Patriots

Ryan: We're back to our style of football

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Ryan: We're back to our style of football

FOXBORO -- This is not your Week 4 Jets team.

The first time New York met the Patriots in 2011, Rex Ryan's club was 1-2 and struggling with an identity crisis. A season-opening 32-3 win over the Jaguars proved the obvious; losing 34-24 to Oakland in Week 2 proved they could be bullied by a weaker team; they followed that with a 34-17 loss to the Ravens -- a game that included three Baltimore defensive touchdowns -- which proved Mark Sanchez is still unreliable.

The Patriots feasted on these weaknesses. Tom Brady completed 24 of 33 passes for 321 yards in New England's 30-21 win. Sanchez threw for just 166 yards against the league's worst defense.

Things have since changed.

This is the ever-fickle NFL. In the last three weeks the Patriots lost two back-to-back games off the bye. New York heated up a three-game winning streak, including last Sunday's 27-11 triumph in Buffalo.

Rex Ryan says this is what his team does. Remember 2009? When the Jets falter, they regroup and rally against the world. "Everybody loves Cinderella stories," linebacker Bart Scott said last week about the Bills. "We've always been portrayed as the bad guys, but we relish in that role."

It gets them back to winning.

"I just think we got back to playing our style of football," Ryan said Wednesday. "We've been a team that plays good solid defense, solid special teams, and the ability to run the football. I think that's who we've been and that's who we are. I think we got back to those roots a little bit.

"Buffalo's a good football team, there's no doubt about it, but we had a lot of confidence going into the game. Our defense is a little different than other people's defense, but we feel good about it. We're multiple in what we do defensively. Sometimes with the personnel we can give you problems. That's how we approach the game and we executed our plan pretty good."

The odds favor New York to continue that trend.

According to Bodog.com, the Jets are a 1-point favorite in the tilt against New England. It's not much, but the number does reflect the way each team has played lately. Does the switch in position mean anything to Ryan? Not in the least.

"It's not going to change how we approach the game: we're trying to win," he scoffed. "If we're the favorite or an underdogs by 50 points it makes no difference in the game. That's who we are. I'm not betting on the game so I really don't care what the spread is."

It's still, after all, too early to bet the house on Sanchez. The quarterback has improved but remains inconsistent. At least when he has bad games the lows aren't as low -- that range has narrowed some. Ryan says he likes what he's seen out of Sanchez this season while maintaining that some things need to be cleaned up.

That's all part of the Jets 'style', too.

"He's made a couple mistakes, but a lot of people make mistakes," Ryan said. "I like the way he bounces back. We had a great drive 10-minutes, 87 yards, like, the second longest drive in the NFL this year, and then we turned the ball over in the end zone. We really have to do a great job protecting the football, especially against New England. You can't turn the ball over and expect to beat New England. You still have to be aggressive, but I think there's a fine line."

Sanchez's decision-making will need to be even better than it has been lately. Yes, even against the NFL's worst defense. Ryan has enough bad memories of Week 4 to feel overconfident, no matter how much the Jets have overcome since then.

"I think the big thing is we'd like to not have seven three-and-outs, I think would probably help us a little bit," Ryan said. "We did, in that game, have seven three-and-outs so obviously we're not going to beat anybody if you do that. I think if we're able to move the ball consistently we'll be able to run it more and throw it more. That certainly will be our plan."

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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