Curran's Patriots-Jets preview/review: Pats reach the top
Curran's Patriots-Jets preview/review
No one expects the Jets to give the Patriots much of a fight on Sunday, but the game is important: The Pats clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs with a victory. What are the keys to them accomplishing that feat?
So what did Tom get right in his preview? What did he get wrong? Let's take a look . . .
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
It’s going to be frigid and the Patriots are without Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee while James White had an ankle that kept him out last week. Dion Lewis is the only healthy back aside from Brandon Bolden. Meanwhile, Chris Hogan is still working back from his shoulder injury. In short, the Patriots could use a clean, tidy low-resistance game from the Jets in which they score early then have some time-consuming drives. The Jets have been pretty stingy against the run this year and have two solid young safeties and (Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams) along with inside linebackers Demario Davis and Darron Lee to bow up. Muhammad Wilkerson won’t play. He’s been a dink all year. The extension given to Todd Bowles lets the players know that his way of doing business isn’t going away so the likelihood of a mail-in effort has been reduced. Tom Brady’s thrown picks in five consecutive games. Like snowflakes, they are all a little different and all picks aren’t created equal. Still, it’s an unusual flurry. The Jets safeties will no doubt look forward to the challenge of dealing with Gronk, who’s been abusing secondaries for more than a month.
The Patriots first drive was made-to-order. A 13-play, 75-yard excursion that had four throws to Danny Amendola for 43 yards and six Dion Lewis carries for 25. On the Patriots second drive, they had to punt after a couple of Brandin Cooks connections were missed (deep ball and wide receiver screen). The Patriots went stagnant for a couple of drives as Brady’s protection waned. Gronk was not part of the game plan. Some of that was connected to the attention the Jets gave him but when the Patriots want to go to Gronk, nothing dissuades them. This seemed a “discretion is the better part of valor” move. The game eventually became about running back Dion Lewis who carried 26 times for 93 yards and caught six passes for 40. In the bitter cold, the Patriots passing game was imprecise. Without Rex Burkhead and James White as underneath options and Gronk out of the game plan, Brady spent a fair amount of time trying to get right with Brandin Cooks. That had mixed results. Cooks finished with five catches for 79 yards on 11 targets. He also drew three flags, but he and Brady still aren’t sharing a brain. The interior protection on the offensive line continues to be a weak spot and Brandon Bolden isn’t a terrific pass-protector. Brady finished 18 for 37 for 190. He summed things up neatly when he was captured on camera sitting on the bench in his scuba suit and uniform saying, “It’s f------ cold, bro . . . ”
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Look forward to seeing what James Harrison can do in this game. My feeling is he could go anywhere from being a vital contributor on all downs both as a pass rusher and edge-setting run-stopper all the way down to being released by Wednesday. I have no idea. The Jets are mulling getting some reps for 2016 second-rounder Christian Hackenberg at quarterback. He would spell Bryce Petty who is completing 46.2 percent of his passes in two starts since Josh McCown got hurt. That rotation will give this game a preseason feel.
The preseason feel was in evidence on the first Jets possession when they ran three times despite being in first-and-15, second-and-14 and third-and-14.The Jets were able to get a field goal to close their second possession after the Patriots lost contain on a Bilal Powell run. That was James Harrison’s first drive for the team and while his mobility is certainly not what it was -- it takes a lot for him to turn his battleship around -- he played in several spots and clearly has the instincts and aptitude to do a lot. The Jets couldn’t get much going with Powell aside from his 24-yard return. The interior run defense has been terrific the past few weeks. Inability to set the edge, though, has led to some big perimeter runs. Petty was 5-for-10 for 97 yards in the first half. He’s not a very imposing passer. But he never got the hook in favor of Hackenberg as he went 19-for-36 for 232 yards. He was sacked four times. The Jets were 0-for-12 on third down. They carried 19 times for 40 yards.
THE KICKING GAME
The Jets opened last week’s game against the Chargers with an onside kick that they recovered. The high point for an otherwise horrible team when it comes to fourth down performance. They are among the worst in the NFL in punt returns (4.5 YPR) and are at 20.8 on kickoff returns. Punter Lac Edwards has dropped 31 of his 87 punts inside the opposing 20. Chandler Catanzaro is a kicker of minor distinction. Ryan Allen has punted 37 fewer times for the Patriots this season than Edwards. LOL.
There was a good deal of punting and Ryan Allen had his best game of the season with five of his eight punts inside the Jets 20 including their final three drives which began at the 4, 4, and 3-yard lines. Catanzaro missed a field goal. Stephen Gostkowski made his from 21 yards away.
PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: DT Alan Branch (knee), RB Rex Burkhead (knee) and RB Mike Gillislee (knee). QUESTIONABLE: WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), DE Eric Lee(ankle, finger), S Devin McCourty (shoulder), WR Matt Slater (hamstring), LB Kyle Van Noy (calf), T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle) and RB James White (ankle)
David Andrews was slow to rise after the Patriots’ third-quarter field goal drive. Elandon Roberts left the field with an arm injury in the third quarter as well.
JETS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: T Brandon Shell (concussion). DOUBTFUL: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ribs, foot). QUESTIONABLE: DE Kony Ealy (knee), RB Matt Forte (knee) and RB Akeem Judd (ankle).
Rookie safety Marcus Maye left in the first half but returned.
JETS GOTTA STOP
Rob Gronkowski. He’s been outrageous this month with 29 catches in the past for games good for four touchdowns and 466 yards.
Gronk was catchless and targetless so his 2017 ends with him playing 13 games (12, given the lack of looks) and putting up 69 catches for 1,083 yards and eight touchdowns.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
Robby Anderson. Undrafted in 2016, the Jets 6-1, 190-pound wideout is 61 yards shy of 1,000 yards and has blossomed this season into a very capable receiver. With Austin Sefarian-Jenkins down, Anderson is the main receiving threat along with Jermaine Kearse.
Anderson had one catch for 2 yards and was driven from the game late by a hit to the head from Stephon Gilmore.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“I’m always trying to keep those down. I think you're right, there’s been more in the last couple of games than there should be. I think it’s just making smart decisions. Whenever they get their hands on it, it’s not a good thing for the offense. Putting it in places where only we can touch it or we can catch it is important, especially understanding the situations in the games. We've been able to overcome a few of those but, obviously, like at Miami, we didn’t overcome them and ball possession is going to be extremely important in this game. We always try to do no turnovers. That’s a good goal for us. That’s what we should have every week. I can certainly do a better job than I’ve done protecting it and it's going to be really important.” – Tom Brady, on keeping the interceptions down. He’s had a rash of them in recent weeks.
No picks for Brady and two touchdown passes. He finished the season with 30 touchdown passes and eight picks, leading the NFL in completions (367), yards (4,387) and yards per attempt (8.1). His completion percentage was 67.5, second-highest in his career (2007). A good season.
THAT SUMS IT UP JETS STYLE
"We've got some prideful guys and we fight and we understand where we are, but that doesn't mean we don't try to go out and win every ballgame, and this week will be no different for us.” – Todd Bowles, Jets coach, who was given a contract extension on Friday.
The Jets . . . they aren’t good. They didn’t lie down but neither were they entirely competitive. Bowles has his work cut out for himself.
THE CREW, THE BOOTH AND THE LINE
Brad Allen is the head referee for this game. Home teams are drawing 41 percent of the penalties his crew assesses. The Patriots are favored by 15 and the total is set at 43.5. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo are in the booth for CBS.
Easy cover and easy under for the Patriots. I finally handed you a winner. I hope you knew what to do with it. The Jets were called for nine penalties good for 84 yards. The Patriots had four for 49. The Jets had a couple of long DPIs and a defensive holding call to help the Patriots who got six first downs on penalties. There were a couple of odd ones on the Patriots – an intentional grounding call when Brady wasn’t under duress, a spike on the Patriots sideline by Robby Anderson that hit Johnson Bademosi in the facemask and a banging into that Danny Amendola took on a punt return.
THE WINNER IS . . .
Patriots 27, Jets 6
Patriots 26, Jets 6