On November 25 and with both teams coming out of their bye week, the New England Patriots traveled to East Rutherford, New Jersey to take on the New York Jets — a game the Patriots won 27-13 after pulling away in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, the two teams will meet for the second time in the last month. But despite the games being this close together, the squads have seen some changes over the last few weeks.
Let’s take a look at the most significant of them:
Sam Darnold is back
When the Jets hosted the Patriots at MetLife Stadium last month, Josh McCown was their starting quarterback as Sam Darnold was out with a foot injury. The first-round rookie has since returned and will play his first game against New England on Sunday. The Patriots better be prepared for the third overall pick of this year’s draft: Darnold completed 65.8% of his pass attempts for a combined 594 yards and five touchdowns over his last two games.
The Patriots’ offensive skill positions have seen some turnover
New England’s leading receiver in late November was Josh Gordon, who caught five passes for 70 yards. With him on the NFL’s suspension list, the Patriots will need to turn to their other wide receivers to provide a starting presence alongside Julian Edelman. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson are the likeliest candidates and they were rather quiet the last time they faced the Jets: Hogan caught two passes for 47 yards, Dorsett two for 10, and Patterson one for -1 yards while also carrying the football five times for 10 yards. Speaking of carrying the football: Rex Burkhead was on injured reserve in week 12 and is now back.
J.C. Jackson emerged as a starting cornerback for New England
The last time the Patriots played the Jets, J.C. Jackson played 21 of 64 defensive snaps. Since then, the undrafted rookie saw his role grow each week to a point at which he can now be considered a starting cornerback. It would therefore not be a surprise if New England used the rookie as the top perimeter cornerback opposite Stephon Gilmore on Sunday, with Jason McCourty primarily lining up in the slot.
Darron Lee is suspended
Linebacker Darron Lee played all 71 of New York’s defensive snaps in late November and finished the game with six combined tackles. However, the former first-round draft pick will not be part of this week’s game: in early December, the NFL suspended Lee for violating the league’s rules against performance enhancing drug. The length of his punishment? Four games, with the final one taking place in two days.
New York has new starters at running back and offensive tackle
In late November, Isaiah Crowell started as the Jets’ running back and finished the game with a combined nine touches for 60 yards. Meanwhile, right tackle Brandon Shell went wire-to-wire as the top option at the right tackle spot. Now, both men are on injured reserve: while Crowell hurt his toe two weeks ago, Shell is was moved to the list last week with a knee injury. Elijah McGuire and Brent Qvale will play at running back and right tackle, respectively, with the original starters out.
The Patriots’ special teams unit receives a boost
The first game between the two clubs saw the Patriots focus on slowing down dangerous returnman Andre Roberts. Overall, the Pro Bowler was allowed to run back just three kicks — one punt for one yard, two kickoffs for 52 yards — as New England kicked and covered well. And now, the group will receive a boost: Nate Ebner, one of the best special teamers in the NFL, is back after missing the week 12 contest due to a knee injury.