FOXBORO — By all accounts, Wednesday morning sucked for the Patriots.
Coach Bill Belichick aired them out in a film session designed to guarantee there will be no hangover from last Sunday’s emotional loss to the Colts in Indianapolis. There was no bury-the-football moment, as Belichick has done in the past. Instead, it was all about moving on, putting the defeat in the rear-view mirror and moving on to a key divisional contest that could ultimately drive a stake through the heart of the Jets’ playoff chances.
“You can’t [replay] it,” linebacker Junior Seau said. “What’s in the past is in the past.
“We need to have a short-term memory. That’s the only reason why you’re going to be able to succeed in this league, and in life. You have a short-term memory, whether it’s good or bad,” Seau added. “Go to work the next day. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
If that’s not enough to get ready for the Jets, the Patriots can draw on plenty of emotional firepower: New York gleefully celebrated in the wake of its Week 2 win over New England like it was a Super Bowl victory, and Darrelle Revis and Bart Scott took their shots at Randy Moss.
Oh, and one more thing — it was a year ago that Brett Favre led the Jets into Gillette Stadium and knocked off the Patriots in overtime. The loss was one of the determining factors in New England just missing out on the playoffs despite finishing with an 11-5 record.
“It’s a division game [and] it’s November, so we’ve got to play well Sunday. We need to play a good game here against the Jets,” Belichick said. “We know the Jets are tough; they’ve beat us the last two times we’ve played them. We need to try to reverse that trend.”
Here are four other things to watch for Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium:
Randy Moss vs. Darrelle Revis. The two went head-to-head back in Week 2, and no matter the coverage the Jets used on Moss (the Patriots say New York rolled a lot of coverage over the top toward Moss, while Revis insisted he was in man coverage on No. 81), even the most ardent of New England fans have to admit Moss was shut down — the receiver had four catches for a season-low 24 yards. In addition, Revis picked off a pass meant for Moss, making a really nice interception when he simply snatched the ball away from the receiver.
However, Moss said after the game that it wasn’t only Revis who held him in check.
“All week, he was taking about being a shutdown corner, but there are no shutdown corners in the league because they have help most of the game,’’ Moss said that day. “I probably could be a shutdown corner if I had [Brandon] Meriweather over the top for the whole game.”
As of Wednesday, Revis was sticking to his story.
“Everybody saw the game,’’ Revis said. “Everybody knew I was in man coverage. Everybody knew that was the case. He’s supposed to say that, because that wasn’t his day. He got shut out, and he was frustrated by it. Which is cool.
“I don’t have nothing against him. I still think he’s one of the best receivers in the league. When we go up against each other, it’s great competition. If he says that, he does. But that’s on him. We play them twice a year. I have to see him again just as much as he has to see me again.’’
However, New York defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said earlier this week that Moss wasn't subject to true single coverage.
“We mixed our coverages up a lot. You have to do that against New England. You can't give them one look,” Pettine told the Newark Star-Ledger. “I can say this, we weren't in a lot of true [man-on-man] with no help. Nobody in the league is. Most teams in the league, I would be shocked if they averaged more than four or five snaps a game of straight man coverage with no help.”
Can the Patriots finish drives? At the start of the season, the Patriots were settling for three when they should have been getting six — that was never more so than in the Week 2 loss to New York, where New England was 0-for-3 in red zone touchdown opportunities.
New England was able to clean up those mistakes a few games into the year, but lately the Patriots have been stalling out in the red zone again. On Sunday against Indianapolis, they were able to convert on just three of their six scoring opportunities inside the Colts’ 20-yard line. For the season, they’re 25th in the league in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
“We have to be better in the red zone — we work at it quite a bit, probably more than any other thing that we do,” Brady said. “It’s not good when you kick field goals out there. You leave too many points on the board.”
On Tuesday, Belichick said the Patriots had spent extra time working on their red zone offense the past few weeks — including during the bye week. That, as well as the potential return of Sammy Morris (New England’s best short-yardage back) from a knee injury might change their fortunes this Sunday.
“We’re not doing as well in that area of the field as we’d like to do, as we feel like we can do, and we need to do a better job of it,” Belichick said. “There’s no other way to put it, and those are important points — the difference between three and seven — those are important points both ways, and we have to coach it better, we have to play it better. We’ve got to play our best football in that area of the field because there’s a lot at stake, and there are a lot of things we need to do better.’’
The battle between the Patriots offensive line and the Jets pass rush. Even though New England was able to escape its Week 2 matchup with New York without a sack on Tom Brady, the Jets were able to get sustained pressure on the Patriots quarterback, disrupting the New England passing attack and getting Brady out of his rhythm with a series of aggressive blitz packages.
In the end, Brady wasn’t sacked, but he was hit seven times by the New York pass-rushers, who did exactly what they wanted to do to a quarterback who was still getting his sea legs underneath him after a year away from the game.
“We just tried to make him feel uncomfortable and tried to be in his face as much as possible,” Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis said of Brady, who finished 23-for-47 for a season-low 216 yards, with one interception and no touchdowns. “We had him throwing off his back foot a lot. He looked frustrated. I could see it in his eyes. His eyes were wide open. I looked in his eyes a few times. He was trying to figure out where everyone was coming from.”
The challenge this week is to try to neutralize the New York pass rush. Look for Mark LeVoir to report as an extra tight end next to right tackle Nick Kaczur (as they did to try to slow down Robert Mathis last Sunday), and the Jets to try to exploit a perceived weakness on the Patriots offensive line if right guard Stephen Neal isn’t able to go. And finally, look for running back Kevin Faulk — the Patriots' best option when it comes to blitz pickup — to play a whole lot of snaps.
“That’s just one of those things where you don’t have to worry about anybody juking you,” Faulk said of facing the New York pass rush. “You know that they’re just coming in and trying to run you over. They’re going to try and play physical.”
Can New England can gain an edge on special teams? The Week 2 loss to the Jets was perhaps the lowest point of the season for the Patriots special teams unit. The Pats took bad penalties, they surrendered a massive 43-yard kick return at the start the second half to Leon Washington, and punter Chris Hanson had a net average of just 29.3 yards. In addition, New England had just three total yards on punt returns, and eight of its 11 drives on the afternoon started at or inside its own 25-yard line.
However, things have turned around quite nicely for the Patriots special teams, and there’s every reason to be optimistic the Pats will be able to do some damage on special teams this weekend. Their average kickoff yards allowed per game has decreased steadily since Week 2, kicker Stephen Gostkowski remains without peer and Wes Welker snapped off a 69-yard punt return last week against the Colts.
In addition, Washington is out for the remainder of the season because of a broken leg, while the New York kick coverage unit is the same group that allowed two touchdown returns to Ted Ginn Jr. back on Nov. 1.