The Patriots and Jets haven’t seen each other in 11 months — since New England left MetLife Stadium with a 37-16 triumph over their rivals that for all intents and purposes ended the AFC East race Nov. 13 — and much has changed for the Jets.
They have seven new starters, from attrition and injury.
The biggest losses have been All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and receiver Santonio Holmes.
The Jets basically have a new secondary since the last matchup, with former nickel back Kyle Wilson stepping in for Revis, and free agent veterans Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry at safety. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie is the lone holdover, and former Bills draft pick Ellis Lankster, who was in the CFL last season, is the new nickel back.
Linebacker Bryan Thomas, who was on injured reserve last season, has returned to his starting role despite being released at one point.
Offensively, Jeremy Kerley and Chaz Schilens have replaced Holmes and the unsigned Plaxico Burress. Austin Howard has replaced Wayne Hunter at right tackle.
Oh, and the Jets traded for some punt protector named Tim Tebow.
Despite the final score, the last matchup between the two 5-3 teams was a struggle — especially offensively, as it always is when Rex Ryan schemes for Tom Brady — for much of the game.
The Patriots had their lead cut to 23-16 early in the fourth quarter before two scores — including a 12-yard interception return by Rob Ninkovich — made it a laugher.
A look at the Jets:
With backups Bilal Powell (shoulder) and Joe James McKnight (ankle) hurting, running back Shonn Greene is going to have to carry the ball even more. Coming off a career-high 161 yards in a 35-9 win over the Colts (the Jets had 252 rushing yards total), Greene should be ready. The ground-and-pound was back under new coordinator, and former Dolphins coach, Tony Sparano. The Jets prefer to run with two tight ends, Dustin Keller (who returned after missing the first five games) and Jeff Cumberland. Greene is at his best between the tackles, and is more elusive than defenders think. He might have turned a corner. He is not afraid of contact. Greene must run well because the Jets, who will put three players in the backfield, still can’t count on quarterback Mark Sanchez. He’s still wildly inconsistent (career-low 49.7 completion percentage) with a few moments of stellar play. Expect the Jets to take some shots down the field to the 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound Schilens and impressive, if slow developing, second-round pick Stephen Hill, and underneath to the speedy Kerley. Tebow will get a few packages but has been ineffective. On the line, center Nick Mangold is back healthy and stellar. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson is still good but no longer elite. Left guard Matt Slauson, right guard Brandon Moore, and Howard have had their struggles, especially the latter.
Ryan’s scheme, coordinated by Mike Pettine, is still the same despite the new secondary. The front seven, which can look old at times, is intact. The most impressive player has been 2011 first-round left end Muhammad Wilkerson. He’s outstanding against the run, and shows flashes in the pass rush. Tackle Mike DeVito is hard to move against the run, but nose tackle Sione Po’uha doesn’t seem to be as effective as he has been in the past. First-round pick Quinton Coples is a physical specimen but questions still abound about his motor. All of the linebackers — Thomas, Bart Scott, David Harris, Calvin Pace, and pass rusher Aaron Maybin — are on the downside individually. However, they still run Ryan’s different pressure concepts very well and can cause confusion. In the secondary, Cromartie is excellent when he’s focused but the others are suspect and will likely be targeted by the Patriots.
It will be interesting to see who returns kickoffs with McKnight out. It will likely be Cromartie, who can be boom or bust. Kerley takes the punts. Punter Robert Malone is on his fifth NFL team and is inconsistent. Nick Folk is 7 of 7 on field goals with a long of 39 yards.