FOXBORO, Mass. — It has been nearly four full games since the New England Patriots’ defense notched its most recent takeaway. They’ll have a golden opportunity to end that slump Sunday.
The Patriots have created just nine turnovers in 10 games this season — tied with the Chicago Bears for 27th in the NFL — and zero since Malcolm Butler picked off a misguided Landry Jones pass in the opening quarter of their Week 7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. That interception was the only one any Patriots cornerback has made this season.
New England’s next opponent, however, has given away the ball with reckless abandon this season. The New York Jets have turned over the ball 20 times through 10 games and employ the NFL’s leader in interceptions, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles each have tossed a league-high 13 picks this season, but Fitzpatrick has done so in just 298 pass attempts to Bortles’ 415.
This season has been a disaster for Fitzpatrick, who hit rock bottom with a six-interception performance in a Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He also briefly lost his job to Geno Smith last month and sat out the Jets’ last game with an MCL sprain. Second-year pro Bryce Petty started in that game — a 9-6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams — but coach Todd Bowles announced earlier this week that Fitzpatrick would be back under center against the Patriots.
Despite Fitzpatrick’s struggles, Patriots coach Bill Belichick had plenty of nice things to say about the veteran QB in his Wednesday news conference. Belichick specifically pointed out that New York has averaged 26 points per game over Fitzpatrick’s last three starts.
“He’s a dangerous player,” Belichick said. “Very smart, has control of the offense, has the ability to get into plays that he likes. … He’s tough. You see him scrambling for extra yards, diving forward, blocking on running plays if the runner reverses his field and things like that. He’s a fearless player.”
Fitzpatrick did play well in two games against the Patriots last season, completing 48 of 80 passes for 591 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. The Jets won one of those games in overtime and lost the other by a field goal.
Some quick-hitters on what to expect from the Jets this weekend:
— Former Chicago Bear Matt Forte spearheads a Jets rushing attack that also features Bilal Powell. Forte ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing yards with 732 and has had modest success as a pass-catcher, too, tallying 179 yards on 23 receptions.
“He’s done a good job for them,” Belichick said. “He’s done a good job in the passing game. He runs well. He’s got 900 yards from scrimmage, third-down conversions, good in short yardage. Yeah, he’s done a good job for them.
— The Jets are down one of their top receiving threats in Eric Decker, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. They have considerable size at the position, however, as 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-foot-2 Quincy Enunwa both are taller than any Patriots defensive back.
“You’ve got to try to go out and compete and use some of your strengths, because both of those guys are big, they’re physical, they play to their size,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “Whether it’s in the running game when they’re blocking and trying to take advantage of smaller guys, or balls down the field that are kind of up for grabs, you’ve got to really try to get good position and use that position.”
— Tight ends are a complete non-factor in New York’s passing game. Brandon Bostick and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins have combined for four catches for 30 yards all season.
Thumbnail photo via Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports Images