FOXBORO, Mass. — If recent history is any indication, the New England Patriots should expect a close game Sunday when they visit one of their oldest rivals, the New York Jets.
Seven of the last eight meetings between the Patriots and Jets have been decided by seven points or fewer — the one exception being New England’s 49-19 Butt Fumble beatdown on Thanksgiving night in 2012. Five of those seven were decided by a field goal.
New England still has had New York’s number, going 6-2 over those eight contests, but the Jets prevailed in the series’ most recent entry, winning 26-20 in overtime last December at MetLife Stadium.
“As it’s been in so many of our games with them in the last few years, it’s been very competitive,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “So everything we do this week is going to be very important toward the outcome based on how tight all of those other games have been — the overtime game, one-, two-, three-point games, last possession and so forth.”
This season’s first Patriots-Jets matchup comes in Week 12 — far later than usual. They’d played within the first 11 weeks every season since 2005, when they met in Weeks 13 and 16.
“It seems a little unusual to be this late in the season and having not played the Jets yet,” Belichick said.
Some additional notes from Wednesday:
— Belichick spent much of his final pre-Thanksgiving news conference discussing the Patriots’ captains, whom he receives feedback from during a weekly meeting each Friday morning.
“I can’t meet with every single player,” Belichick explained. “That’s really not practical. I rely on those meetings to get feedback from the players, or sometimes I explain things to the players that I feel like the team needs to know and let them convey the message in their way or at least understand what the thought process is from my standpoint or the staff’s standpoint. But I talk to them, and they give me a lot of feedback every week.
“They do a great job of I’d say not telling you what you think the coach wants to hear but telling you what they think is important, what we need to do, where there’s an issue, what we need to address, and then that helps me address it. Most important thing for us is on Sunday, everybody being ready to go, being on the same page, going in there collectively ready to perform our best.”
Patriots players voted safety Devin McCourty, special-teamer Matthew Slater, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and tight end Rob Gronkowski as captains before the season. Quarterback Tom Brady, who was suspended to start the season, recently had his captaincy reinstated, as well, according to a report.
Belichick stressed, however, that captains are not the only players who provide leadership. He specifically mentioned special-teamer Nate Ebner as an example of this.
“If you had 10 people in (the captains’ meeting), you’d have input from probably 10 good people,” Belichick said. “But, I mean, it’s hard to have a captains meeting with 15 captains. I’m not saying you can’t do it, I’m just saying you better decide how you want to set it up. We’ve usually historically had a couple of guys on each side of the ball, somebody in the kicking game.
“Our players in the kicking game have been pretty consistent. It was Larry (Izzo) pretty much to Slate, but you know, obviously we’ve had other great leaders there, too. We’ve had them in the past — the Tracy Whites, to Nate Ebners, to the returners and so forth. However you set it up, we try to get a couple of guys from each general area, whoever the players select. I mean, really it’s not my choice — it’s their choice.”
McCourty said Belichick is very receptive to player feedback, which might come as a surprise to some observers and players in other locker rooms.
“I think all they see are his press conferences,” McCourty said, “so you don’t really expect him to listen and understand different things. And I think guys come here, and they’re a little shocked at how much goes into him listening to the players and trying to get a good understanding of how the players feel, especially as you get towards the end of the season and different things like that.”
This Patriots season has featured several surprising personnel moves, including Jamie Collins’ trade to the Cleveland Browns and Jabaal Sheard’s slide from defensive starter to healthy scratch. It would be fascinating to hear how and if these moves were discussed in these captains’ meetings.
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