The Patriots managed to squeak out a victory at home against the Jets and it seems as if most people are disappointed with the result. Just keep in mind that of the past five regular season games between New England and the Jets, including last night, four have been decided by three or fewer points. This is the norm- Rex always has his Jets ready to play in New England and then they are inconsistent for the rest of the year.
This isn't a barometer for the Patriots. This doesn't mean New England is only slightly better than a 1-6 team (albeit one that's faced a gauntlet of great teams). It means that the Patriots came off a short week, without their top running back and their defensive playcaller and captain, and they earned a divisional win.
Thanks to Thursday Night Football, the Patriots now have an extra couple of days to recover before hosting the Chicago Bears at 1:00pm on Sunday the 26th. Here are a few storylines to track during the long week:
1) Healing hands: Hopefully safety Nate Ebner and tackle Cameron Fleming can heal and become active members of the roster again. They've missed extensive time and haven't even practiced due to finger injuries. Hopefully, at the least, Ebner can return to practice and see time on a special teams unit that has definitely missed his presence.
2) Back in shape: Brandon Browner admit that he was gassed during the game against the Jets and having more time back in action will do wonders for his performance. Sure, he was penalized a couple times, but he also didn't see a single target in his direction. Those penalties are more forgiving when he shuts down the receiver.
3) Strengthing depth: Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have missed the past two games due to concussions (Connolly was injured early in Sunday's game against the Bills). As a result, the Patriots have moved from two quality interior linemen and have been featuring Josh Kline, who saw snaps for the first real time all season, and Jordan Devey, who was benched for his performance earlier in the year. Connolly, Stork, and Ryan Wendell combine to provide the best interior option for the Patriots and hopefully they two missing Patriots will pass their concussion protocol tests to strengthen the line.
On the defensive side, Rob Ninkovich has been playing tired, Chandler Jones and Dominique Easley are playing injured, and Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower are nicked up. Add in extra time to heal Devin McCourty's rib issues and hopefully all six will be back to peak form after this extended break.
4) Improved communication: The Patriots were thrust into a tough situation without Jerod Mayo. Hightower is a capable middle linebacker, but there are clear differences in roles and expectations. With a full week of practice as the playcaller, hopefully Hightower and the defense can be more organized and more suitable as tacklers.
5) Roster moves: Look for the Patriots to move Chris Barker back to the practice squad once Connolly and Stork are cleared. The team needs to flush out its depth at both defensive end and linebacker, so don't be surprised by a mid-week signing at either position. Even after Barker moves back to the practice squad, there will be an open spot to fill; look for a road grading running back in the mold of Jonas Gray or Stevan Ridley to fill that for the sake of depth.