FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots have allowed the most yards in the NFL. The Jets gained their fewest in 14 years in their last game.
Both teams have problems — and a chance to correct them against their intense rival when they meet Sunday. A win could provide an extra spark heading into the rest of the season.
“It’s a rivalry game,” said New England defensive end Shaun Ellis, who was on the other side of it for the past 11 years.
“Regardless of … what sideline you’re on, you want to go out and play your best in this game. It’s one of the biggest rivalries I’ve been a part of since I’ve been in the league.”
LaDainian Tomlinson joined New York last year after nine seasons with San Diego and didn’t need much time to feel the energy.
“It’s one of the best rivalries in football,” he said. “You hear about it when you are on the outside looking in, and it’s obviously different and special when you get to be a part of it.”
Gresh & Zo Whiteboard: Defending The Jets
In the next installment, the Patriots (3-1) must shore up their defense without injured star linebacker Jerod Mayo, while the Jets (2-2) hope Mark Sanchez’s terrible performance in a 34-17 loss to Baltimore last Sunday resulted more from the play of one of the NFL’s best defenses than their own struggling offense.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick put the focus on preparing for the game, not feeding the hype.
“We talk about what we need to do to beat the Jets on Sunday,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for. I mean, what else is there to talk about?”
There was plenty of chatter before last season’s playoff game between the teams.
Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker made some tongue-in-cheek remarks referring to foot-fetish reports involving New York coach Rex Ryan. Welker sat out the Patriots first series, although neither Belichick nor Welker would comment on the reason behind it, and the Jets pulled a 28-21 upset.
Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie also spouted off a few days before the game when he called Tom Brady an expletive. He also said the Patriots quarterback showboated and pointed at the Jets sideline after a late touchdown during a regular season game.
“My feelings are still the same,” Cromartie said Wednesday.
Brady tried not to fuel the fire.
“I don’t care what he says about me. I really don’t,” he said Wednesday. “He’s very good, excellent player.”
When asked again about Cromartie, Brady said, “I really don’t care what he says. Thanks, guys,” and walked from the podium after a bit more than five minutes at his weekly news conference. It usually lasts twice as long.
Brady also didn’t have much to say about the playoff loss to the Jets in which he was outplayed by Sanchez.
“That was a long time ago so that game doesn’t have much bearing on this week,” he said, “We’re a different team.”
And, so far, Sanchez is a different player. Only four quarterbacks have lower passer ratings after he completed just 11 of 35 passes for 119 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown by the Ravens.
“No one wants to lose in that fashion,” wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. “It got our attention and it was something that we needed. We’re going to use that as motivation to move forward.”
Of course, that loss came against a dominant defense that returned two fumbles and an interception for touchdowns. The Ravens have allowed the third fewest yards in the NFL. The Patriots have given up the most, but they’re still Ryan’s major target.
“That’s the team that we have to beat to win the division. New England, I think, seven out of eight years has won this division,” he said. “They’ve got the best coach in the league, arguably the best quarterback in the league, so it’s a huge challenge, but to think that we’re just going to accept that — ‘Well, we can’t beat those guys’ — no way in heck. We’re here to beat everybody.”
The Jets gained 150 yards against the Ravens, their fewest since Dec. 7, 1997 when they had 126 against the Indianapolis Colts.
Sanchez is likely to encounter less resistance from the Patriots.
They’ve given up 477.5 yards per game and a league-worst 368.8 passing and now must play without Mayo. In last Sunday’s 31-19 win
over the Oakland Raiders, he hurt his left knee, reportedly a sprained medial collateral ligament that will sideline him for six weeks.
“Everybody has to take a piece of Mayo out on the field and try to perform and take some of his responsibilities,” Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson said.
The Jets have the second-rated pass defense after holding the Ravens’ Joe Flacco to 10 completions in 31 attempts for 163 yards. They’ll try to pressure Brady, who has thrown for 388 yards per game, and cover Wes Welker, who is averaging 10 catches for 154 yards.
“They do a lot of things schematically to try to confuse you, but, more than anything, they have a tough physical group up front,” Patriots right guard Brian Waters said.
The Jets had trouble protecting Sanchez against the Ravens. He was sacked twice and fumbled four times, losing three. But this Sunday they could get center Nick Mangold back after he missed two games with a high right ankle sprain.
“There’s only one Nick Mangold in this league,” Ryan said, “and when he went out, that was really a big loss.”
And if he comes back, he’ll jump right into the rivalry.
“Playing the Patriots two times a year in the same division, it’s a great rivalry,” Mangold said. “It always is. This should be a fantastic game.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)