If you’re a Patriots fan, it’s almost impossible to get nostalgic about the Meadowlands.
Even the most hard core of Red Sox fans could appreciate the history and the backdrop that old Yankee Stadium provided for some of the great battles between the Sox and Yankees. Likewise for Bruins fans and the Montreal Forum. You could even get a Celtics fan to work up some fine memories of the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles.
But the Meadowlands? The fact that it is home to one of the Patriots’ greatest rivals — and will close at the end of this season — doesn’t really get the old memory machine cranking around these parts. As a result, New England sports fans likely won’t shed any tears Sunday when the Patriots make what will likely be their final trip to the Meadowlands to face the Jets.
One New Englander who has confessed about being “sentimental” about the closing of Giants Stadium is Bill Belichick. But that has little to do with the Jets, who have shared the facility for the last several years with the Giants. Belichick said he has fond memories about the “great years” he spent there with the Giants.
“Those were great years. It was a great time for me being defensive coordinator and coaching special teams,” Belichick said. “It was a great group of players there, a lot of fond memories from those teams and the staff and the coaches that were there as well.
“It was a tremendous experience for me. That time did as much for my career. … Every year’s important, but that string of years together — it was awesome. It was hard to leave. It was hard to leave.”
Of course, Belichick was also there with the Jets, but during that time, they had their offices in Hempstead, out on Long Island. That meant a bus ride in and a bus ride out before and after the game, which led to some different memories.
“When we were in Hempstead and going and playing in Giants Stadium, in all honesty, it still felt like an away game,” Belichick said. “I know when we played there, [but] by the time we bused back to Long Island, I’m sure the Patriots, the Bills and the Eagles were home before we were. We were playing in that stadium, but it wasn’t like it was when I was with the Giants and we played in that stadium.”
Here are five things worth keeping an eye on Sunday:
THE MIDDLE OF THE 3 IN THE 4-3
When Jerod Mayo went down in the season-opener against the Bills, the Pats plugged Gary Guyton into the middle linebacker role. The second-year undrafted free agent out of Georgia Tech had some good moments — he might be one of the fastest linebackers in the league, and did a nice job of reading and reacting to plays.
But he also struggled with several aspects of his game, including trying to stop screen passes.
Will New England stick with Guyton in the middle — not a very appealing option against the Jets — or will the Patriots utilize some of the positional versatility presented by Adalius Thomas and move him to the middle, leaving them thin on the outside?
Regardless of who is in the middle, it sounds like Belichick has faith in Guyton.
“He’s smart. He’s well-prepared. He has a real good understanding of football — the running game, the passing game,” Belichick said of Guyton. “He’s good in coverage. He understands coverage. He understands the running game, he understands defensive adjustments — not just his role, but where other people have to be or if somebody else has to do something how that affects him.
“He’s a good communicator and even though he’s played — but he hasn’t played a lot — when he goes in there he plays well and he handles himself well.”
The veteran wide receiver has had no luck in getting on the same page with Tom Brady. He was a non-factor in the preseason (six catches for 49 yards), as well as the season-opener against the Bills (zero catches). Particularly amazing was his line against Buffalo — on a night when Brady attempted 53 passes, he only threw in Galloway’s direction twice.
That being said, Brady isn’t concerned about Galloway’s lack of production thus far.
“It’s early in the year and we don’t have all the problems solved with our offense at this point,” Brady said when asked about Galloway. “We’re working hard to establish our own identity, and there are plenty of things that I need to do as a quarterback better, that every receiver needs to do better, that the running backs and offensive line need to do better. And that’s what we’re working toward.
“Joey is a professional. He’s worked extremely hard. I thought he played very well the other night, even though it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. We were productive at times throwing the ball and other guys had the opportunity, and Joey is going to have a big role in this offense.”
Players such as Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth have done well as the No. 3 receiver in the New England offense. It remains to be seen if Galloway will be able to follow in their footsteps.
RANDY MOSS VS. DARRELLE REVIS
This is the matchup that might ultimately tell the tale on Sunday. If Revis and the rest of the Jets secondary can shut down Moss in the same way they managed to hold Houston's Andre Johnson in check the first week of the season (Johnson had just three catches for 35 yards), New York will go a long way toward keeping the Patriots offense in check. But If Moss can bust out like he did Monday night, when he tied a career-high with 12 receptions for 141 yards, the Patriots should have a much easier afternoon.
“I expect him to be Randy Moss and I’ll be Darrelle Revis,” Revis told reporters on Thursday. “It’s going to be a good competition.”
Moss has the height — almost six inches — and the superior hands. He artfully schooled Revis in the difficulties of the NFL in the 2007 season-opener when he had nine catches for 183 yards and a touchdown, the first pro game of Revis’ career.
But the young corner has got great speed, and since his rookie season, he’s certainly done enough to impress Brady.
“He's a very good player,” Brady said of Revis. “He’s kind of got all the skills. He's got all the tools. He's big, he's got long arms, he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s a very fluid athlete, he catches the ball well, he's got very good route recognition, he can play inside, he can play outside, he matches up against small guys and does well, he matches up against big guys and does well. He’s a very good player.”
STOPPING THE ROOKIE QUARTERBACK
The Patriots have had great success over the years against rookie quarterbacks — under Belichick, the Patriots are 5-1 against opponents who have started a rookie under center. In those games, opposing teams have scored an average of 17.2 points per game against the Patriots.
Sanchez is coming off an impressive rookie debut — in Week 1 against the Texans, he was 18-for-31, throwing for 272 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Jets coach Rex Ryan and Sanchez hope that history doesn’t repeat itself Sunday.
“Sanchez needs to go out and play quarterback,” Ryan said. “Don’t worry about this, that or the other. Don’t be chasing ghosts, just play the game. And it's something he's played ever since he was a kid. And go out and have fun and compete. That’s all we want from him.”
(BTW, the only rookie quarterback to beat Belichick and the Patriots was Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger on Oct. 31, 2004. That afternoon at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger was 18-for-24 for 196 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions.)
There has been plenty of bluster coming out of the Meadowlands about this game over the last few months, but the biggest shot came this week from Jets safety Kerry Rhodes. Rhodes was unapologetic in providing bulletin-board material for the Patriots, saying New York is planning to “embarrass” New England, and talking about rattling Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
While New England didn’t respond — other than Brady saying, “Obviously, we are very confident as a team, but talk is cheap” — history isn’t on Rhodes’ side. The last time an opposing defensive back went after the Patriots, the New England offense ended up making an example out of him. Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a win over the Patriots in 2007, which placed a bull's-eye squarely on his back. The New England offense went after Smith on more than a few occasions, and he was burned badly on a pair of touchdown plays.
It will be interesting to see if the Patriots try to send a message to future opposing defensive backs by going after Rhodes in the same manner. Even though they haven’t responded in the press — as was the case before they met Smith and Pittsburgh — former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison told ESPN 1050 Radio that he wouldn’t be shocked if his ex-teammates intentionally try to make an example of Rhodes.
“Trust me — you get [ticked] off when you hear guys talking and disrespecting you and not giving you the respect you deserve," Harrison said. “Guys are not happy with Kerry Rhodes talking and Rex Ryan talking. You best believe those guys are going to come out because they are going to be fired up even more so.
“It’s just blatant disrespect,” Harrison added. “You don't talk like that. Some nerve of [Rhodes] to come out and really say that. He’s going to have to back it up.”