New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been the talk of the NFL this week following his controversial fourth-down call that led to a gut-wrenching loss.
His critics around Foxborough may be willing to forgive him quickly if his Patriots achieve a different kind of redemption Sunday.
After their offense sputtered in a loss to the rival New York Jets two months ago, the Patriots will have a chance to all but bury the struggling Jets in the AFC East if they can improve to 6-0 at home.
Belichick took plenty of heat following last Sunday night’s wild 35-34 loss to Indianapolis, stemming from his decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots’ own 28-yard line with just over 2 minutes to go and his team leading 34-28.
“I thought it was our best chance to win,” Belichick said. “I thought we needed to make that one play and then we could basically run out the clock. We weren’t able to make it.”
The move also prompted questions about the coach’s confidence level in his young defense. New England opponents are averaging 16.7 points - third-lowest in the NFL - but the team has been using an inexperienced group as it tries to replace several departed veterans.
“We would play well for a series, play real well, and then the next series (with) similar calls and we just maybe didn’t play them quite as well,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “We’re a little bit inconsistent at this point in time, and that’s across the board basically with the young guys, and no particular guy.”
The defeat ended New England’s three-game winning streak and put a dent in its chances of gaining a first-round playoff bye, but the Patriots (6-3) still hold a two-game lead on New York in the East as they try to reclaim the division they won five straight times from 2003-07.
Miami moved into sole possession of second place in the division with a 24-17 win over Carolina on Thursday night.
A victory over the Jets (4-5) would give New England a three-game advantage and the tiebreaker over New York. The Patriots will be especially hungry after a 16-9 loss at Giants Stadium on Sept. 20, when they were held below 10 points for the first time since 2006.
That was Brady’s second regular-season game following his return from major knee surgery, and the 2007 NFL MVP seems to have regained his swagger. He’s passed for more than 300 yards in four straight games, throwing 13 touchdowns and four interceptions.
“We’re going to see how well we prepare and how much better we understand what they’re doing,” Brady said. “It’s a good scheme, and it’s been proven for a lot of years that it’s a good scheme, and the players of the Jets have really seemed to adapt to it.”
New York’s defense hasn’t been as dominant since an impressive 3-0 start under new coach Rex Ryan, the longtime Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator. While the Jets still rank second in the NFL in total defense, they struggled to slow down Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) in a 24-22 loss last Sunday.
The Jets’ last six opponents have averaged 126.0 yards on the ground, with the team going 1-5.
The unit hasn’t been getting much help from the NFL’s 27th-ranked pass offense, and even New York’s top-ranked rushing attack has been held under 4.0 yards per carry the last two weeks.
“At the end of the day, I always say somebody is going to have egg on their face,” Ryan said Monday. “So far, it looks like me. But, I’m betting on me. I’m betting on our football team.
“Trust me, I’m going to work to the best of my ability to find answers. Whatever it is, I believe we’ll find them. I know our task is hard, but it’s not impossible.”
No visiting team has been able to win at Gillette Stadium this season, but the Jets have won two of their last three in Foxborough. They beat a Brady-less team 34-31 last Nov. 13.
New York is trying to win three straight overall against the Patriots for the first time since a four-game run from 1999-2001.
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