In a lot of ways, the Jets are the circus you’ve heard about, on the field and off it.
There’s the Tim Tebow distraction, anonymous quotes in the media, and back-to-back losses to the Dolphins and Seahawks by a combined 58-16 score after the Patriots outlasted the Jets, 29-26, in overtime Oct. 21.
But if the Jets who beat the Rams, 27-13, Sunday take the field at MetLife Stadium Thursday night, the Patriots will get their usual tough matchup from their AFC East rivals.
The Patriots have won three straight against the Jets, and since their 45-3 blowout of New York in 2010, the last four meetings have all been one-score games in the fourth quarter.
Leading up to the Rams game, the Jets (4-6) may have been enduring a firestorm of negative media attention, but coach Rex Ryan’s group didn’t show the usual signs of a team starting to pack it in.
The Jets are still playing extremely hard, especially on defense.
And if there’s one player whom the Patriots will have to account for Thursday night, it’s defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.
The 2011 first-round pick has been terrific this season, especially against the run.
Wilkerson (6 feet 5 inches, 315 pounds) isn’t a dominant pass rusher, but he did have a sack against the Rams, and three of his 14 quarterback hurries, according to profootballfocus.com, came in the first matchup with the Patriots.
New England doubled Wilkerson on about a quarter of his snaps, but he still was able to do some damage.
Wilkerson seemed to have trouble with the Patriots’ quick snaps, and actually didn’t play that well, especially when lined up against left guard Donald Thomas and left tackle Nate Solder.
But Wilkerson is coming off one of his best games of the season, and should be aided by the return of nose tackle Sione Pouha, who did not play against the Patriots.
Catching up with the Jets:
If his first read is open and he’s not pressured much, Mark Sanchez can move the offense. That’s exactly what happened against the Patriots in October. Sanchez completed 68.3 percent of his passes for a season-high 328 yards. Why? The Patriots blitzed him just four times (8.3 percent) and pressured him on a season-low 16.7 percent of his dropbacks. The Rams got pressure against Sanchez just five times Sunday, and he completed 75 percent of his passes. Pressure Sanchez, and he plays poorly. On the five snaps on which the Rams were able to get pressure, Sanchez completed just one pass and was sacked three times . . . As far as his targets, Stephen Hill has really struggled of late with drops and appears to have lost confidence. Former Dolphins pick Clyde Gates has become more involved in the passing game and is speedy. Jeremy Kerley, the Jets’ best weapon, is a game-time decision with leg injuries . . . The Jets still rely on an average run game with the hard-hitting Shonn Greene. Bilal Powell is starting to become a factor, especially in the red zone. Right tackle Austin Howard is still a weak link in a line that has played decently.
The Jets’ defense, if the offense isn’t turning the ball over, has played very well. They’ve had issues against the run as the health of tackles Pouha (back) and Kenrick Ellis (knee) has been a huge factor. Probably the biggest change is that the slot cornerback who did such a good job against Wes Welker in the first matchup, Isaiah Trufant, is now on injured reserve. Ellis Lankster has taken over the role and competes hard. The short week could be tough because Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine may not have enough time to rep the new wrinkles they like to throw at Tom Brady.
The Jets have been terrible on special teams for three straight games. They had a field goal blocked, a fake punt snuffed out, and allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown that was called back on an iffy penalty. Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.