NY Jets (2-2) at New England (3-1)

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By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer Wednesday, Oct 5, 2011 Kickoff: 4:15 pm EDT Sun Oct 9, 2011

Tied atop the AFC East one-quarter of the way through the season, the New England Patriots may have expected their first-place counterparts to be the arch-rival New York Jets.

That’s not the case, as the Jets are struggling to meet expectations.

The Patriots seek to move two games ahead of New York on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, and also look for a measure of revenge for last season’s playoff defeat.

For a New England (3-1) team that has won eight of the last 10 division titles, owning a share of the AFC East lead shouldn’t come as a surprise. The surprising part is that the Patriots are tied with Buffalo and not the Jets (2-2).

The Patriots lead the NFL in total offense with 507.5 yards per game and their 135 points are tops in the AFC. They’ve scored 31 points or more in each game, including last Sunday’s 31-19 victory at Oakland.

Tom Brady(notes) has thrown for an NFL-high 1,553 passing yards and has an AFC-best 111.3 passer rating. He’s thrown 13 touchdown passes - five of them to favorite target Wes Welker(notes), who has mind-boggling totals of 40 receptions, 616 yards and five scores through four games.

Brady has won three straight regular season home starts against the Jets and 29 consecutive regular season starts at Gillette Stadium overall, but the last loss was at the hands of New York on Nov. 12, 2006. More recently, Brady and the top-seeded Patriots fell 28-21 in Foxborough to the Jets in January’s divisional playoffs, when the quarterback completed 29 of 45 passes for 299 yards and two scores, but also got intercepted once and sacked five times.

Two of those sacks were by defensive end Shaun Ellis(notes), who will be chasing the Jets’ Mark Sanchez(notes) this time.

The 12th overall selection in the 2000 NFL draft, Ellis spent 11 seasons in New York before joining New England as a free agent last summer. His 72 1/2 sacks rank second in Jets history, 1 1/2 behind Mark Gastineau.

“It’s definitely going to be different for me,” Ellis said of facing his longtime teammates. “You just kind of treat it like you do in one of the green-and-white scrimmages (with the Jets). We did scrimmage against each other quite a bit.”

Ellis’ arrival in New England didn’t thrill Jets coach Rex Ryan, who said he had “a great deal of respect” for the lineman and “I wish him to be healthy,” but “there’s no way I’m going to wish him well.”

Ellis hasn’t been much of a factor in his first four games with his new team, totaling no sacks and three tackles for a unit that ranks last in the NFL in both overall and passing defense.

That defense could help remedy a Jets offense that totaled 150 yards in last week’s 34-17 loss at Baltimore.

That output was New York’s lowest in three seasons under Ryan, and the Jets also committed a season-high four turnovers.

Still, Patriots coach Bill Belichick thinks the Jets are a formidable opponent.

“Obviously, it wasn’t one of their better days,” Belichick said. “We’ve all been there before. When you look at a football team across the board, they’re a solid team and they do things well. We’ve all had our good days and our bad days. I’m impressed with them and I’ve got a lot of respect for them.

“I wouldn’t overreact to the Baltimore game.”

Ryan wants to see improvement.

“We’ve only won two games, so for whatever reason, we’ve gotta get better in a lot of areas,” he said.

One key area is offensive line, which has been without Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold(notes) for two games due to a high ankle sprain. He’s expected to return Sunday, and that should improve the protection for Sanchez, who has been sacked 11 times.

“He’s the best center in football,” Ryan said of Mangold.

Sanchez turned in his worst performance of the season against the Ravens, completing 11 of 35 passes for 119 yards with a 30.5 rating while three of his four turnovers were returned for touchdowns.

The Jets defense ranks second in the league against the pass, allowing 180.2 yards per game, but is giving up an average of 130.5 rushing yards to rank 27th. The unit will now have to overcome the loss of linebacker Bryan Thomas(notes), who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn left Achilles’ tendon last week.

The Patriots will also be missing a key defensive cog, as linebacker Jerod Mayo(notes) will miss several weeks with a left knee injury.

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