The Jets, playing for pride, will try to de-rail RB Corey Dillon the Patriots on Monday Night. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Déjŕ vu. With the Patriots coming to town for a prime-time showdown with little on the line, this game is reminiscent to Decembers past.
Two years ago, the Pats, who were 12-2 looking for homefield advantage under their Christmas tree, visited New York on a frigid Saturday night bout. The Jets entered 6-8, with little to play for besides pride and the possibility of toughening the Patriots road to the Super Bowl. The most riveting storyline was flaccid; it was ESPN’s 200th football broadcast.
The Jets stayed close, but Chad Pennington was intercepted five times, once by LB Willie McGinest for a 15-yard interception return. It proved to be the difference as the Jets crashed in a 21-16 loss and finished the season 6-10 – their worst since a 1-15 campaign in 1996. The Patriots won their second Super Bowl in this astounding four-year run.
Ironically, as Pennington failed on the field, legendary Jets quarterback Joe Namath faltered off it after asking ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber for a kiss in a sideline interview. Namath later admitted an alcohol problem.
Needless to say, to wasn’t a good night for the Jets.
Two years later, the storylines are eerily similar. The two-time defending champion Patriots (9-5) aren’t fighting for homefield, but rather are locked into the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs. The Jets have seemingly been out of any playoff race since Opening Day and are involved in one race: the Reggie Bush sweepstakes.
Being that this is ABC’s last Monday Night Football broadcast, the television aspect is also sprinkled in. However, neither Kolber nor Namath are expected to be in attendance.
Even players are devoid of storylines.
“It’s good to know we’re going to be the last one,” said Pro Bowl snub Jonathan Vilma, who might’ve been unaware the Jets were also on ABC’s inaugural prime-time telecast in 1970. “That makes it that much more special for us. We’re going to be in the history books as the last Monday Night Game on ABC. Asides from that, we want to win the game.”
If history is an indicator, this game doesn’t bode well for the 3-11 Jets. The Patriots have won three straight games and haven’t lost to the Jets since December of 2002 – a span of five games. New England also smacked around the Jets three weeks ago, 16-3, at Gillette Stadium.
It was the start of the best defensive stretch in Patriots history, during which they’ve given up 10 points in three games. They also have allowed just 28.3 rush-yards-per-game.
“Defensively I think a lot of their guys have gotten healthy again,” head coach Herman Edwards said. “They’ve only given up 10 points in the last three games; they won three in a row. They’re getting back into playoff form. They’re playing very, very well.”
Don’t overlook the Pats offense. Tom Brady has thrown for almost just under 3,900 yards and leads the League in the category. The Jets must hope to stay close, and according to DE John Abraham, that’s something the Jets must work on.
“The only thing about us is that we’re always in the game, but we seem to lose it at the end,” said Abraham, who has 8.5 sacks this season. “San Diego, New Orleans, Jacksonville, last week [against Miami], all those games we probably should’ve won. Even Atlanta were games we should’ve won that we let slip out of our fingers. Even Donnie [Henderson] told us that the only thing our problem is that we need to learn to finish.”
The Jets can not be timid. Edwards talked about protecting Bollinger and keeping games close, but against New England three weeks ago the Jets played scared. Edwards scoffed at the notion and cut short a press conference the week following the game.
The play Edwards cited was a third-and-five against New England with the Jets driving for their first points.
Bollinger was pummeled, fumbling the ball. New England recovered, but offsetting penalties negated the turnover. The woeful Jets offense, which barely had a pulse the entire game, was given a second chance.
The ensuring draw to Curtis Martin–for no gain, no less–was a Paul Hackett special. The Jets settled for a 38-yard field goal and tied the game at 3. The Jets never got near the red zone again.
“They’re playing very, very well as a football team,” Edwards said. “It will take our best effort to try to win this game against these guys.”
Mawae progressing. Kevin Mawae, who had surgery on Oct. 21 to repair a torn triceps muscle, said his rehab is on schedule and he expects to return at full-strength in the Spring.
“I can do some things but there are a lot of things I can’t do,” Mawae said.
Mawae said the “pace will pick up” in a month in terms of the intensity of what he can work on. Wednesday was the eight weeks to the day Mawae had surgery.
Mawae hopes to be back for team workouts in March.
“I expect to be 100 percent by then,” he said.
Stat of the week. Edwards is just 2-7 against the Patriots in his tenure as Jets coach.
-Before their meeting three weeks ago, Bollinger and Brady had met once before. In 1999 while Bollinger was at Wisconsin, the Brady-led Michigan Badgers defeated Wisconsin, 21-16. Bollinger, who subbed for an injured Matt Kavanaugh, had a 13-yard touchdown run in the game. Wisconsin went 8-0 while Bollinger at the helm, including a Rose Bowl win over Stanford.
-Mike Nugent has made 12 of his last 13 field goal attempts. His only miss was a game-winning, 53-yard attempt against the Saints on Nov. 27.
-In the first Monday Night Football game, the Jets lost to the Browns, 31-21, on Sept. 21 1970. The Jets were flagged for a team-record 161 penalty yards.
PARZIALE’S POINTS: HOW THE JETS CAN WIN
1. Run first, pass often. Curtis Martin ran for a meager 29 yards three weeks ago when these teams met and the New England defense smacked around Brooks Bollinger. That included a sack and forced fumble – which was negated by a penalty – on a three-step drop. In case you were unaware, that’ not supposed to happen. Cedric Houston has rushed well the past two games – 160 yards on 31 carries – and must wear down the Patriots line. His effectiveness will also help Bollinger.
2. Pressure Brady. The Patriots quarterback has always carried his team, but without injuries riddling through the defense and running game, he has been their workhorse more than ever. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has always responded with poise under fire, and the Jets defense must pressure Brady to rattle his cage.
3. Score early. With little on the line for the Patriots, they may not want any key starters sustaining injuries if the Jets get an early lead. If the offense can put sevens instead of threes when getting in the red zone, they’ll be in good shape.
Patriots 27 Jets 17
-DE Shaun Ellis (hamstring)
-DT Dewayne Robertson (thigh)
-RB Derrick Blaylock (foot)
-LB Mark Brown (neck)
-S Oliver Celestin
-WR Harry Williams Jr. (knee)
-T Scott Gragg (back)
Coverage starts on ABC at 9 p.m. and you can hear all the action on ESPN Radio 1050. Check back to Jetsinsider.com for all the latest breaking news about your New York Jets.