NFL Preview - New England (5-1) at N.Y. Jets (3-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - You can't blame New York Jets fans for feeling like they created a monster.
Twelve years ago last month, when the teams met in a Week 2 game rescheduled by the 9/11 terror attacks, the Jets visited the Patriots in Foxborough and pulled out a 10-3 victory thanks to a John Hall field goal and an eight-yard touchdown run from Curtis Martin.
What was more noteworthy about the game, however, was the quarterbacking situation on the other side of the field. New England started veteran Drew Bledsoe, but lost his services when he was the target of a hard sideline hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis.
In stepped an unknown passer who'd been taken with the 199th pick of the previous year's draft and had completed precisely one throw prior to that afternoon.
Nineteen weeks later, the Patriots won the Super Bowl. And suffice to say what had been a competitive rivalry between the team has turned into, well ... something else.
That anonymous replacement named Tom Brady has since won 18-of-22 regular- season games against the Jets as a starter - including six in a row, most recently a 13-10 triumph at Gillette Stadium in Week 2.
He's thrown for 1,743 yards and 14 TDs while posting a 110.6 passer rating in those six wins, including a pair at the Jets' MetLife Stadium home - where Sunday's Week 7 game will be played. He's gone for 652 yards in two games at the new place, throwing for six touchdowns and running for another.
This week, Brady faces a seemingly rejuvenated New York defense that's fourth in the league in total defense - 303.8 total yards per game - and second in the NFL against the run (75.7).
"They're all pretty big, physical guys," Brady said. "Got some really good players over there, especially in the front. They're a very good defense."
Very good, perhaps. Banged up, absolutely.
The Jets will face Brady this time with particular issues in the defensive backfield, where rookie cornerback Dee Milliner is questionable to return after missing three games with a hamstring problem.
Another corner, Kyle Wilson, is also questionable thanks to a concussion.
New York held Pittsburgh to 328 total yards last week at home, but generated just 267 of its own while dropping a 19-6 decision - the Steelers' first win of the season.
The Jets have alternated wins and losses through six weeks.
"We have to get better," coach Rex Ryan said, "and that's where our focus is going to be."
The Patriots are in their signature standings spot atop the AFC East Division, which they lead by 1 1/2 games over Miami (3-2) and two over the Jets (3-3). But it's not been without scars.
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is already gone for the season with an Achilles injury and he was joined on the season-long injured reserve when linebacker Jerod Mayo tore a pectoral muscle last week.
Cornerback Aqib Talib is questionable this week with a hip injury, wide receiver Danny Amendola is not expected to play with a concussion and guard Dan Connolly is also questionable with a concussion.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn't played this season and is again listed as questionable as well after multiple offseason surgeries.
"Teams face challenges," Brady said. "It's just really how you deal with them. We've lost some guys, dealt with some issues, like every other team. We're handling them OK."
New England got to 5-1 with some drama last week, when Brady hit rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with a TD pass to beat New Orleans, 30-27, with five seconds to play. The scoring throw in the left corner of the end zone finished a frenetic eight-play, 70-yard march.
"We just knew that it was going to come down to the last minute," Thompkins said. "Until that clock said all zeros on it, we were going to fight."
It's the first of three consecutive weeks facing first-place teams for the Jets, who visit Cincinnati (AFC North) in Week 8 and host New Orleans (NFC South) the following week before a Week 10 bye.
"We'll get a better sense this week," center Nick Mangold said. "We've got a heck of a game coming up. We've got to put some work in to get better. We've already dropped one to them."
The initial Jets-Patriots meeting in Week 2 was a nightmare for rookie QB Geno Smith.
He completed just 15 of 35 passes for 214 yards and threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter of a game New York had put itself in prime position to win. Smith was also sacked four times. Against the Steelers last week - his first home loss - Smith was 19-of-34 for 201 yards and two interceptions.
That maddening effort came six days after Smith had lit up Atlanta with three TD passes in a Monday night road win.
Overall, it's seven TDs and 10 picks for the youngster. This week, he again faces a defense that's surrendered 269.3 yards passing in its last three games and an average of 386.3 yards in total offense.
"I don't tend to use (being a rookie) as the reason behind me making those mistakes," Smith said. "They're just simple mistakes in a game and they've got to be eliminated."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Patriots to exploit holes. New England knows the Jets have a sturdy front line and a solid front seven. What they also know is that New York is banged up in the secondary, with Wilson and Milliner iffy and Antonio Cromartie still feeling the impact of a knee injury that had him less than 100 percent against Pittsburgh. Brady, as is his norm, will no doubt look for the weak links.
The Jets to hope for "Good Geno." As is the case with a lot of rookies, New York's new QB has been very good when he's been good, and borderline embarrassing when he's been bad. The three fourth-quarter INTs in the last game with New England cost the Jets a win, but Smith faces a defense this time that's without its most stout lineman and most prolific linebacker.
In recent years, this series has featured one close game and one blowout each year. New York, buoyed by a competitive game in the initial meeting, will no doubt go home expecting to mirror the closeness and be able to pull out a victory this time.
Unfortunately, this one reads too much like the blowout, given Brady's knack of lighting up defensive backs who are less than 100 percent. Expect that here.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Patriots 35, Jets 19
10/17 13:26:18 ET