Patriots secondary primary suspects in 3-3 start
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Life among the cannibals, the NFL version, is when a team has a bad game and the pundits, bloviators and let-down fans attack. It was that way a couple of weeks ago for the Jets, and something like that for the New England Patriots after the latter's come-from-ahead loss at Seattle last week.
Both teams are 3-3 as they grapple in Foxboro on Sunday over first place in the AFC East. But the Jets seemed to be dangling over the abyss after a 34-0 pounding by San Francisco, their second straight loss, on Oct. 8. And New England's followers aren't accustomed to their heroes losing three games before Halloween.
"I'm sure their fans are probably a little disappointed because of what their record is now and are probably yelling at them," Jets safety Yeremiah Bell said. "But our job is to make sure the fans yell at them some more.
"No sympathy. We're going up there and try to get a win and try to keep those fans unsettled."
Not surprisingly, the Jets insist that New England doesn't look like a 3-3 team -- whatever that looks like, given that the two teams hardly resemble each other. Jets coach Rex Ryan went through a mental binder full of statistics that make New England sound plenty threatening:
"Number one in the NFL in total offense and scoring, and I think they're fourth in rushing," Ryan said, correctly. "Overall, an average of about 295 yards a game [passing], 150-something rushing. There's a huge challenge there, and it starts with the quarterback [Tom Brady]."
The Jets have noticed, though, some New England difficulties "as far as big plays," said defensive end Quinton Coples; specifically, New England's critics are pointing to a weakness in the secondary. Two statistics Ryan did not mention are New England's two worst: No. 28 in the league in passing yards allowed per game (288.8) and tied for 27th in passing yards per attempt (8.1).
Ryan guessed that could result from the fact that "there's probably been a lot of passing attempts against this group, because they've been ahead." Still, grumbling about New England's defensive backs grew louder after Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson completed touchdown passes of 50 and 46 yards last week, as well as a non-scoring 51-yarder. The winning 46-yarder, to Sidney Rice, came with 1:18 left and was the 13th pass of at least 30 yards against New England this season.
"But I think, in their three losses, they've lost by maybe five or six points [total]," Ryan noted. (Right again: by two points to Arizona and one each to Baltimore and Seattle.) "It's not like they're getting manhandled by any stretch. They've had some big leads and lost a couple.
"But you look at the numbers, you watch them on tape and, I mean, they're explosive on offense and they've doing what they do on defense -- they create turnovers."
Opponents have fumbled 13 times and thrown six interceptions against New England.
"We'll need consistency [on offense] more than anything," tight end Dustin Keller said. "Obviously, when you're moving the ball, guys are feeling good about themselves, but [New England] is good at getting turnovers, so we just have to protect the ball, whether it's throwing it or Shonn [Greene] or Joe [McKnight] carrying it. Make sure we're turnover-free.
"There's been some areas where they've let some big plays show up, but you've got to expect they'll always play their best when you get into the game."
And there is no time for compassion regarding fellow football pros being battered by spectators' demands.
"Nobody has sympathy for us and we don't expect it," Keller said. "Just being a professional, you're expected to play consistently and play your best football week in and week out. I think it's safe to say people should expect that from us."
Oh, they do. But they also expect wins.