The Patriots come to MetLife Stadium on Sunday to face the Jets surrounded by questions from doubters.
Are they finally slipping? They are 3-2 and have been unimpressive this season. They have the worst defense statistically in football and hung on to beat the Buccaneers last week after losing to the Panthers at home the week before.
Just don’t try to tell the Jets the Patriots have declined at all.
“Tom Brady’s still back there,” Jets nose tackle Steve McLendon said. “They’re the same guys that went to the Super Bowl. Ain’t nothing changed.”
McLendon is right about that. For as bad as the Patriots’ defense has been this year, Brady and the offense are still rolling. They are No. 1 in total offense and passing offense, and No. 3 in scoring offense. The 40-year-old Brady has thrown for more yards than anyone in the NFL (1,702 yards) and has 11 touchdowns with just one interception.
“Never count Tom Brady out,” McLendon said. “Never count him out. He was down 20-something points in the Super Bowl and won. I never take that man lightly. Never, ever. With that being said, it’s not about what they do, it’s about what we do. We know what we have to do. We have to go out there and play extremely fast, extremely hard, but most of all we have to play extremely smart as a team, collectively.”
This is a stiff test for a Jets defense that has beaten Jay Cutler, Blake Bortles and DeShone Kizer/Kevin Hogan in the team’s three-game winning streak. None of those guys are anywhere near Brady’s class. The Jets know what they have to do to rattle Brady, “get him off his spot,” as in make him move from the pocket.
Easier said than done.
“It’s a challenge because he’s seen everything,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “There’s nothing you can do that’s going to surprise him. You’ve just got to be sound and play football and hopefully make some plays on the back end. He’s a great football player.”
The Jets have not gotten to quarterbacks with any regularity this season. They are 31st in the NFL with just seven sacks. The Jets say that stat is misleading, though, and they have pressured quarterbacks even if they have not sacked them. By the Jets’ count, they have 32 quarterback hurries this season.
Brady has been getting hit this year with more frequency than before. He is dealing with a sore left shoulder after getting hit by the Buccaneers several times last week.
“Some guys have gotten lucky,” Bowles said. “I don’t think he’s getting hit a lot. He’s still back there and throwing it. He’s having one of the best years he’s ever had. We say this every year and he keeps getting better. I still see an outstanding football player.”
Brady does not have Julian Edelman, who tore his ACL in training camp, this season. He was missing Rob Gronkowski last week because of a groin injury. Still, he’s finding ways to beat defenses.
Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola still give him good receiving targets, and the Patriots have an army of running backs.
“They have more than enough weapons to compensate for [Edelman’s absence],” Bowles said. “It hasn’t been a letdown for them. They just plug and play and they keep it moving.”
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