The New England Patriots have disappointed this year, but their misfortunes pale in comparison to the New York Jets’. The team of head coach Adam Gase is entering the regular season finale with a 2-13 record, second worst in the league behind only the 1-14 Jacksonville Jaguars. To get to this point, the Jets have played some bad football.
That said, New York has also done something the Patriots failed to do: win its last two games. Following a 23-20 upset win against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15 — a game that saw them enter as 17.5-point underdogs — the Jets were also able to beat the Cleveland Browns one week later with a final score of 23-16. Yes, those are the same Rams and Browns that are currently well-positioned in the playoff race.
Accordingly, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made not underestimating the 2-13 Jets a point of emphasis during one of his media conference calls earlier this week.
“They played pretty competitively a good part of the year,” Belichick pointed out. “Offensively, they’ve made a lot of progress in terms of consistency. They’ve shown, certainly, good flashes throughout the year in all areas of the game, and they certainly showed it against us down there throwing the ball.”
The first meeting between the Patriots and Jets this season came down to the wire, with New England winning with a final score of 30-27 thanks to a last-second field goal by Nick Folk from 51 yards out. Before that kick, however, New York successfully moved the ball via the air despite having backup quarterback Joe Flacco start in place of an injured Sam Darnold.
Flacco, who is now back on the bench, completed 18 of 25 pass attempts in Week 9 for 262 yards as well as three touchdowns and an interception.
“Darnold’s come in there the last couple weeks and has played pretty error-free,” said Belichick. “They have had a good, competitive running game and the receivers have been productive, starting with [Jamison] Crowder, of course, and [Braxton] Berrios has been productive for them. [Denzel] Mims and [Breshad] Perriman are explosive and have a lot of big-play ability. [Chris] Herndon has started to come on now. He’s played all year, but he’s come on in the passing game, as well, with some good production. ...
“Their skill players are pretty well-balanced. They’re productive across the board. Darnold’s back in the lineup. It looks like he’s gained some confidence and their level of execution has improved.”
For as well as the Jets’ offense has played in Belichick’s eyes, it cannot be denied that the unit is still the least productive in the league in the most important category: points. New York is pretty hit or miss in that category and averaging only 14.7 points per contest.
That said, the Patriots and their 18-point average are not that much better. Accordingly, the unit will be challenged quite a bit versus a Jets defense that has indeed played competitive football at times this year even after the firing of coordinator Gregg Williams.
“This is a pretty disruptive team, especially in the running game — at the top of the league in negative runs and they don’t give up a lot of big plays,” said Belichick. “They’re a good tackling team and they have good team speed, especially at the linebacker position. They pursue hard, their defensive ends or outside linebackers or inside linebackers. Even guys that get through the hole, it’s usually a fairly short gain, and then they offset that with a lot of negative plays.”
Belichick also went on to praise the Jets’ special teams unit, par the course for one of his pre-game press calls. However, the way talked about the Jets’ improvement over the last few weeks still caught the eye: he praised the team and its head coach for how they went from a 0-13 start to back-to-back wins against quality opponents.
Belichick, whose team is expected to field a rather inexperienced squad following a series of transactions over the weekend, will therefore not sleep on a supposedly inferior opponent.
“They have improved all the way through the year in all three phases and played pretty consistently over the last month of the season,” he said. “They could have easily beaten the Raiders and obviously beat a 9-4 Rams team and a 10-4 Browns team. They’re gaining confidence and you can see that their improvement as a team is definitely trending in the right direction.
“I think that’s a real credit to Coach Gase and his staff for the way that they’ve continued to help the team improve and to the players. They’ve played pretty good football here the last few weeks.”