After enjoying a much-needed bye week, the New England Patriots are back in action this Sunday. Their opponent: the 3-7 New York Jets, seeking their first win since mid-October.
Here are four things to know about this Jets team:
1. They’re in a tailspin
The Jets opened the season by thumping Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions 48-17 on “Monday Night Football” and later put up gaudy offensive numbers in wins over the Denver Broncos (34-16) and Indianapolis Colts (42-34). Since that Colts game, though, Todd Bowles’ club has lost four straight and been outscored 115-43 in the process.
The most humbling of those defeats came last Sunday when the immortal Matt Barkley — making his first regular-season appearance since 2016 after being signed off the street — led the Buffalo Bills to a 41-10 rout at MetLife Stadium.
Some critics called for Bowles to be fired after that loss. Those calls will grow much louder if the Jets don’t show some signs of life in the next few weeks, despite Ian Rapoport’s report that Bowles won’t be let go before the end of the season.
The Jets are averaging 41.3 points per game in wins this season and 12 points per game in losses. They’ve scored 17 or fewer points in all seven of their defeats.
2. No one knows who’s starting at quarterback Sunday
Veteran Josh McCown started against the Bills in place of rookie Sam Darnold, who sat out with a foot injury. Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, remained out Monday as the Jets returned to the practice field following their bye week, with Bowles later telling reporters the young QB is “day to day, week to week.”
Even before his injury, Darnold had been mired in a brutal slump. Since having one of his best games as a pro in the win over Indy (24-of-30, 280 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), he’s turned in three consecutive duds, averaging just 5.35 yards per attempt and throwing two touchdown passes with seven picks in losses to the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.
The 39-year-old McCown had a surprisingly solid 2017 season as New York’s primary starter, but he struggled against Buffalo, completing 17 of 34 passes for 135 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
3. Games at MetLife are rarely gimmes
The Jets won just five games last season, but they gave the Patriots a scare in New England’s annual trip to East Rutherford, N.J., losing 24-17 in a game best remembered for Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ controversial goal-line fumble. The teams’ 2016 matchup there played out similarly, with the Patriots needing a touchdown in the final minutes to secure a 22-17 win over a 3-7 Jets team.
“Throw out the record books” is an overused cliché, but even when they’re lean on talent and wins, the Jets always seem to give their longtime division rivals trouble in this building. New England is just 3-2 in its last five visits to northern New Jersey, and its three wins have come by one, five and seven points.
4. Matchups to watch
Rob Gronkowski vs. Jamal Adams will be worth watching. Gronkowski beat the Jets’ young safety for two touchdowns in these teams’ first meeting last season but wasn’t targeted in 58 snaps in the Week 17 rematch. The Patriots tight end is expected to return to action Sunday after missing the last two games and three of the last four with ankle and back injuries.
New England likely will have right guard Shaq Mason back, too. He’ll be among those tasked with blocking stud defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who leads the Jets in QB hits with 12, is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with eight and is tied for second in sacks with three.