AFC East a jumpball as Pats, Jetsrenew their rivalry
By HOWARD ULMAN
The Associated Press | October 21,2012
New York Jets running back Shonn Greene had a career-high 161 yards in last week’s 35-9 win over Indianapolis. But the Patriots have a far-better run defense than Colts, who are ranked near the bottom of the league.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Brandon Lloyd is new to the rivalry between the Patriots and the Jets.
New England’s wide receiver was elsewhere when Rex Ryan said he didn’t become New York’s coach “to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings.” He wasn’t part of it when Wes Welker made references to toes and feet, a dig at foot-fetish reports involving Ryan.
None of those sideshows will matter on Sunday in the 107th meeting between the AFC East foes.
“The best thing is to just approach it like a normal game,” said Lloyd, who split last season between Denver and St. Louis. “The buildup is more so for the fans and the history, but these are current teams, current rosters. We’re not playing against Joe Namath.”
Even Ryan is toning down his usual pre-game zingers. In a conference call with New England reporters on Wednesday, he never spoke of the rivalry or spouted any comments the Patriots could use as motivation.
“The three years I’ve been the head coach, obviously they’ve won our division, and to be quite honest, pretty handily,” Ryan said of the Patriots. “So they’re the ones to beat.”
But this season may be different. New England is in first place in the AFC East as usual. But so are the other teams in the division. The Patriots, Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills all are 3-3.
That makes Sunday’s game more important.
“The good news is you’re tied for first. The bad news is you’re tied for last,” Ryan said, “but that’s kind of the NFL right now. I think the team that can stay consistent, stay the course, hopefully that’s us and we’ll find a way to get on top this year.”
The Patriots are off to their worst start after six games since 2005, when they also were 3-3. All their losses were decided in the final two minutes — two of them by one point and one by two points. And with Tom Brady and the highest-scoring offense in the NFL, they’re still the class of the AFC East.
“You can’t sit here and say, ‘We’re the greatest team ever’ or ‘We’re the worst team of all time’ or compare this year to last year,” Brady said. “We’re 3-3. We haven’t earned a better record than that. We haven’t played well enough and consistently enough to be better than that.”
Especially the secondary.
It allowed three completions of 46 yards or more in last Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks decided by a 46-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 left from Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice.
The defensive backs figure to have an easier time against the Jets. Mark Sanchez has the third-lowest passer rating in the NFL, but if he can loft long passes against loose coverage, his receivers can grab them just the way Wilson’s did.
“Different plays happen at different times for different reasons,” Sanchez said. “I think some of them have been really good throws. Some have been pretty good schemes that have gotten guys open. So that kind of stuff happens to any secondary, but I think these guys are a tough group and they always play well, so it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
The Jets aren’t likely to run the ball the way they did last Sunday. They rushed for 252 yards, led by Shonn Greene’s career-high 161 in a 35-9 win over Indianapolis. But the Colts have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Patriots have one of the stingiest, allowing the sixth fewest yards rushing.
The Jets “did a good job against Indianapolis,” Belichick said. Greene “is a guy you have to stop before he gets started. Once he gets going, he’s a load there.”
And don’t forget quarterback-punt protector Tim Tebow. The jack of all (offensive) trades “is really another running back for them when he gets in there,” Belichick said.
Ryan said that could happen against the Patriots, since backup running backs Joe McKnight with a sprained left ankle and Bilal Powell with a separated right shoulder probably will miss the game.
The last time the Patriots faced Tebow, they beat the Broncos 45-10 in a divisional playoff game last season. Their last game against the Jets ended with a 37-16 victory that began a winning streak of eight games to end the regular season last year.
So Jets tight end Dustin Keller has no sympathy for the Patriots after some of their fans criticized them for their 3-3 start.
“Nobody has any sympathy for us, and we don’t expect it,” he said. “Just being a professional, you’re expected to play consistently and play your best football week in and week out.”
And it’s not always about the numbers.
The Patriots gained 475 yards against Seattle but lost as Brady had his worst game of the season. Sanchez threw for 82 yards against Indianapolis but had his second highest passer rating of the season and the Jets won.
This week, it hasn’t been about the rivalry.
Even Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who once used an expletive to describe Brady, was respectful.
“When you have a dynasty team like coach Belichick has put together, they’re always going to be talked about,” he said. “That’s why I call them the new America’s team.”
And what does Brady think of Cromartie’s mild comments, a reporter asked?
“I’ve always said I think he’s a great player. I mean, he’s one of the best corners in the league and has been for a while,” Brady said. “Wish I could help you more.”