It’s no surprise the New England Patriots are surging as the calendar year comes to an end.
The AFC East champion Patriots look to continue that trend when they visit the New York Jets.
New England won for the fifth time in six games and locked up its fourth division title in the last five years with a 28-0 victory over Tampa Bay last Saturday. But unlike the past, this season’s road to the playoffs was a bit bumpy.
The Patriots suffered many key injuries, were 4-4 midway through the season and didn’t win consecutive games until the middle of November. Those back-to-back victories, though, seemed to get New England on track.
Including the playoffs, New England has won 17 of its last 18 games after Dec. 1.
“This is when championships are won,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “You start jockeying for position with other teams. If you don’t put your best foot forward, you can’t win it.”
Although his team has clinched a playoff spot and is preparing to make a run at winning its third straight Super Bowl, coach Bill Belichick doesn’t plan to take it easy over the final two games of the season.
“We’re treating this like a regular week,” Belichick said. “Put it in the headline. Bold type. It’s a regular week. The players know that, the staff knows it.”
Belichick says the Patriots can get better in several areas—the running game, kick coverage and pass protection, in particular. He also wants to see if the defense can continue its solid play after holding the last three opponents to a total of 10 points.
“Just because you go out there and do it well for a couple of games doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to sustain that if you don’t keep working at it and taking care of all the little things,” Belichick said.
Quarterback Tom Brady, who is banged up with shin and shoulder injuries, agrees with his coach.
“I just love playing and the only way I am not going to play is if the doctor tells me I can’t play,” said Brady, 112 passing yards away from his first 4,000-yard season.
New England trying to continue its dominance on defense isn’t good news for a New York team that’s scored an NFL-low 189 points and is 28th in the league in total offense.
The Jets, though, have scored 50 points over their last two games behind the improving play of quarterback Brooks Bollinger.
Bollinger went 28-of-42 for 327 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions last Sunday in New York’s 24-20 loss to Miami. A week earlier, he threw for 119 yards and a TD to help the Jets snap their seven-game losing streak with a 26-10 win over Oakland.
“With him behind center we’ve been getting better every week,” receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “He has definitely been a leader. Even though all things haven’t been going well, he has kept the offense focused and a lot of the guys on the team believe in him.”
Cedric Houston also has played well for New York since becoming the featured back after Curtis Martin was lost for the season with a knee injury. In his first two starts, the rookie from Tennessee has 158 rushing yards and one touchdown on 43 carries.
“He got in shape, changed his body around, he just kept working,” coach Herman Edwards said. “Around the fifth week of the season, the light went on for the guy and he just kept practicing.”
New England has won the last five meetings, but New York has taken the last four games between the teams on Monday night.