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A world of difference in Patriots-Jets II

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  November 11, 2011 09:58 AM

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The standards in Foxborough have been different for quite some time, of course, so maybe that is why it feels now, at 5-3, as if the Patriots season is slipping away. New England is on pace for 10 wins. The New York Jets await. And any remaining hope for a deep playoff run may be at stake in a renewal of the Border War on Sunday night.

So while we're on the topic, let's all agree on something.

The Patriots currently have far more to worry about at the moment than their ongoing power struggle with Rex Ryan and the Jets.

This week, New England's season might be on the line.

Five weeks after a 30-21 New England victory in Foxborough, the Patriots and Jets will cross paths again this week again while heading in opposite directions. When the Jets left Foxborough last month, they had lost three straight to fall to 2-3 while the Patriots were 4-1. Now the teams are tied. New York's next three games are against Denver (on the road), Buffalo (at home) and Washington (on the road), and one suddenly cannot help but get the feeling that if the Jets overtake the Patriots this weekend, they may overtake them for good.

Simply put, the Patriots seem to be deteriorating while the Jets seem to be improving, particularly on a defense again creeping into the league's elite.

"We didn't play well at very many positions," Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told reporters this week when asked about his unit's performance against the Patriots in October. "The guys, especially up front, those guys look at [the film] and said, 'Who is that imposter wearing my jersey?' There were a bunch of guys that I think felt that way.

"That's not us and that's not what we are now," Pettine continued. "That's one of the reasons we feel good about this week. We feel we're a different team. We're much improved over that performance."

Meanwhile, the Patriots are not.

How have things changed in the last month? Since allowing 30 points to New England on Oct. 9, the Jets have surrendered the fewest points per game in the league at 12.7, a number that includes an interception return by San Diego linebacker Donal Butler against the New York offense on Oct. 23. This has coincided with a period during which the Patriots have averaged a mere 19 points, a figure that places New England 22d in the league over the last month.

Translation: the Jets have been reclaiming the core of their identity while the Patriots have been losing theirs, all of which gives the Patriots an enormous opportunity on "Football Night in America."

What if the Patriots can win this game?

What if Bill Belichick and Tom Brady can thwart Rex Ryan for the first time in three tries at the Meadowlands?

What could that mean for a team that appears to now have problems on offense, defense and special teams?

Indeed, for all of the lamenting about New England's defense in recent years, the Patriots find themselves approaching a spin similar to that of 2009. New England's offense looks soft against aggressive, physical defenses. The Patriots rank a dreadful 30th among the 32 NFL teams in kickoff returns. The defense ranks 20th in scoring, 28th in third-down conversion percentage, 32d (dead last) in passing yards allowed. Halfway through the season, one year after finishing an absurd plus-28 in turnover differential, the Patriots of 2011 are at even par.

Oh, and did we mention that Tom Brady is on pace for a career-high 20 interceptions, his current total of 10 tied for third-most in the league?

Scary stuff there.

In some ways, it makes you wonder how the Pats have won five games.

Here's the good news: in December, the New England schedule is softer than a Snuggie. Before closing with a home game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 (on New Year's Day), the Patriots will face Indianapolis (at home), Washington (road), Denver (road) and Miami (home). Combined entering this week, those clubs are a putrid 7-26 and have been outscored by a stunning 270 points.

All of that brings us back to this week's meetings against the Jets, a game that obvious implications on the division and conference. And yet, for the Patriots, it means so much more than that. Thus far, New England's only victories against winning teams this season have come against the Oakland Raiders and Jets, the latter win taking place in Foxboro. Now the teams are set to meet again in the Meadowlands.

The Jets, as Pettine noted, are looking at this game as a chance to prove themselves following the affair in Foxboro.

But when you get right down to it, isn't it a chance for the Patriots to do the same?

Tony's Top 5

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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