Last Sunday, late in the Jets-Cowboys game airing on CBS, analyst Tony Romo did something the Patriots themselves have frequently done over the years: turned the Jets into a punchline.
“The Jets are 0-4,’’ said Romo. “I think they can catch New England.’’
After a brief deadpan pause, Romo confirmed his obvious sarcasm: “Nah, I’m kidding. C’mon. New England might not lose this year.’’
Of course, it turned out that the joke was on Romo, who spent 13 seasons with the Cowboys. The Jets, led by second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, upset Romo’s former team, 24-22, for their first win.
Romo’s comment that the Patriots might not lose this year remains in play. They had improved to 6-0 with a 35-14 victory over the Giants Thursday night that had a higher degree of difficulty than the final score indicated.
But this also should be clear, to Romo and anyone else who has been paying attention over the last few weeks: The Jets are capable of giving the Patriots a legitimate battle Monday night. Yes, those Jets.
The Patriots feature a defense that is playing at a historic level, having allowed 27 points in six games, or 4.5 per game. (The Patriots in total have allowed 48 points, but 14 have come on fumble returns and 7 more came on the Jets’ Jamal Adams’s 61-yard interception return of a Jarrett Stidham pass in Week 3.) This defense took apart the Jets in the previous meeting, allowing just 105 total yards.
The Patriots also lead the league in points (31.7 per game), but that total includes three touchdowns by the defense and two more by special teams. The reality is that the Patriots’ offense has struggled for prolonged stretches since the Jets held them to 10 points in the second half in Week 3.
Maybe Romo is right. Maybe the Patriots will go undefeated. But they can’t overlook games like this one, against a Jets team that has its talented young quarterback healthy and has a satisfying win to build upon.
Kick it off, Bailey, and let’s get this thing started . . .
Three players I’ll be watching not named Tom Brady
: The veteran receiver made headlines Thursday when he told the New York Daily News his stay with the Patriots was a “waste of time.’’ As tempting as it might be for some fans to say, “Too bad, fella,’’ it’s actually pretty easy to sympathize with him. First of all, he’s gone from being a Patriot to a Jet, which is a sad fate for any football player. Second, while Thomas wasn’t in New England long — the five-time 1,000-yard receiver was signed in April after splitting last season between Denver and Houston — he did prove that he really wanted to be here. After the Patriots cut him on the final roster trim to 53 players, rather than signing with another team, he waited for some roster reshuffling to open a spot in New England and returned two days later. But eight days after his return, the Patriots signed Brown, and Thomas was cut. Thomas is a veteran — he’s in his 10th season — and he knows there’s no room for sentiment in the NFL. But his frustration is justified, even if the Patriots also were justified in believing it was the right football move at the time. The Patriots could use him now — Brown was such a disaster that he lasted all of 11 days, and the team is shorthanded at receiver with Phillip Dorsett, Josh Gordon, and Julian Edelman banged up to some degree. Thomas has been decent with the Jets — he has eight catches for 109 yards in the last two games, including four for 62 yards in their win over Dallas. He’ll be looking for some vengeance against his brief employer this week.
Sam Darnold: Well, that was impressive. After missing the last three games — all losses — after contracting mononucleosis, Darnold made his first appearance since the season opener last Sunday and promptly reminded everyone why he’s the most promising young Jets quarterback since . . . I don’t know, Chad Pennington? Pre-butt-fumble Mark Sanchez? Let’s just say it’s been awhile since the Jets had such hope at quarterback. Darnold, just 22, completed 23 of 32 passes for 338 yards — including a 92-yarder to Robby Anderson — in the upset win over the Cowboys. The Anderson play was one of two passing TDs for Darnold, and while he did have an interception, the performance was good enough to earn him AFC Player of the Week honors. Darnold struggled in his only appearance against the Patriots during his rookie season last year, going 16 for 28 for 167 yards in a 38-3 loss in Week 17. But he is an enormous upgrade over Luke Falk, who threw for just 98 yards in the Patriots’ Week 3 win this season. There’s a long way to go, but Darnold has a chance to develop into the best quarterback the Patriots have faced in the AFC East since . . . well, I guess it was Pennington, which tells you that the bar shouldn’t be too tough to clear.
Benjamin Watson: Fun fact: There are three remaining players in the NFL from the Patriots’ 2004 Super Bowl team. Tom Brady, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, and Watson . . . that is, presuming Watson makes his season debut Monday night. He should. With Matt LaCosse dealing with a knee injury and Ryan Izzo struggling mightily as a blocker, Watson, 38, should play his first game as a Patriot since the 2009 season. He left for the Browns as a free agent after that season, Rob Gronkowski arrived, and now with Gronk in retirement, Watson comes back to bookend the career of the greatest tight end in league history. That’s kind of cool, though the first-round pick in 2004 has had some starts and stops in this return to the Patriots — a suspension for violating the league’s banned substances policy (while in a brief retirement) cost him the first four games, the Patriots cut him once he was ready to return, with Bill Belichick saying there was no roster spot. There is now, and there’s a chance for Watson, who had 35 catches for 400 yards for the Saints last year, to actually help. Watson was inconsistent and sometimes maddening as a young player — mechanical might be a better word — but he’s become a steady, respected pro who could be an upgrade on what they already have at tight end.
Grievance of the week
It was tempting this week to complain about the debacle that is the new challenge system on pass interference calls and the ineptitude of NFL officiating as a whole. But that’s a greatest hit that the band is long tired of playing, to be honest. I do find myself marveling at how any time the NFL changes a rule or tries to clarify something it gets worse. (I’m still not sure what constitutes a catch at this point.) Sometimes I think professional sports should just ditch replay altogether — it wouldn’t solve the issue of bumbling officials and umpires that are way overdue for a trip to LensCrafters, but the games would be shorter and have more flow. But then I think about the magnitude of the migraine that all of this must cause Roger Goodell, and suddenly challenging pass interference calls doesn’t seem like that bad of an idea. There’s got to be some way to blame this NBA/China mess on him.
So the official grievance is this: an Adam Schefter tweet. Within a tweet about how everyone — Jalen Ramsey, the Rams, and the Jaguars — was a winner in the deal that sent the malcontent cornerback to Los Angeles, the king of the NFL news breakers and nugget traders shared an opinion that was as wrong as Joe Namath in a Rams jersey:
More like win-win-just-wait-a-minute-there-Schefty. The best cornerback in the game is on the opposite coast of Ramsey and the Rams. Unless Stephon Gilmore was part of that trade, it had nothing to do with the best cornerback in the NFL.
The stats back up Gilmore’s superiority to Ramsey — and that’s without considering what a detriment Ramsey’s personality can be. Gilmore has allowed 16 completions on the 34 passes thrown his way this season (47 percent). He has not allowed a touchdown but has an interception return for a TD. The passer rating, per pro-football-reference, of quarterbacks throwing in his direction this year is 40.6
Ramsey’s stats? He’s allowed 15 completions in 22 targets (68.2 percent), with a touchdown, no interceptions, and a 101.9 passer rating. And if you’ll recall, Gilmore, soft-spoken but proud, had a memorably casual takedown of Ramsey on The Sports Hub’s “Bertrand and Zolak’’ show last October. When asked about Ramsey talking trash about other players, Gilmore replied, “It’s his personality. That’s not my style, but I find a lot of guys that talk are mostly zone guys so they have a lot of energy to do that.’’
“Mostly zone guys?’’ Gilmore doesn’t get burned, but he sure knows how to deliver a good burn.
Funny thing is the Rams, having seen what Gilmore did to them in the Super Bowl, already know they’re acquiring the second-best cornerback — at best — in the NFL. The best one resides in New England, where he helps hoard Lombardi Trophies.
Julian Edelman vs. assorted Jets defensive backs
Jets coach Adam Gase was quick to acknowledge the truth Thursday during a conference call with the New England media. “I’ve seen him play so much,’’ said Gase, who is in his first year with the Jets after spending the last two with the Dolphins, “and he’s worked over some of the teams I’ve been on before.’’
That includes Week 3, when Edelman had seven catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ 30-14 win despite suffering a chest injury that kept him out for the second half.
Last season, Edelman missed the Patriots’ first game with Gase’s Dolphins while suspended for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. But in Week 14, he had nine catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ weird 34-33 loss.
Including Gase’s time as offensive coordinator of the Broncos, Edelman has averaged eight catches for 95 yards and a touchdown in seven games against the Jets coach, and he’s never had fewer than seven receptions in a game against a Gase team. While pinning it on the Jets’ head coach is somewhat misleading — Gregg Williams oversees the Jets’ defense — it is proof, confirmed by Gase himself, that his teams have done nothing to stall the engine of the Patriots’ offense.
In Week 3, Edelman scored his touchdown with Darryl Roberts, a former seventh-round pick of the Patriots, in single coverage. Given the limitations of the Patriots’ passing game right now, Edelman is as essential as he has ever been. It would be wise of the Jets to throw as many resources — including consistent help from safeties Marcus Maye and Adams — as possible at stopping him. But as Gase knows well, slowing Edelman, let alone stopping him, is easier said than done.
Prediction, or the Jets know deep down they never deserved Curtis Martin
I believe the Patriots will solve their inconsistency issues on offense, even if it requires a trade for a lineman or a receiver before the Oct. 29 deadline. But I don’t think a quick remedy is found this week. Sony Michel has 177 yards over the last two weeks, but he’s averaging just 3.5 yards per carry this season — and the Jets are tied for fourth in the league against the run, allowing 3.5 yards per carry. Their pass defense has allowed the 12th-most yards in the league, but they’ve given up just five touchdowns. Those numbers are solid, if not quite in the range of the Patriots’ truly phenomenal stats (they already have 25 sacks and 14 interceptions, and quarterbacks have a minuscule 42.6 rating against them). The Patriots have won eight straight against the Jets, the last loss coming at MetLife Stadium in December 2015, 26-20 in overtime. They’ll make it nine, but not because Brady and the offense finds their mojo, but because the best defense the NFL has seen in years will carry them.
Patriots 20, Jets 10