By Gregory Hunt
The New England Patriots are finishing the 2015 regular season with a two-game road trip that gets started on Sunday when they face the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. It will be New England’s second visit to MetLife Stadium this season, as the Patriots beat the New York Giants there 27-26 on November 15.
With a 9-5 record, the Jets are in second place in the AFC East, three games behind the 12-2 Patriots. The Jets are on a four-game winning streak, including a 19-16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys last week at AT&T Stadium. When the teams met at Gillette Stadium on October 25, the Patriots overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a 30-23 victory. The Jets trail the all-time series against the Patriots 52-57-1 in the regular season and 1-2 in the postseason. This rivalry dates back to 1960, when both franchises were founding members of the American Football League.
Jets on Offense
Coming into this season, few people thought the Jets would have an effective offense with journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm. While Fitzpatrick’s statistics aren’t stellar, he’s made enough plays to lead the Jets to nine wins, which is the most the Jets have had in one season since the team went 11-5 in 2010. Early in the season, Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey treated Fitzpatrick as a game manager by having him throw on only 53 percent of the team’s plays. Gailey’s trust in Fitzpatrick has grown since then, so the Jets have passed on more than 60 percent of their plays over the past eight games.
The wide receiver duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker have combined for 21 touchdown pass receptions, which breaks the franchise record of 20 set in 1960 by Don Maynard and Art Powell and tied in 1986 by Al Toon and Wesley Walker. On the ground, running back Chris Ivory has struggled in recent weeks after a hot start in September. Part of this decline can be explained by the team’s increased reliance on the passing game, but Ivory’s yards per carry has declined significantly since the middle of October.
Jets on Defense
The Jets are currently second in the NFL in rushing defense (82.8 YPG), trailing only the Denver Broncos (79.9). However, the team didn’t look particular good against the run in Saturday’s win over the Cowboys. The Jets gave up 133 rushing yards to Dallas after giving up a combined total of only 110 yards in the previous three games.
>Against the pass, the Jets are a respectable 13th in the league, giving up only 240 yards per game. They are also fifth in the league in interceptions with 17, six of them by safety Marcus Williams and four of them by cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Jets’ pass rush has struggled for much of the season. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is fifth in the league in sacks with 12, but only one of his teammates has an many as four.
Jets Players to Watch
Backing up the Marshall/Decker duo is former Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who was on the New England practice squad in September before he was released at the end of that month. Thompkins was picked up by the Jets in October and he has caught 13 passes for 138 yards in five games with the team.
It’s rare for a defensive end to dominate games from a 3-4 alignment, but Wilkerson is doing precisely that. The fifth-year player from Temple is on pace for a career high in tackles, and he has already set a career high for sacks. Jets defensive lineman Stephen Bowen believes that Wilkerson is better than even Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. “I think he’s playing the best football of any defensive lineman, period,” Bowen said about his teammate.
With a win over the Jets, the Patriots will clinch home field advantage in the AFC playoffs, but that may be a tall task, given that the Jets gave the Patriots all they could handle at Gillette Stadium two months ago. Going on the road to beat a Jets team that is playing quality football will not be easy, and the Patriots now have the added disadvantaged of being pretty banged up on offense. New England will have a much better chance of winning this game if wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are able to take the playing field.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.