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Patriots struggles add importance for Jets win

Suddenly, the Jets are 5-3 and sitting tied atop the AFC East with a 2-1 mark in the division.

Suddenly, the Jets are 5-3 and sitting tied atop the AFC East with a 2-1 mark in the division.

The Jets control their own destiny and don’t look anything like the team embroiled in a three-game losing streak one month ago.

A win on Sunday over the Patriots would go a long way toward the Jets winning the division and at least hosting a playoff game. The Jets have only won the AFC East twice in their history, most recently in 2002. The Jets universally speak with respect about New England, but these Patriots are also a team in a mess right now, having lost their last two games.

“It happens. They’re not invincible. They’re a great football team, but they’ve got beat by some pretty good teams, as well,” safety Jim Leonhard said. “I don’t think they’re going to panic up in New England, and we’re not going to feel sorry for them either.”

This isn’t the dominant New England team that ran through the regular season with a 14-2 record last year. They’re still searching for an identity, having difficulty on both sides of the ball. The Chad Ochocinco experiment has failed and the defense has been its own worst enemy.

“A team like New England is always going to be hungry. They’re not a team that takes the vulnerable route too easily,” linebacker Aaron Maybin said. “Obviously, anybody that knows anything about football knows that Bill Belichick knows what he’s doing back there. So, from our standpoint, we know that they’re going to be ready to play. We’re not expecting that they’re going to come out sluggish or anything. We know that they want to win just as bad as we do, and we’re going to have to come with our ‘A game.’”

But the key for the Jets is not as much to focus on their rivals up I-95 and their tailspin over the past two weeks as much as it is for them to key in on their own play. New York overcame three rough road games in October to rebound with three big wins, including last Sunday’s 27-11 victory in Buffalo. If the Jets show up and perform the way they have the past three weeks, then they should be able to match the talent of what will be a fired up Patriots team.

Center Nick Mangold credits “execution” for their success over the past three weeks, but Leonhard acknowledges that the team knew that they just had to get out of a funk and start playing their brand of football.

“We’ve known all along that it’s going to come down to November and December. We had our rough patch earlier this year, but we came out of it and now everything’s in front of us,” Leonhard said. “We know we need to play well. They are who they are. They’re a great football team and we need to come out and play well.”

Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.

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