The New England Patriots vaporized the Miami Dolphins this past weekend, rampaging to a 43-0 victory at Hard Rock Stadium.
Oddsmakers expect New England’s next game to be similarly lopsided.
As of Tuesday night, the 2-0 Patriots were listed as massive 22 1/2-point home favorites for Sunday’s matchup with the 0-2 New York Jets, who, while not as hopeless as the actively tanking Dolphins, have been among the NFL’s most disappointing teams thus far.
Here are six things to know about this iteration of the Patriots’ longtime AFC East rival:
1. Their quarterback will be making his first NFL start
Franchise quarterback Sam Darnold currently is sidelined with mononucleosis, and backup Trevor Siemian suffered a gruesome, season-ending ankle injury during Monday night’s 23-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns. That leaves signal-calling duties to third-stringer Luke Falk.
Who is Luke Falk? He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft (No. 199 overall), then cut at the end of his first preseason. He latched on with the Miami Dolphins — led at the time by current Jets head coach Adam Gase — but suffered a wrist injury in early October that landed him on injured reserve.
The Dolphins waived Falk in May, and the Jets claimed him, bringing him aboard to compete with the veteran Siemian and Davis Webb for the top backup spot behind Darnold. The Washington State product completed 80.6 percent of his passes (29 of 36) in the preseason with two touchdowns and no interceptions but failed to crack New York’s initial 53-man roster, joining the practice squad after passing unclaimed through waivers.
After being promoted to the active roster with Darnold ill, Falk made his regular-season NFL debut Monday in relief of Siemian and posted a respectable stat line, completing 20 of 25 passes for 198 yards with no touchdowns and no picks.
“It’s been a weird week,” Falk told reporters after the game. “A week ago I was on the practice squad, and tonight I’m standing in front of (the media) after playing in a game. It’s a weird series of unfortunate events for those two guys, and I just want to do my best and help my team win.”
Falk was considered a potential Patriots target ahead of last year’s draft. He’s a massive Tom Brady fan and boasts a skill set similar to that of the legendary New England QB (size, accuracy, intelligence lack of mobility), who, coincidentally, also was drafted 199th overall.
2. Their offense is a mess
Regardless of who’s been behind center, the Jets have struggled to put points on the board this season. They’ve managed just one offensive touchdown through two games — tied with the Dolphins and Chicago Bears for fewest in the NFL — and currently rank second-to-last in both yards per game and points per game, ahead of only Miami.
New York QBs also rank 31st in yards per pass attempt, and the Jets’ O-line has surrendered eight sacks, tied for third-most. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum had a particularly rough time against Browns standout Myles Garrett on Monday, allowing two sacks and three QB hits and committing three penalties.
Now, Gase’s squad gets to face a Patriots team that held its first two opponents to three and zero points, hasn’t surrendered a touchdown since last year’s AFC Championship Game and racked up four interceptions (including two pick-sixes) and seven sacks on Sunday.
3. Le’Veon Bell’s still got it
Despite the ineptitude around him, Bell actually has looked good in his return from last season’s self-imposed exile. The former Pittsburgh Steelers star has accounted for 129 of the Jets’ 161 rushing yards while also ranking second on the team in catches (16 on 19 targets) and third in receiving yards (93). He also scored the team’s lone offensive touchdown (on a 9-yard pass from Darnold in Week 1) and appeared to be trying significantly harder than many of his teammates for long stretches of Monday night’s contest.
4. They have injuries galore
Sixteen players were listed on the Jets’ injury report last week, and that was before Siemian went down. High-priced linebacker C.J. Mosely (groin) and top draft pick Quinnen Williams (ankle) both missed the Browns game with injuries, and their statuses for Sunday are unclear.
5. There’s been some drama in their secondary
The benchings of two Jets defensive backs made headlines after Monday’s loss.
Top cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who signed a five-year, $72.5 million contract last spring, hardly saw the field against Cleveland, entering only after his replacement, Nate Hairston, suffered an injury in the final minutes. (Gase declined to explain this decision.) Around that same time, star safety Jamal Adams was removed from the game by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams after being flagged for offsides and encroachment on back-to-back plays.
“Yeah, I was benched,” Adams, a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro last season, said Tuesday on WFAN. “They benched me. I tried to anticipate a play … and I anticipated wrong.”
Adams’ social media activity following his late-game benching fueled speculation that he, like Miami’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey, might be angling for a trade.
6. They have a few familiar faces
Wide receivers Braxton Berrios and Demaryius Thomas both are with the Jets now after spending the spring and summer with the Patriots.
Berrios, whom New York claimed off waivers from New England following cutdown day, has served as the Jets’ primary punt returner. Thomas, shipped to East Rutherford following the Antonio Brown signing in the first Pats-Jets trade of the Bill Belichick era, made his Gang Green debut on Monday but exited after re-injuring his hamstring.
Linebackers Harvey Langi and Albert McClellan also are Patriots alums.
Thumbnail photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images