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The latest link comes full circle on Sunday when Eric Mangini returns to Gillette Stadium for the first time as coach of the Jets.
Mangini spent six seasons in New England under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the first five as defensive backs coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator following the 2004 season. The 35-year-old, who was named coach of the Jets on Jan. 17, previously served on Bill Parcells’ coaching staff with Belichick in New York from 1997-99.
Mangini’s move continued the long-running coaching carousel between these teams. Belichick resigned from the Jets to take the job in New England one day after then-New York general manager Parcells named him coach following the 1999 season. Parcells left the Patriots to coach the Jets in 1997, after which New England hired Pete Carroll, New York’s coach in 1994.
In Mangini’s first matchup against his former team at Giants Stadium on Sept. 17, the Patriots (6-2) held on for a 24-17 victory after nearly blowing a 24-0 second-half lead.
Although they haven’t spoken about it publicly, the relationship between Belichick and Mangini appears to be strained. The two exchanged a fleeting, businesslike handshake at midfield after the first meeting.
“It was the Patriots against the Jets,” Belichick said. “We were just trying to coach against the Jets. I was just trying to do the best I can for my team, and I’m sure he’s trying to do the best he can with his team.”
New England has won seven straight against New York (4-4) since a 30-17 home loss on Dec. 22, 2002.
“It bothers me and I’m only (0-5) against them, but I don’t think it’s frustration per se,” Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “I just think there are just a lot of guys that want to execute and get the victory.”
Behind all the subplots involving past and present coaches, this game will go a long way toward determining whether the Patriots will tighten their grip on the AFC East or allow the Jets to pull within one game of their lead.
New England, though, is 2-2 at home this season while winning all four road games.
“That’s a little disappointing in itself, not winning our games at home, and they were AFC opponents,” receiver Troy Brown said of losses to Denver and Indianapolis. “That can put you behind the 8-ball a little bit. We have to protect our house.”
Entering this season, the Patriots were 30-6 at Gillette Stadium, including playoffs, since it opened in 2002. New England has been outscored 71-66 this year at home, while it has outscored opponents 121-43 on the road.
With a chance to take over the No. 1 spot in the AFC, the Patriots were unable to hand the Colts their first loss of the season last Sunday, falling 27-20.
Tom Brady threw four interceptions and New England was penalized eight times for 81 yards in the loss. The Patriots ran for 97 yards on 22 carries in the first half against the league’s worst run defense, but managed only 51 yards on 11 rushes in the final 30 minutes.
“We ran successfully and made some passes,” Brady said, “but it all gets negated when you turn the ball over.”
Maybe the biggest loss for the Patriots was hard-hitting safety Rodney Harrison, who hurt his shoulder and could be out several weeks.
New England’s defense clearly suffers without Harrison, who not only provides a physical presence, but is also a key cog in the communication between the defensive backs.
“He is a good player,” Patriots cornerback Artell Hawkins said. “Obviously, we didn’t expect to lose him in the first couple plays of the game. It was a big blow when he was out, but we have to make the adjustment and be professionals about it and make the plays we need to make.”
The Jets easily could’ve come to New England just one game back in the standings if a controversial call had gone their way in their most recent game, a 20-13 loss at Cleveland on Oct. 29.
Chris Baker’s remarkable, one-handed catch in the end zone with 59 seconds remaining was ruled out of bounds and not reviewable as New York’s comeback from a 20-3 deficit fell short.
“It’s a shame because we fought back,” Baker said. “We made a big play and didn’t get it. It’s disappointing.”
Regardless of the ending, the Jets simply didn’t play well enough to win, managing only 193 yards of total offense. Chad Pennington had one of his worst games of the season, completing 11 of 28 passes for 108 yards with two interceptions.
“I just didn’t get the ball to my playmakers,” Pennington said. “I didn’t throw well enough for us to win. We didn’t make plays to keep drives going and to put points on the board.”
If the Jets are to make the playoffs a reality, they’ll need to improve their pass rush and run defense, which is ranked 30th in the league. The run defense has allowed at least 100 yards in seven of eight games, while the pass rush has managed only 13 sacks, fourth-fewest in the NFL.
“Obviously, we are not where we want to be or where we need to be,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said.
Pennington has struggled in six career games against New England, completing 113 of 189 passes with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. Brady, meanwhile, has thrown for 11 TDs and been picked off four times in 11 appearances against the Jets.