Sur­pris­ing Jets pre­pare for show­down with Pa­tri­ots

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - SPORTS -

NEW YORK — Sur­prise, sur­prise. The Jets are play­ing for first.

No, not the No. 1 draft pick — as so many pre­dicted. But for the top spot in the AFC East, with a matchup against the ri­val Pa­tri­ots on tap for Sun­day at MetLife Sta­dium.

Both teams are 3-2, with the Pa­tri­ots’ strug­gles nearly as stun­ning as the Jets’ early-sea­son suc­cess. But Todd Bowles knows bet­ter than to take Bill Belichick’s bunch lightly.

“Well, they’re scary be­cause they’re still win­ning,” the Jets coach said dur­ing a con­fer­ence call Mon­day. “They are still the same Pa­tri­ots. You have to knock them off the lad­der. They are kings of the di­vi­sion right now. They won the Su­per Bowl.

“We have to come out and work on us and play hard and go into the game and try and com­pete and win.”

The Jets have done that the past three weeks, rolling to a dom­i­nant vic­tory against Miami and then pulling off close wins against Jack­sonville and Cleve­land.

Still, New York rec­og­nizes it has quite a few flaws, with penal­ties a ma­jor is­sue.

“It’s good to get a win on the road, but ob­vi­ously we have to cor­rect a lot of things on both sides of the ball,” Bowles said. “And we have to get the penal­ties down, which keeps ham­per­ing us ev­ery week, which has to change.”

The Jets have been pe­nal­ized 19 times in their last two games, in­clud­ing nine in the 17-14 win at Cleve­land.

“Some of them are ticky-tacky, some of them are le­git and some of them you can ques­tion,” Bowles said. “But ei­ther way, we have to get them down.”

The de­fense has also strug­gled to get to the quar­ter­back, with New York’s seven sacks rank­ing sec­ond to last in the NFL through five games. Only Tampa Bay, with four, has less. The Jets also gave up 140 yards rush­ing against the Browns, a week af­ter al­low­ing 175 to the Jaguars.

“We’re build­ing that unity and play­ing for each other,” de­fen­sive line­man Leonard

Wil­liams said. “But at the same time, we feel that we didn’t play up to our stan­dards that we’ve seen on film — speak­ing for my po­si­tion and our de­fense, specif­i­cally.”

New York’s of­fense had a rough day gen­er­at­ing much of any­thing against the Browns un­til late, go­ing 4 of 12 on third downs and gain­ing 212 yards com­pared to Cleve­land’s 419.

“We started slow,” quar­ter­back Josh McCown said. “They mixed the looks, they did a good job of do­ing some dif­fer­ent things and we had some penal­ties early and kind of got be­hind the sticks the sec­ond drive out there and that re­ally killed that one. So we have to start faster.”

The Jets were able to cap­i­tal­ize, though, on mis­takes by the Browns, who squan­dered four scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties dur­ing the first half.

A lit­tle luck, maybe, but the Pa­tri­ots also see a hun­gry and re­silient squad in their di­vi­sion op­po­nents.

“You’ve got to be im­pressed with what the Jets have done,” Belichick said Mon­day. “They’ve had three weeks in a row, they’ve played well. … It’s al­ways tough with the Jets and we know it’ll be tough this week.”

The Pa­tri­ots have won five of the last six meet­ings, with the Jets’ lone win dur­ing that span be­ing a 26-20 over­time vic­tory at home dur­ing Bowles’ first sea­son as coach in 2015.

New York knows it could make a huge state­ment to the en­tire league if it beats New Eng­land, which would also be the Jets’ first four-game win­ning streak since they won five straight two sea­sons ago — capped by that last vic­tory over the Pa­tri­ots.

New Eng­land has al­lowed a league-high 447.2 yards per game, a stun­ningly high num­ber for a Belichick-coached de­fense. That’s 50 yards more per game than the next clos­est team, Indianapolis (397.4).

“I’m look­ing at them right now, and this is a good crew,” McCown said. “It’s go­ing to be a tough matchup. They’re al­ways good at game plan­ning and pre­par­ing for you and what you do and what you do best, and so it’ll be a fun chal­lenge.”

The Pa­tri­ots opened as 8-point fa­vorites, which is hardly a sur­prise. Just a few weeks ago, how­ever, the Jets were prob­a­bly looked at as cer­tain dou­bledigit un­der­dogs for this matchup.

From the coaches to the play­ers, New York has stressed a sense of unity that has only grown stronger with ev­ery vic­tory. And each win has all that pre­sea­son talk about be­ing a front-run­ner for the No. 1 over­all draft pick next April fad­ing fast.

“It’s a wave right now,” Wil­liams said. “We’re on that unity wave of be­ing with each other and play­ing for each other and play­ing hard and fast. We’ve just got to keep rid­ing that wave.”

NOTES: Bowles said RB Bi­lal Pow­ell is day to day with a strained calf, although his sta­tus for Sun­day is un­cer­tain. … RB Matt Forte re­mains side­lined with turf toe, which means rookie Eli­jah McGuire could start against the Pa­tri­ots if nei­ther Forte nor Pow­ell can play. Bowles said the Jets weren’t yet con­sid­er­ing adding an­other run­ning back to the ros­ter.

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