bouncing their former coach has failed including the offense, which wasn’t even Mangini’s strong suit. If team Grand Poohbah Mike Holmgren jumps ship after this season already, don’t be surprised.
- Jay Cutler, Bears: After beating the Eagles on Monday night, Chicago has a three-game winning streak. And while the key has mostly been the improved play of the offensive line, it’s impossible to ignore how well Cutler has played at quarterback. In the Bears last five games (four wins), Cutler has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, thrown six TDs against just two picks and has been sacked just three times during the three-game run.
- Julio Jones, Falcons: The Falcons traded a huge chunk of their 2011 draft to get into the top 10 and take Jones, the giant, super-speedy wide receiver from Alabama. After he caught 11 passes for 127 yards in a Week 4 win over Seattle, it looked like the right move. But then he caught just one pass against the Packers in a Week 5 loss and missed the next three weeks with an injury. But he exploded back onto the scene last week against the Clts, with three catches for 131 yards and two TDs, both of which were spectacular. The Falcons seem to be rounding into form and Jones is a big reason why.
- Darren Sproles, Saints: One of the biggest free agent acquisitions of the year is a 5’6, kick returner/third-down back. Sproles has 793 total yards and five TDs through the Saints first nine games and that’s while sharing backfield duties with Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and first-round pick Mark Ingram. He had 42 yards on just four carries and 57 yards on five catches and a TD in last week’s win over Tampa and is the team’s leading rusher.
- The Raiders:4-2 and looking as good as they have in years through their first six games, the Raiders have lost their last two, both in blowouts, one at home to Tim Tebow and the Broncos. Trading for Carson Palmer to replace the injured Jason Campbell at QB has been disastrous so far, the defense gave up just short of 300 yards on the ground to Denver and now there’s been talk of dissension against first-year coach Hue Jackson. Will this season become just another in a long line of Raider disasters? Stay tuned.
- John Beck, Redskins: Beck, Washington coach Mike Shanahan’s hand-picked choice to play QB, has not won a single start in nine tries since coming into the league with the Dolphins in 2007, is currently presiding over a four-game losing streak, has two TDs against seven turnovers in his four starts this season and has led the ‘Skins to 44 total points in those four games. Now would be a perfect time to rip Shanahan, the biggest fraud in the NFL going on 12 years now, but we do that almost every week. So we’ll just point out in no uncertain terms what seems pretty obvious – Beck sucks.
- The Seahawks: Man, is it getting ugly for Seattle and Petesy Carroll. The Seahawks have lost three straight and are averaging nine points per game in having done so. This week, they have the Ravens and their defense. Chalk up another in the L column.
Just one more quick note on the Pats in this week of hand-wringing before the Jets game hits us on Sunday night. So much has been made this week, last week and in the recent past of Bill Belichick’s poor to dismal record in acquiring personnel over the past five years and while that’s almost entirely justified on the defensive side of the ball, there have been plenty of great moves on the offensive side. Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Brian Waters, Danny Woodhead, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have all been signed, drafted or traded for in the past handful of years and while that doesn’t eliminate the Chad Jackson in the second round disaster of 2006, or any of the misses on defense (Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler, Duane Starks, Deltha O’Neal and Shawn Springs just to name six in the defensive backfield alone), the Pats would not still be the perennial contender they are without any of those names on offense passing through town. It’s been bad, it really has. But it hasn’t been a complete disaster.