The Patriots and Jets are on an even playing field at least when it comes to fatigue this week. Both teams are working on three days rest and both teams faced big challenges this past Sunday. The Jets were at home, but had to face the dominant Broncos. They lost, 31-17. The Patriots were facing the perfectly average Bills, but had to grab their 37-22 win on the road. Thursday night games have been historically sloppy in the NFL, and there’s little reason to believe the game film of tonight’s game (8:25 p.m., CBS) will be sent to Canton, Ohio. But the Pats aren’t interested in style points. They’re simply interested in dismissing their 1-5 rival and in moving to 5-2 on the season themselves. A few things to keep tabs on:
Rex's last stand
Rex Ryan isn’t as brash, the overall talent on the roster is no longer at an elite level and the Jets are back to playing the role of the NFL’s circus clown. Yup, the Patriots-Jets rivalry is back to being a rivalry basically in name only, because New York isn’t living up to its end of the bargain.
Since they upset the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the 2010 divisional round, New York has gone 23-32 under Ryan. Five of those 32 losses have come from their neighbors to the North and the Jets have won just one game against the Pats since the 2010 playoff game. New York actually won the last Pats-Jets meeting, a 30-27 nail-biter at the Meadowlands on Oct. 20, 2013, thanks – in large part – to a questionable “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty on Chris Jones. Despite all of their struggles over the past few years, Ryan’s Jets average at least one good game against the Pats each fall.
“[Ryan] tests every part of your game,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “I do have a lot of respect for that from a coaching standpoint, that he challenges you and when he feels like he has you on something he sticks with it. We’ve had our share of good games and he’s had his share of good games. It makes for a great matchup. They’re a great rivalry and we’ve had a lot of meaningful games against them. Ever since I got here it’s always a lot of fun playing the Jets, so this week will be no different.”
The Jets nearly beat the Pats at Gillette early in 2013 as well, falling 13-10. That game was on a rainy Thursday night. Thursday's short-week-tilt is also expected to have some weather issues, with rain in the forecast.
Another QB feast for Patriots 'D'
The Patriots haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of quarterbacks early in the season. They’ve seen Ryan Tannehill, Matt Cassel, Derek Carr, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton and Kyle Orton thus far. None of them were able to crack the 300-yard mark against the Patriots’ defense and only Smith and Dalton were able to register a QB rating over 100. Stunningly, Jets quarterback Geno Smith will be – statistically – the worst QB the Pats have faced thus far as the second-year man out of West Virginia is averaging just 189.8 yards per game through the air. That’s 34th worst in the league among quarterbacks.
The Pats are giving up just 208.5 yards through the air this season, the third-best mark in the league.
New England’s pass defense should feast while it can, because it will be facing some Pro Bowl caliber arms soon enough in Peyton Manning (Nov. 2), Andrew Luck (Nov. 16), Matthew Stafford (Nov. 23), Aaron Rodgers (Nov. 30) and Philip Rivers (Dec. 7).
Backing Gronk and Brady
Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady are both back to shredding defenses after slow starts in 2014. Brady has targeted No. 87 a combined 20 times in the past two weeks and it’s no coincidence that it has resulted in two big Patriots victories.
Gronkowski caught a season-high seven balls against the Bills last Sunday and finished with 94 yards receiving. So far this season, “Gronk” has touchdown receptions in four of six games.
While the tight end and quarterback are surely now on the same page, both players did take a physical beating against the Bills, and the Patriots would surely welcome some offensive help on such a quick turnaround.
Shane Vereen will likely get double-digit carries for the first time this season and Brandon Bolden, James White and/or Jonas Gray will also see some action in the New England running game. The Jets run defense certainly ain’t what it used to be and can’t – to borrow a familiar Jets phrase – stop a nose bleed. Denver’s Ronnie Hillman ran for 100 yards against New York last Sunday and San Diego’s Branden Oliver torched the Jets for 114 yards in Week 5.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter: @BurkeMetroBOS