What was chalked up a week ago as a sure “L” for the Jets suddenly seems like a winnable game. The Jets are still underdogs, but the odds are certainly not what they were just a few days ago.
Sunday’s 18-17 dramatic win over the Buccaneers was more than just a Week 1 squeaker. It reinvigorated the franchise from top to bottom. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Jets, but with a rookie starting quarterback and a revamped defense, suddenly this team believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
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It is clear the supposed experts who said this team had the inside track on the 2014 No. 1 pick didn’t know what they were talking about.
Three things to watch for ...
1. Beat-up Pats
New England is a bit of a mess right now. Tight end Aaron Hernandez, of course, is currently a resident of the U.S. penitentiary system following murder charges. Rob Gronkowski, one of the best tight ends in the game, is likely out for this game with an injury. Wide receiver Danny Amendola is out with a groin injury and running back Shane Vereen was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return on Tuesday. Suddenly, the Patriots’ once-potent offense is lacking playmakers for quarterback Tom Brady to throw to.
“With us, we’re just focused on our team. Obviously, we’ve got to defend against them,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “Does it make a difference if you don’t have Gronkowski or somebody? Of course. But it’s a team game. As long as they have Tom Brady back there and [head coach Bill] Belichick on the sideline and big Vince [Wilfork] in the middle of their defense, they’re probably pretty stout.”
Stout, yes, but vulnerable? Maybe.
2. Winslow’s emergence
Tight end Kellen Winslow looks like a very nice free-agent signing. In Sunday’s Week 1 win, Winslow was the most-targeted player by quarterback Geno Smith, with seven receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. His success shouldn’t be a huge surprise as the tight end is a crucial outlet in the West Coast offense.
Winslow isn’t as explosive as he was a few years ago, leaving Ryan to ask on Tuesday, “Is he as good as he once was? Maybe not, but he’s pretty darn good.”
And that’s what the Jets are counting on Thursday night. If Winslow can simply help to keep the chains moving, then the Jets can control the clock and keep the ball out of the Patriots’ hands.
“When its clutch time and it’s time to make a play, that’s what I live for man. That’s what it’s all about,” Winslow said. “I don’t want to let these guys down and vice versa. That’s what it’s all about.”
3. Rush hour
When the Jets beat the Patriots on the road in the playoffs during the 2010 season, the pass rush generated on Brady was key to the game. Brady said this week that the Jets defense “present a lot of challenges, defensively especially — a lot of alignments, looks, coverages.” A huge part of the game plan in that playoff win was Shaun Ellis, who rushed from the edge effectively. Now the Jets have book-end edge rushers in Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson who can do the same thing.
“Yeah, I think we have some guys that can rush the passer,” Ryan said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt. Conventional or otherwise, it’s always key to try to get a pass rush.”
If the Jets can generate a good rush from their defensive line, then they can drop their linebackers into coverage to further confuse Brady.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.