Patriots vs. Jets preview: What's at stake for New England in AFC East showdown

Curran: If Patriots have a chance in 2022, we'll find out vs. Jets originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FOXBORO -- It was just four days ago that I was poised to wax eloquent about reconfiguring expectations for the 2022 Patriots.

The Patriots were SUPPOSED to dispatch the sad-sack Bears with ease. Mac Jones was SUPPOSED to re-enter the lineup with a modicum of efficiency. Mac would be back, the team would be 4-3, we’d be tallying probable wins and wondering whether the Patriots would be on the road or home for the Wild Card Round.

It. Was not. To be.

Figuratively speaking, they rammed into a bridge abutment Monday night. Now, they’re back on the road at the Jets, a team they are INCONCEIVABLY trailing by two games in the AFC East. All those TV segments we did in the spring and summer where we power-ranked the division and wondered if the Jets and Dolphins had gained on the Patriots? We’ve gotten an answer now, haven’t we?

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Normally, I’d think that the Patriots' franchise DNA would shine through at a time like this. Like it did in Green Bay and against the Lions and Browns. Backed into a corner, they’d come out swinging.

But the adversity they faced in that stretch was a confluence of circumstances. Coaching decisions didn’t directly lead to Jones and Brian Hoyer getting hurt. By contrast, Bill Belichick did indeed orchestrate the quarterbacking sideshow Monday night. And, speaking candidly, I don’t think it helped the team’s overall performance. (Ya think so, genius?)

So now it’s time for page-flipping. And lending a shoulder to cry on is not in the plans on a short week.

"I’m a dad. I do that with my kids," said Devin McCourty when asked Wednesday if he needed to buck up any teammates (i.e. Jones) who may be feeling down. "I really don’t come to work and pat a guy on the back and say, ‘Cmon buddy.’

"We don’t have guys who walk around and act like the world’s falling. We’re all doing pretty well here. We get to play football. A ton of guys would dream to be in this position. … I don’t think the world is crashing down on anybody and we’re running this huge daycare where we’re like, ‘Buddy took my favorite toy and now I’m mad, can you get me a new toy?’ If someone needs a new toy I’m all for going to Target and getting a new toy."

Poop happens, McCourty indicated. Just clean up the poop.

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"This is my 13th year so I wouldn’t say this is the first time I’ve been (at the podium) after a game (didn’t) go well," he said. "You put it behind you. It’s the National Football League. Not every week is gonna go perfect. But I would say it’s pretty easy in this league to let one bad thing steamroll you and go in the dumps and lose three straight or four straight.

"If we want to continue to build and play well and still have the goals we set for ourselves in front of us, we gotta be able to turn the page. The Jets don’t care we didn’t play well two nights ago. They’re gonna be ready to go. Division game, they’re on a four-game winning streak. We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves."

Moving forward doesn’t mean pretending Monday night wasn’t REALLY the Patriots.

"I don’t believe in watching something and saying, 'That’s not us,'" McCourty said. "Why can’t that be you again? There’s nothing in life or football that you watch and say, ‘I’ll never do that again.’ No matter what, you have to watch the tape and take responsibility and fix it. And you have to be intentional about fixing it. You have to take responsibility when things don’t go well.

"We’re 3-4. I would say out of seven games, four times it hasn’t gone well. If you’re gonna say that’s not us, well four times it hasn’t gone well. Four is more than three. We have to take responsibility."

The Jets don’t provide a soft landing spot for Jones. Defensively, they are better than the league average in almost every production category, including yards/game (ninth), points/game (10th), passing yards/game (13th) and rushing yards/game (11th). Red zone (26th), third down (20th) and goal-to-go (T-27th)? They are a smidge worse.

Offensively, they are worse than the league average in almost every category. Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson -- taken 13 spots ahead of Jones -- is still fairly impotent. He completes 57.8 percent of his passes and has a touchdown and two picks in four games. He’s been sacked eight times and has just 101 attempts. Joe Flacco played better while Wilson was hurt.

Additionally, the Jets lost running back Breece Hall for the season last week. He’s been the hub of their offense. The Patriots defense has been undressed by exceedingly mobile quarterbacks in Justin Fields and Lamar Jackson. Mobile though he may be, Wilson’s not the same threat to embarrass the Patriots defense like those two did.

The Patriots are favored on the road in this game and there's reasonable discussion as to why. The Jets beat the Dolphins and Packers. The Patriots couldn’t.

The Jets have won four straight. New England’s longest streak was two and it came with Bailey Zappe at quarterback. The Patriots are favored because of who they’ve been and who the Jets have been. If New England is still New England, they take care of the Jets and the wind goes back in the sails of their season.

If not? Bill Belichick will have lost to Mike McDaniel, Matt Eberflus and Robert Saleh while Jones will have started and lost to Tua, Fields and Wilson. And it will be harder to say they are who they’ve always been.

Prediction: Patriots 20, Jets 13