Welcome to Season 8, Episode 3 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-yet-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup.
I’ll admit it: I’m not quite sure what to make of the Jets. Oh, I know they’re lousy, and they’re already battered with injuries and ailments, with Luke Falk set to become their third starter at quarterback in three games. If he gets hurt, I believe this means Richard Todd would start in two weeks against the Eagles after the bye, with Glenn Foley moving up to second on the depth chart.
But they’re not at that 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers/2008 Detroit Lions/2019 Miami Dolphins level of lousy. And while the Patriots have been a ruthless machine on both offense and defense — they’re averaging 36.5 points per game, and allowing 1.5, which I’m not even sure is plural — it seems steep for Las Vegas to have them favored by 22 points as of Thursday afternoon.
Yeah, the Patriots would have covered a 42-point spread against the Dolphins, but half of Miami’s players were probably texting their agents to get them the heck out of there from the huddle.
The Jets have the same record as the Dolphins (0-2), and while coach Adam Gase’s default expression is that of a man who has witnessed horrors he cannot unsee, there’s some semblance of competence here, some useful pieces on the roster.
Le’Veon Bell, back from a self-inflicted one-year holdout/hiatus that got him moved from the Steelers to the Jets, still looks like the same dual-threat running back that was always superb against the rest of the league but fairly mediocre against the Patriots. He had 129 total yards in the 23-3 loss to the Browns Monday night.
The defense, led by Bountygate — I’m using this following term loosely — mastermind and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, has bounced around the Bills’ Josh Allen and the Browns’ Baker Mayfield in the first two weeks. They will get after Tom Brady, who was on the injury report this week with a calf injury.
There are some compelling ex-Patriots ties, including receivers Braxton Berrios and Demaryius Thomas, who had one catch for minus-1 yard in his debut last week.
As for the Patriots, well, how many synonyms for dominant can you come up with? In the season’s small sample so far, they appear to have their best offense since 2007, their best defense since 2004, and they’re ranked first in the league in both. It should all add up to a lovely and satisfying Sunday afternoon at Gillette.
Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this one started . . .
THREE PLAYERS I’LL BE WATCHING NOT NAMED TOM BRADY
Jamal Adams — A 13-year-old video on YouTube titled “NY Jets Draft Blunders” has more than 1.7 million views and nearly that many laughs contained within. The best one might be when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, announcing the Jets’ first-round pick in the 1983 draft, offers a pregnant pause after he says, “The Jets take, with their first-round selection, quarterback . . . ” For a moment, Jets fans must have been certain they were getting a certain gunslinger from Pitt named Dan Marino. But Rozelle continues: “ . . . Ken O’Brien, from California-Davis.” It’s so hilarious you can almost forget the Patriots took Tony Eason over Marino in the same draft.
Anyway, I bring this up because — well, because it’s a riot — but also to acknowledge that the Jets have gotten it right in the first round more often recently, especially with their selection of Adams with the No. 6 pick in 2017 out of LSU. He lived up to his reputation as a rangy defender and fearless hitter last year, with 115 tackles, 12 passes defensed, and 3½ sacks.
There’s still time for the Jets to mess this up, though. He was benched for the final five plays of the Browns game after incurring two straight penalties, and he also picked up a fine for a roughing-the-passer penalty that led to him tweeting this:
“This league is a damn joke!”I just got fined $21k for this hit [he included the video of him hitting Mayfield as he threw]. I signed up to play football not two hand touch. Bulls--t! I don’t give a damn about these soft rules protecting QBs. Im gonna play MY brand of football everytime I step on the field. SMH.”
Kind of reminds you of Rodney Harrison, doesn’t he? Although Harrison never drilled a rival’s mascot, that we know of.
Luke Falk — Falk, the second-year quarterback who followed Gase from Miami to the Jets in the offseason, was adequate against the Browns given the circumstances. He came in for the injured Trevor Siemian, who was starting for the ailing Sam Darnold, and completed 20 of 25 passes for 198 yards in his NFL debut, without a touchdown or an interception. The Jets didn’t ask him to do too much, and he obliged.
The most interesting thing about Falk is his draft status, at least relative to our interests around here. He was taken out of Washington State by the Titans with the 199th pick in the 2018 draft.
The last full-time quarterback taken with the 199th pick in a draft? Right, Tom Brady, in 2000, by the Patriots. How did you know that?
(Texans backup QB Joe Webb was the 199th pick in 2010 by the Vikings, but he was listed as a wide receiver at the time.)
The best player taken with the 199th pick since Brady is probably offensive lineman Charlie Johnson, who played 134 games from 2006-14 with the Colts and Vikings after being drafted in 2006. Modestly accomplished third-down back Theo Riddick was the 199th pick by the Lions in 2013.
One other note on Falk and the Jets’ QB situation: This week, with Siemian going on injured reserve, the Jets signed David Fales as a backup. Fales? That has to be the most Jets name for a quarterback imaginable, unless there’s some guy named Steve Buttfumble hanging around the fringes of the league that I’m unaware of.
Jamie Collins — There’s something satisfying about the versatile veteran linebacker’s return to the Patriots beyond the results, which have been excellent. Collins had two interceptions against the Dolphins, including one returned 69 yards for a touchdown. He has 12 tackles this season, a half-sack, two passes defensed, and two quarterback hits, numbers that confirm that he has been all over the field.
But it’s more than that. Collins, who began his career with the Patriots as a second-round pick in 2013, emerged as perhaps the most athletic linebacker they’ve had since Andre Tippett, but he was also somewhat enigmatic, making a phenomenal play one moment and then disappearing for long stretches.
The Patriots traded Collins to the Browns midway through the 2016 season, a shocking deal at the time (though not as shocking as the Jimmy Garoppolo deal at the same point the following season). Collins got big bucks with the Browns, and seemed content to be freed from the Patriots’ disciplined way of doing things. I don’t know if he got humbled in Cleveland — playing for the Browns has a way of doing that — or if he matured, but the player who has returned to the Patriots seems to have all of those ridiculous talents still intact, with a new appreciation for this particular situation.
Bill Belichick doesn’t seem to hold grudges with players who part acrimoniously — he brought Deion Branch back, he’s on great terms with Ty Law, and now Collins has returned, and he’s everything he was always supposed to be. Awfully fun, isn’t it?
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK
I have four miniature gripes this week. I am annoyed with . . .
■ Anyone who conveniently forgets the big kicks Stephen Gostkowski has made whenever he has a rare lousy day, which he did Sunday against the Dolphins, with a missed field goal and two missed extra points. No, he hasn’t hit any Super Bowl-winning kicks like Adam Vinatieri. But he hit one in February that clinched the Super Bowl, drilling a 41-yarder with 1 minute 12 seconds left to increase the Patriots’ lead to 13-3. No one will ever be Vinatieri (glad he didn’t retire Monday, as was the rumor, after his own lost Sunday last week). But Gostkowski has been as reliable as we have a right to expect a kicker to be in his 14 seasons since replacing Vinatieri. We’ve really forgotten what a mediocre kicker looks like around here.
■ Anyone who suggests an NFL team should sign Tim Tebow before mentioning Colin Kaepernick. Obviously, Kaepernick isn’t getting another shot — the league is just running out the clock on him now. But he was very good once, near winning a Super Bowl. Tebow had a streak of remarkable luck, but he was never actual good. Also, I’d bet Kaepernick, who was drafted as a pitcher by the Cubs out of high school, is a better baseball player than Tebow, who slashed .163/.240/.255 for the Mets’ Triple A team in Syracuse this season. Yeah, that’s why you stopped reading those “when will the Mets call him up?” stories.
■ Anyone who thinks Eli Manning is a lock for the Hall of Fame. He deserves consideration for his performances in the Giants’ two Super Bowl victories over the Patriots. But he was also a .500 quarterback who never led the league in anything but interceptions (he did that three times). He was Jim Plunkett with better job security, and if he wasn’t a Manning on a New York team, we wouldn’t be talking about this right now. Drew Bledsoe was a better quarterback.
■ Anyone who thinks Jalen Ramsey is a better cornerback than Stephon Gilmore. Fortunately, that group at this point seems to consist of Jalen Ramsey.
PREDICTION, OR WESLEY WALKER WAS A POOR MAN’S STANLEY MORGAN
The big question is not whether the Patriots will beat the Jets. They will, for the seventh straight time overall, the ninth straight time at home, and the 30th time (playoffs included) since Bill Belichick came to New England after his brief stint as HC of the NYJ. The Jets haven’t won at Gillette since the 2010 AFC divisional-round game, and they haven’t beaten the Patriots in regulation at any venue since then. (Their two victories since the 2010 playoffs have come in overtime.)
The big question is whether the Jets will score the first touchdown the Patriots have allowed this season. Let’s grant them that, with Bell getting one long after the outcome is decided. Patriots 41, Jets 10.
Patriots offensive line vs. Jets pass rush
We’d love to be more specific, but such is the state of the Patriots’ offensive line that it’s tough to identify the individual matchups right now. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn went on injured reserve this past week after suffering a toe injury against the Dolphins, while right tackle Marcus Cannon, who missed the Dolphins game with a shoulder injury, remains on the injury report. The Patriots had to shuffle their tackles during the Dolphins game when Wynn went down, moving Marshall Newhouse, an eight-year veteran who was added to the active roster Sept. 11, from right tackle to left tackle, and sliding Korey Cunningham, acquired in a trade Aug. 29 from the Cardinals, in at right tackle. Ted Karras has done a capable job filling in at center for David Andrews, but at some point the attrition becomes a serious concern, and right now it’s hardly the continuity the Patriots had a year ago, when just three line combinations were used over the course of the season. The Jets, who under Williams are avid blitzers from all over the field, are not the ideal team against which to be trying to figure out line combinations, and New York does have some high-end talent on the line in former top-10 picks Leonard Williams and Quinnen Williams. The Patriots will score plenty of points, but they need to limit the lumps Brady takes against the aggressive Jets. This would be a fine week for the Patriots’ thus far mediocre running game to take some of the pressure, literally and figuratively, off Brady.