By Brad Carroll
The going doesn't get any easier for the New York Jets this week, as they have to travel to New England to play the Patriots on a short week. Already in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Jets are on the brink of playoff elimination, and if they can't find a way to pull off the upset Thursday night, the final nail in the postseason coffin will have been struck.
The Jets are 10-point underdogs in the game, but those that follow the team know they are never that far off from beating the Patriots. Last year, the Jets lost a Thursday night game on the road, 13-10, in mid-September with Geno Smith throwing three interceptions to end the upset bid. In mid-October, the Jets beat the Patriots 30-27 in overtime at home. In 2011, the Jets beat the host Patriots 28-21 in an AFC divisional playoff game, the biggest game the two teams have played since 2007.
The Patriots definitely have the upper-hand against the Jets, going 7-4 since 2009, but considering New England wins seemingly 11 or 12 or more games every year, that's a solid record for Gang Green.
The hatred is there between the two teams, and the Jets would love nothing more than to start a resurgence this season by beating their biggest rival in their stadium. But the Patriots feel the same way, and would love nothing more than to end the Jets' season early, plus bring Rex Ryan's tenure in New York that much closer to its conclusion.
Here are three keys to a Jets upset Thursday night against New England, a virtual must-win game in Week 7. Read our game predictions here and follow us on Twitter for the latest Jets news and analysis.
Ground The Gronk
Julius Thomas could have been speaking for every tight end in the NFL when he was caught on an end zone mic saying, "It's so fuc-ing easy" after catching a touchdown pass against the Jets last week. The Jets under Rex Ryan have never had an answer when it comes to stopping the opposing tight end. This season the Jets have allowed four touchdowns in the last two games and seven in the last four to tight ends. In Week 3, Martellus Bennett had five receptions for 54 yards and two touchdowns for the Bears. In Week 4, Eric Ebron caught three passes for 34 yards and a touchdown for the Lions. In Week 5, Antonio Gates had four receptions for 60 yards and two scores for the Chargers. Last week, Thomas had four catches for 52 yards and a pair of scores for the Broncos. Now the Jets have to face Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady's favorite target and a player who, like his fellow tight ends, has made a habit of putting up big numbers against the Jets. Last year, Gronkowski caught eight passes for 114 yards in his one game against the Jets, a 30-27 overtime victory by New York. But while those numbers look big, he was actually held in check overall. Antonio Allen did well in coverage on Gronkowski last year, as the tight end was targeted 17 times, coming down with less than half the passes thrown his way. Allen should be put on Gronkowski again Thursday night. The Jets secondary as a whole has to have their best game of the season against New England, especially with Dee Milliner out for the season. It all starts with covering the tight end.
Run The Rock
If the Jets can't run the ball, they're not going to win another game this season. It's as simple as that. Geno Smith isn't good enough to win games with his arm, so Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell must have a big performance against the Patriots. The Jets were horrible running the ball last week against Denver, gaining 31 yards on 15 carries. Take away Smith's two runs, and the Jets three-headed monster in the backfield gained a whopping 20 yards on 13 carries. The Jets didn't have the ball much against Denver, and they were playing from behind in the second half, but there's no excuse for the low rush totals. Giving Ivory eight carries is inexcusable. While the backs have to do better when given the chance, the offensive line has to play a heck of a lot better than they did last week. The line will have a first-time starter in Oday Aboushi at right guard, replacing the injured Brian Winters, who wasn't very good anyway. The Jets don't have to worry about facing Jerod Mayo, who won't play Thursday, but Vince Willfork should line up against Aboushi. The Jets need to at least hold their on at the line of scrimmage and take the pressure off the passing game by running it. If the Jets can rush for more than 100 yards, they will have a chance to win the game.
Don't Get Lost On Revis Island
The last thing Jets fans want to see is Darrelle Revis returning a Smith interception for a touchdown Thursday night. But with Smith playing quarterback, that remains a distinct possibility. The Jets had a chance to bring back Revis in the offseason, as the cornerback's agents sent the Jets a text message expressing their client's interest in returning. The Jets didn't want anything to do with Revis, however, which is pretty much how clueless general manager John Idzik deals with all free agents, and now he's playing for the enemy. Revis most likely will cover Eric Decker, which means Smith is going to have to find David Nelson and Jeremy Kerley on the outside and Jeff Cumberland (where has he been?) and rookie Jace Amaro at tight end. If Smith is going to throw it to Revis Island, he can't be foolish, as a Revis pick could be a devastating blow to the Jets and could end their season in Week 7. But if Smith plays turnover free, and attacks Revis with Decker intelligently, the Jets will be that much closer to an upset. There's no doubt, again, Smith has to play his best game of the year to keep the Jets season alive.