REMEMBERING MAYOR THOMAS MENINO: Complete Coverage

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What To Watch For: Patriots-Jets Thanksgiving Edition

By Matthew Geagan, CBSBoston
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Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez hauls in a pass against the New York Jets. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez hauls in a pass against the New York Jets. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – While everyone is winding down from a Thanksgiving feast Thursday night, fighting off an oncoming tryptophan-induced coma, the New England Patriots and New York Jets will just be kicking off.

The Patriots and Jets get to play the prime-time matchup this Turkey Day evening, and as Week 7’s matchup showed us, even the lowly Jets can make it interesting against the Patriots.

And this time it’s in their house.

Here are a few things to watch for as you sit back, unbuckle the belt, and contemplate another piece of pie (or a maybe a pumpkin beer) Thursday night.

Filling The Void

The Patriots know they’ll have one big hole to fill at tight end with Rob Gronkowski out 4-8 weeks with a broken forearm. But they were also delivered a blow on the defensive line when rookie Chandler Jones left in the first half against Indianapolis with an ankle injury.

Read: Hernandez Confident Pats Can Fill Void

Those are two big voids the Patriots have to fill on each side of the ball, but with the team’s “next man up” mentality they should have plenty of suitors.

While replacing Gronkowski is nearly impossible, the Patriots are hoping to have Aaron Hernandez back as part of their platter on offense. Hernandez has missed the last three games after re-aggravating his right ankle sprain last month against the Jets, but everyone and their mother is expecting him to play. Should Hernandez not be able to go, New England still has a trio of tight ends at their disposal (think side dishes that not everyone eats — like the green bean casserole or Brussels sprouts – but still serve a purpose on the table) in Visanthe Shiancoe, Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells. While those three don’t strike fear in the passing game, Tom Brady will still have his receiving corps, with Julian Edelman coming off his best week of the season.

On the defensive side, Jermaine Cunningham filled in nicely for Jones against Indianapolis, and will likely be called upon to do the same against the Jets. Cunningham made his presence felt in the pass-rush, hitting quarterback Andrew Luck twice, but he’ll need to do a better job stuffing the run, especially against the Jets. Second-year back Bilal Powell is coming off a two-touchdown day against the St. Louis Rams, similar to the three-touchdown game Shonn Greene had prior to facing the Patriots back in October.

Read: NY Post Foolishly Blames Belichick For Gronk’s Injury

The Patriots held Greene to just 54 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, making Mark Sancehz try to beat them (which he surprisingly almost did, but more on that in a minute). They’ll have to do the same Thursday night. Look for Rob Ninkovich, whose forced fumble in overtime back in Week 7 sealed the win for the Patriots, the always-steady Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, along with Cunningham, to step up in Jones’ place.

Patriots Rush Attack

The Patriots ran the ball well against the Jets in Week 7, racking up 131 yards between Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead. Ridley led the way with 65 yards on 17 carries, with Vereen averaging over six yards on his 16 carries for 49 yards.

Surprsingly, the Jets are down at the bottom of the NFL when it comes to stopping the run this season, giving up over 140 yards per game. The Patriots have sported a rather balanced attack as of late, running about 10 more passing plays than rushing plays in each of their four games since throwing the ball a ridiculous 58 times (compared to 26 runs) in their loss in Seattle.

Given the short week, expect the Patriots to run, run, run – and we don’t mean to the dessert table at halftime. In Week 7, Ridley and crew did the dirty work and got the Patriots down the field, setting up a pair of Gronkowski touchdowns. This time, they’ll get a chance to finish “carve the turkey” themselves.

Sturdy Sanchez?

Leave it to the Patriots to bring out the best of Mark Sanchez – at least on paper.

In Week 7, Sanchez was 28-for-41 for 328 yards, a touchdown and a pick. It’s one of only two times the quarterback has gone over the 300-yard mark this season, and his 28 completions are matched only by his 28-for-54 day against the Dolphins the following week. Once you get over the fact the Jets had Sanchez throw the ball 95 times over a two-week span, we’ll bring you back down to earth.

Because he is Mark Sanchez, he was far from stellar that October afternoon at Gillette. After putting together a solid touchdown drive to pull New York within three points in the fourth, a drive on which Sanchez went 9-for-10 on and capped it off with a 7-yard touchdown to Dustin Keller, he went back to typical Sanchez form.

Following a 21-yard strike to Keller, the Jets relied on their run game to get them downfield for the tying field goal. They were then given a gift on Devin McCourty’s fumbled kickoff return, but despite getting the ball on the New England 35 could only muster another field goal after Sanchez was sacked on third down. The Patriots did their own thing to get it to overtime and eventually take the lead in the extra frame, and Sanchez fumbled it away to lose the game.

The bottom line was Sanchez put up numbers against the Patriots, but don’t let them fool you. Every quarterback has put up numbers on the Patriots this season, but few have beaten them.

He might not be a turkey on the stat sheet come Thursday night, but don’t expect Sanchez to be the game’s MVP either.

Aqib Again?

Patriots newcomer Aqib Talib has everyone feeling better about the shoddy New England secondary, thanks in large part to his 59-yard pick-six against the Colts.

But it was clear Talib was a guy that hadn’t played football in five weeks. He admitted after the game to being winded, but confident that he would soon get his game legs back. Now it will be interesting to see how he bounces back with just four days between games.

It’s true that with Talib back there the Patriots defense seemed like a much more cohesive unit. The secondary made plays on the ball – not just their three interceptions but eight pass deflections – and even got involved in the pass-rush. The better defense down the field made the pass-rush better, and in turn the defensive line and linebackers also got into the pass defense a little, with Vince Wilfork and Don’t’a Hightower also getting their hands on Andrew Luck attempts.

As a whole, the Patriots defense looked worlds better than they had without Talib in the secondary. That trend will likely continue, but it’s hard to expect a bigger game out of Talib this Thursday, given his current football shape and the short week.

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