BOSTON (CBS) — Though it may seem as if the Patriots’ Week 1 victory ended about 15 minutes ago, it’s already time to get geared up for Week 2.
The Patriots host the Jets on Thursday night for the home opener at Gillette, and they’re doing so with perhaps more question marks than they had surrounding them for the season opener last week in Buffalo. The performance was not exactly crisp, and with injuries already playing a factor — on a short week, no less — this matchup against the Jets does not look to be a blowout-waiting-to-happen like it may have a few weeks ago.
That doesn’t mean this one’s necessarily going to be a nail-biter, but a number of things have to go right for the Patriots in order to make this one a happy homecoming. Here are four keys to watch for in the Pats’ home opener.
Who’s Going To Catch The Ball?
Shane Vereen — out.
Danny Amendola — doubtful.
Zach Sudfeld — questionable.
Aaron Dobson — questionable.
So … who’s going to catch all of the passes?
Surely, Julian Edelman can’t catch them all, so it will be on the shoulders of Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and maybe even Matthew Slater to get involved in the passing game. Michael Hoomanawanui may have to have an increased role as well.
One thing’s for certain: It’s a tough week to be Tom Brady.
(Well, it’s as tough a week as there is for Tom Brady, which is to say all things considered, it’s still a pretty nice week to be Tom Brady.)
Hold On Tight, Stevan
Stevan Ridley lost his job in the span of 20 minutes with a fumble that didn’t count and one that did. In his absence, Shane Vereen stepped up in a big way (101 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards), but thanks to a broken wrist, Vereen is now on the shelf and it will be up to Ridley to carry the load offensively.
The actual onus of being the team’s top back is nothing new for Ridley, but the spotlight that will be on him for the fumbling is something he’ll have to deal with. The game being nationally televised, with the whole football world watching, only adds to that pressure.
Realistically, there’s not too much reason to be overly concerned about Ridley’s fumbling. He coughed it up four times last year on 290 carries, averaging a lost fumble about once every 73 carries, and he lost one in the playoffs, though he looked to lose consciousness before the football. It’s hard to blame him too much for that one.
Nevertheless, Ridley knows he needs to be better, and the whole team is behind him. Let’s see the kid’s response.
Another Rookie QB
Unfortunately, there will be no butt fumbles in this game. Well, at least if there is a butt fumble, it won’t involve Mark Sanchez, who is out with a shoulder injury. It will be the first Sanchez-less game between the Patriots and Jets since 2008, when Brett Favre was under center for the Jets, and it will mean rookie Geno Smith will make his second career start and first on the road.
That will make two straight weeks facing a rookie QB for the Pats, as E.J. Manuel did a serviceable if not spectacular job against them last week. Manuel efficiently completed 66.7 percent of his 27 passes for just 150 yards, but he did toss two touchdowns and ran for 23 yards on three scampers.
Smith, obviously, is a different quarterback in a different system, but Manuel’s performance was at least confirmation that a rookie QB can have a good game against the Patriots and can play well enough to win. A major factor will be composure, and that’s something head coach Rex Ryan feels Smith has in spades.
“You got to stand in there and you’ve got to take it. There’s times where he’s standing in there, not rattled, knows he’s going to get hit and still makes the throw. That’s big,” Ryan said of his rookie quarterback. “You sense it, it’s coming and he’s going to take a big hit, but he still makes the throw. But that was something that jumps out at me. The other thing was his vision down the field. He sees guys are covered and yet makes plays with his feet. And that drives a coordinator crazy because you can have it really defended well. You know you get decent heat on the quarterback, you have great coverage down there, but it’s hard to defend against the running quarterback. Just six yards, seven yards, that’s huge compared to zero. If you throw a ball or throw it away you get nothing, but he was able to make some plays, have some awareness and makes some plays. He protected himself when he needed to. I was impressed with that as well.”
This is a new NFL, one where rookies can succeed, so the Patriots will need to be prepared for a potential headache in Smith.
Will Rex Punch Belichick In The Face?
Probably not, but all bets are off if the Jets pull off the upset.