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In a game that had already promised to contain plenty of drama before the latest revelation, the Patriots look to remain unbeaten when they take on the Jets at Gillette Stadium.
Sunday’s matchup was sure to be a charged affair, since it is the first between the teams since Mangini, the Patriots’ defensive coordinator under coach Bill Belichick as recently as 2005, tipped off the NFL about New England’s use of an on-field camera to tape opponents’ signals during the teams’ Week 1 meeting.
On Wednesday, though, it was reported that the Jets had cameramen removed by the Patriots from field level at Gillette Stadium during last season’s playoff game between the teams, won 37-16 by New England. Mangini denied that they were taping signals, and said the Jets had received permission to have the cameras. He also said the Patriots hadn’t requested permission at the Meadowlands.
“We taped the game, is what we taped, and we taped end-zone copy of the game, and we tape a double end zone, which is standard operating procedure for us,” Mangini said Wednesday. “We request that every single road game, and it’s usually granted if physically it’s possible. And when people request it from us, we do the same thing: We grant it.”
It’s just the latest chapter in the so-called “Spygate,” which began in September, when Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots were docked $250,000 and next year’s first-round draft pick after the NFL’s investigation of the Jets’ claims.
New England beat New York 38-14 in that first meeting and has won 12 more since, becoming just the fifth team in NFL history to start a season 13-0. The Patriots have blown out most of their opponents along the way, and many have pointed to the “Spygate” flap as their motivation.
The Patriots nearly saw their unbeaten run come to an end two straight weeks, as they managed to prevail by three points over Philadelphia and Baltimore before rolling past Pittsburgh 34-13 on Sunday. New England seemed to respond to bulletin-board material last week, as Steelers safety Anthony Smith guaranteed in the days leading up to the game that Pittsburgh would deal the Pats their first loss.
Now comes the matchup with the Jets (3-10), and it would seem that Belichick and New England would have revenge on their minds with Mangini and his team coming to town.
Predictably, neither coach would talk about any tension between them.
“You know, I’ve said how I felt about Bill many times and, really, it hasn’t changed from the first time we played each other,” Mangini said Monday. “I have a lot of respect for him and he did a lot of things for me and has helped me significantly throughout my career to develop. That hasn’t changed one bit for me.”
Still, Mangini repeatedly called “Spygate” a “league matter,” and despite being asked numerous times about the events of Week 1 during Monday’s press conference, Belichick didn’t discuss Mangini or the incident specifically. He only vowed to “approach it like every other game.”
“We try to win every week, believe it or not. It may not look like it at times, but we do,” Belichick said. “We try to play our best game out there every week and we try to win every week, so we’re going to try to win this week.”
Last week’s win over the Steelers was as impressive as any of them. Pittsburgh came in at 9-3, while the Patriots had struggled to the narrow victories the previous two weeks.
New England, though, victimized Pittsburgh’s injured secondary, throwing for 399 yards while rushing for just 22, as Tom Brady completed 32 of his 46 passes and threw four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“This is the point in the year when we’re going to have to start playing our best football,” offensive tackle Matt Light said. “I don’t think anyone can say we’ve been doing that the past couple of weeks. It’s good to be back on track.”
Two of Brady’s touchdowns went to Randy Moss, who has 19 TD receptions on the season, three short of the NFL record of 22, set by Jerry Rice in 1987. Brady also has 45 touchdown passes this year, four shy of Peyton Manning’s record 49 in 2004.
Moss had his season high in receiving yards against the Jets in Week 1, catching nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown in his New England debut.
After Smith guaranteed the Steelers would beat the Patriots, the Jets appear to be trying the opposite approach - flattery.
“It’s been impressive to see them, even though they’re in our division and are foes of ours. To see a team playing this well, you can only applaud them,” Jets safety Kerry Rhodes said. “… With all the accolades and all the things we know they can do, we’re still going to come out and play hard. We’re not going to come out and lay down.”
Despite a disappointing year that followed a playoff season, the Jets have shown fight in recent weeks, winning two of three before their 24-18 home loss to Cleveland last week, including a 19-16 overtime win over the Steelers. The Jets were also the last team to beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, winning 17-14 last year in the regular season.
Counting the wild-card game, though, the Jets have lost six of seven on the road, the only victory coming at winless Miami 40-13 two weeks ago. They’ve lost nine of 10 overall to New England.
Against the Browns, New York got within 17-15 in the final two minutes, but failed two recover two onside kick attempts. Thomas Jones had 106 yards rushing and Kellen Clemens was 24-of-41 for 286 yards, but he threw two costly interceptions.
In eight games this season (six as a starter), Clemens has thrown four touchdowns and nine interceptions, with just a 52.2 completion percentage.
The Jets’ defense has also struggled, ranking 28th in the league with 350.2 yards allowed per game. The rush defense is ranked 30th (141.9 ypg).
“We’re not happy where we are right now,” Rhodes said. “We definitely thought we would be in the thick of things and we’re not.”
Rhodes said he thought the Jets would need to win the turnover battle, but that has proved a difficult task against New England this season. The Patriots have turned the ball over a league-low 10 times, six fewer than any other team. The league record is 12, set by Kansas City in 1982.
Only one team - the unbeaten 1972 Miami Dolphins - has started a season 14-0.
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