ESNY’s Michael Nania dissects the New England Patriots as the New York Jets look to end their stranglehold on the AFC East.
The schedule makers at the NFL certainly did not go easy on the New York Jets when crafting the early portion of their 2019 slate.
Following a matchup with the stacked Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football in Week 2, the Jets will turn around on a short week and head up to Foxborough for an early-season date with the New England Patriots.
To get you prepped for Jets-Pats here in July, let’s run through a few crucial facts behind New England’s offseason and their recent history with the Jets.
Nov. 25, 2018 (Week 12): Patriots 27 @ Jets 13
Last year was a rather dormant season when it came to Jets-Pats juice. The first of the teams’ two meetings came in late November. The Jets were coming off of their bye week at 3-7 having lost four straight games entering the break.
With any semblance of playoff hopes hanging by a thread, the Jets were surprisingly competitive with New England. They took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter following a 16-yard touchdown pass from McCown to Jermaine Kearse—that play would go down as Kearse’s only score of the entire 2018 season.
Going into the half, things were knotted up at 10 apiece. Midway through the third quarter, the teams were still locked up at 13-13.
However, the Patriots would pull away late with a couple of long drives, winning the game 27-13. New England gained a total of 498 yards on offense, while the Jets struggled to move the ball through the air. They averaged only a paltry 5.7 yards per pass play.
While the Jets lost their fifth consecutive game, there was a shining light of hope to come out of the afternoon. That was the play of Jamal Adams.
The second-year safety had already been having a tremendous season to date, but he made a loud statement with his performance against Rob Gronkowski. When matched up against Adams, Gronk caught only 2-of-6 targets for 8 yards and zero first downs. Adams put him on lockdown, thunderously announcing his presence as a star in New York.
Dec. 30, 2018 (Week 17): Jets 3 @ Patriots 38
For the third straight season, the Jets were clobbered in a December trip to Foxborough. The Jets still have not scored a touchdown at Gillette Stadium since Chris Ivory ran in a dump-off pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick on Oct. 25, 2015.
While the Jets were obliterated in their season finale, there were positives to be taken from the defeat. In many ways, Darnold continued the hot streak that he had put together over his previous three games after returning from injury.
Of course, the Jets offense only scored 3 points against New England in that game. Darnold threw for 167 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per pass attempt, while not throwing any touchdowns. He even fumbled on a sack for the very first time. How could this game be considered a positive?
Well, Darnold simply continued dropping dimes the way he had been over the previous few weeks. He just didn’t get much support in that game. The USC product was scrambling left and right and dropping dimes in the bucket all over the field, but many of his best throws were dropped.
While it wasn’t close to a perfect outing by any means, it was clear that, in his first trip to Foxborough, Darnold maintained the confidence and precision he had begun to cultivate with consistency over the final stretch of the season.
Regardless of what the box score says about his performance on that December afternoon in Massachusetts, Darnold truly did finish the season on a high note that he can build off of going forward.
- The meeting between New York and New England this September will be their earliest clash since Week 2 of 2013.
NEW ENGLAND'S OFFSEASON
Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver (FA: Houston) — The Pats decided to take a gamble on the former Broncos star. At his peak, Thomas has been dominant. He caught 60 regular season touchdowns and six playoff touchdowns over eight seasons in Denver, winning a ring in 2015. He had a streak of five straight 1000-yard seasons from 2012-16.
However, age has started to catch up to the 31-year old Thomas. He has seen a dip in his regular season yardage totals in four consecutive seasons. He averaged only 45.1 receiving yards per game in 2018, the worst mark he has posted since his rookie year. Thomas was traded to Houston mid-season and averaged only 39.3 yards per contest in seven appearances as a Texan. Could a little bit of “Belichick magic” squeeze out everything Thomas has left?
Mike Pennel, Defensive Tackle (FA: NY Jets) — The most expensive free agent addition made by New England was a former Jet, nose tackle Mike Pennel. The Jets elected not to re-sign the mammoth interior lineman, and he ended up jumping ship to the dark side on a two-year, $5 million deal. The 330-pound beast from Arizona State established himself as a very solid run defender as a Jet. He should be a perfect fit in New England both schematically and culturally.
Jamie Collins, Linebacker (FA: Cleveland) — Collins is set to make a return to his old stomping grounds. The Southern Mississippi product was taken 52nd overall by the Patriots in 2013, and would appear in 57 regular season and playoff games over four seasons with the squad. New England would later trade Collins to Cleveland, where he appeared in 30 games over the last three seasons. Collins started all 16 games for the Browns in 2018 and racked up 104 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four passes defended, and four sacks.
Rob Gronkowski, Tight End (Retired) — Gronk called it quits on a career that could go down as the most dominant by a tight end in league history. He retires as the current all-time leader among tight ends in receiving yards per game (68.4) and receiving touchdowns per game (0.687), collecting 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns in 115 regular season games over nine seasons.
His playoff numbers were even better, as he racked up 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns in 16 playoff appearances, for averages of 72.7 yards per game and 0.75 touchdowns per game. Not to mention, Gronkowski’s dominant power as a blocker will be sorely missed by the smashmouth Patriots offense. It will be interesting to see just how much of an effect the loss of Gronk has on New England’s success.
Trey Flowers, EDGE (FA: Detroit) — In typical Patriots fashion, the team elected to let a pair of coveted free agents walk rather than investing humongous deals into them. One of those two was edge rusher Trey Flowers, who signed a monster five-year, $80 million deal with the Lions. His 45 quarterback hits over the last two seasons tied him for 12th in the league over that span.
Trent Brown, Left Tackle (FA: Oakland) — In addition to Flowers, the Pats elected to let Brown, their starting left tackle, take a big deal elsewhere. Brown took a four-year, $66 million deal with the Raiders after emerging as a star on the blindside in his first season with New England. Prior to the 2018 season, the Patriots picked up the Florida product in a trade with the 49ers after he had started 28 games for the team over his first three seasons in the league. Under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia, the 6-foot-8, 380-pound Brown became a key cog in New England’s success and caught the eye of the league.
With much thanks to Scarnecchia, the Patriots usually have no problem with offensive line turnover, and usually get a lot out of the unit regardless of the circumstances. Oftentimes, Patriots linemen head elsewhere and struggle with their new teams, while New England successfully grooms replacements from within. Will Brown buck the trend and be successful in Oakland? Will he be the rare lineman that the Patriots truly miss?
As of now, it seems the Pats will turn to their 2018 first-round selection to take Brown’s spot at left tackle—Georgia product Isaiah Wynn.
IMPORTANT NUMBERS FOR THE PATRIOTS
Need to maintain: #7 in scoring defense
In 2018, New England ranked seventh in total scoring defense (20.3 PPG) and seventh in fewest points allowed per drive (1.75). It marked the third straight season that the Patriots ranked top-seven in scoring defense, something they had not done since 1965-67. As Father Time continues to inch closer and closer to Tom Brady, it’s going to be key for the New England defense to remain consistently elite if the team is going to win more championships.
Need to improve: #29 in rushing yards allowed per attempt
The Patriots allowed their opponents to gain 4.91 rushing yards per attempt in 2018, which ranked 29th in the league and was the worst mark they had given up since 1973. They ranked only 19th in rush defense DVOA, though that was an improvement over 2017 in which they ranked 31st. While the Patriots have remained great overall on the defensive side, they could stand to continue improving against the run. Perhaps the addition of Pennel will help in that area.
For the Jets, it’s going to be very important to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Not only will they get a September date with the Patriots, but they’ll meet up again in Week 7. Two of New York’s first six games will come against the team they’re trying to usurp in the AFC East, so September and October are going to be crucial.
There have only been two previous occurrences in which the Jets faced the Patriots twice in their first six games, last taking place in 2000 and 1986. In both of those seasons, the Jets finished with a winning record.
Could they do the same in 2019?