Robert Saleh, NY Jets, Patriots
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets have lost 14 consecutive games to a divisional foe

Ask almost anyone what the hierarchy of the AFC East is, and they’ll likely tell you the Buffalo Bills followed by some iteration of the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. The New England Patriots come in last by consensus.

And yet, the Jets have lost 14 consecutive games to The Evil Genius and his ragtag clan. New England may have singlehandedly put the Jets’ 2022 season on the ropes with two crushing defeats.

To get anywhere this season, the Jets are going to need to finally show The Hoodie who’s boss. With Aaron Rodgers in tow, they have the best chance of doing so in over two decades. The last time the Jets beat the Patriots in both regular-season games was in 2000 when Mo Lewis crushingly ushered in a dark era in New Jersey.

From 2001-22, the Patriots are 36-8 in the regular season against the Jets. That means that even prior to this 14-game skid, the Patriots were still 22-10 (.688) against the Jets in the 21st century.

Finally, the elements are possibly in place. Belichick may even be on the hot seat, at least according to his friends’ fears. What would be a better way to usher him out of New England than a blowout in the season’s finale at Gillette Stadium?

However, Belichick is never an easy out. In fact, of the 10 regular-season victories the Jets have had over Belichick, only three have come by more than one touchdown. Only one of those came after 2002—when the Jets won 28-14 in the 2010 regular season.

How can the Jets finally overcome their worst divisional foe?

Throw to secondary targets

Belichick’s defenses have always excelled at taking away an opponent’s top threat. Garrett Wilson did have one strong game against New England, catching six balls on seven targets for 115 yards, mainly off the strength of one 54-yard reception and another 21-yard shovel pass. However, in the next game, he was shut down to the tune of two receptions for 12 yards.

Obviously, it’s easy to take these numbers with a grain of salt due to Zach Wilson‘s ineptitude. Still, this is Belichick’s defensive philosophy: take away the opponent’s primary targets and force them to go to secondary options.

There is no reason to think that Belichick cannot replicate these results. In fact, the team drafted Christian Gonzalez, a top cornerback prospect, to bolster their secondary. They already allowed the third-lowest receiving DVOA to opposing No. 1 receivers in 2022. With an overall third-ranked defensive DVOA and a pass rush that generated 54 sacks a year ago, the Patriots are a good bet to field another strong defense.

However, New England was not quite as elite against a team’s second, third, and fourth targets in 2022. They ranked 15th in pass defense DVOA against a team’s No. 2 receiver, 15th against other receivers, 16th against tight ends, and 13th against running backs.

That means that the Jets’ other weapons will be very important. No longer can New England sit in single-high press man against the Jets or send a Cover 0 blitz. Garrett Wilson will shred that, which means they need to dedicate a second man there. That should open up space for Allen Lazard, Corey Davis, Mecole Hardman, and Tyler Conklin, among others.

In fact, Lazard actually had a 100-yard game against the Patriots last year, albeit as Green Bay’s No. 1 weapon (at the time). In the Week 4 matchup, he caught six of eight targets for 116 yards. However, he also ran a bad route that contributed to a pick-six (although it was a very poor throw by Rodgers, too).

Conklin actually also got something going against New England in the first matchup. Although some of his yardage came when the game was not close, he caught two touchdowns on nicely-run routes against linebackers. He was also open a few more times but Wilson missed him. Overall, Conklin had six receptions for 79 yards and two scores in that game.

New England also did not have to face Breece Hall last season. Depending on his health, that could be a major factor to throw off the Patriots’ defense. There are only so many weapons that opponents can cover, and Hall showed his potential out of the backfield as well as on the ground.

Stop Rhamondre Stevenson

Rhamondre Stevenson has established himself as one of the more underrated and solid backs in the NFL. The Jets were one of his favorite opponents in 2022, especially in the passing game.

In terms of rushing, Stevenson had one decent rushing game against the Jets and one poor one. In Week 8, he had 16 carries for 71 yards at MetLife Stadium, including a 35-yard run in which he broke tackles from both Jets safeties. Overall, he got 81 yards after contact at 5.06 per rush. In Week 11, Stevenson had 15 carries for just 26 yards with a long of five yards.

However, the passing game told a different story. In the two games, Stevenson combined for 12 catches on 13 targets for 128 yards at a whopping 2.61 yards per route run. He forced seven tackles on those receptions.

Stevenson is exactly the kind of weapon that the Jets struggle against—a back who can catch out of the backfield and make people miss. The Patriots excel at setting up their players in position for YAC. Stopping Stevenson is a big key, as he is likely their best skill position player at the moment.

Finish tackles

This goes along with stopping Stevenson and may be the key point: tackle. The Jets were charged with 19 combined missed tackles in the two games against New England in 2022, and that seems generously low. Stevenson himself forced 11 missed tackles, including five as a receiver in Week 11.

The worst play was a third-and-16 short pass in Week 11 that wound up going for a first down after countless whiffs, but there were many others. As a team, the Jets missed 12.3% of their tackles in the first matchup and an astounding 18.6% in the second game. It’s shocking that the final score was only 10-3.

In the first matchup, Quincy Williams was charged with two missed tackles. In the second, C.J. Mosley was dinged with three. Both of them will need to shore up their tackling, both in general and specifically against New England.

Guard against crossers, screens, and dump-offs

This point is also built off the previous one. Mac Jones doesn’t have much of a throwing arm. In his first game against the Jets in 2022, he benefited from three Zach Wilson interceptions to score. Otherwise, his 5.5 yards per attempt, one counted interception, one called-back interception, and one fumble that New England fortunately recovered were singularly unimpressive. However, he was able to move the sticks with dump-offs and screens to Stevenson and dump-offs over the middle to Jakobi Meyers.

In the second matchup, Jones was far more efficient at 9.8 yards per attempt. However, his average depth of target was in the same exact range that it had been in the first game—4.7 vs. 4.6. He was dinking and dunking, but the Jets couldn’t stop it.

In the two games, Michael Carter II was victimized to the tune of nine receptions on 10 attempts for 73 yards. Mosley yielded 10 of 12 targets for 101 yards. D.J. Reed gave up seven of nine for 68 yards, including 5-for-5 for 51 yards in the second matchup. Williams coughed up all seven of his targets for 56 yards. Kwon Alexander gave up six of seven for 91 yards.

Most of these players had an average depth of target of five yards or less, but they gave up yardage because they could not wrap up. The soft underbelly of the Jets’ defense was exposed due to their poor tackling. Still, until they show some ability to stop those crossers and screens, the Patriots will keep throwing them.

Play solid special teams

In Week 11, a walk-off punt return touchdown became the latest Jets nightmare in Foxborough. The play started with a punt by Braden Mann right down the middle of the field when his one goal was to punt it out of bounds.

What was forgotten, though, was that the Jets had some special teams woes in the Week 8 matchup, as well.

After New England marched right down the field for a touchdown to start the second half and went up 13-10, the Jets started a drive of their own. However, they stalled out at the Patriots’ 27, and Greg Zuerlein missed a 45-yard field goal. The miss cost the Jets 5.52% of win probability, and the Patriots drove down for their own 49-yard field goal and a six-point lead. Nick Folk was 5-for-5 in field goals, which made a huge difference.

Mann’s first punt of the game sailed 22 yards from the Jets’ 23 to their 45, setting up New England’s first drive in excellent field position. The Patriots did not capitalize, but nonetheless, it tilted the field position battle in their direction; the Jets started their next drive from their own eight-yard line. Marcus Jones also had a 32-yard punt return late in the third quarter, setting up a field goal that put New England up by two scores.

Although Folk missed two field goals in the second matchup and Jake Bailey was not inspiring, New England handily won the special teams battle overall. This is the way that Belichick pulls victory from the jaws of defeat. The Jets can’t let that happen this year.

Eliminate unforced errors

Mann’s shanked punt and punt down the middle were just two of the many unforced errors that the Jets had against New England in 2022. The most egregious was John Franklin-Myers‘ roughing-the-passer penalty that negated a Michael Carter II pick-six.

Controversial though the call was, Franklin-Myers took two full steps before hitting Jones hard and high, something that was totally unnecessary. Although the Jets were called for just seven penalties totaling 56 yards in the two matchups, that one was a back-breaker.

Belichick always has a disciplined team. The Jets need to clean their act up against him.

Will they?

The biggest question will be if the Jets’ defense can tackle and stop crossing patterns. If not, they’re going to struggle significantly. Despite allowing just 25 combined points to the Patriots’ offense in the two matchups (including 16 where they did not start the drive in field goal range), those were not impressive defensive performances for the Jets.

I think Rodgers will be able to throw to his secondary receivers and gain some more traction offensively. Even though the Patriots were likely letting deeper receivers go in the matchups, knowing that Wilson could not throw to them, there were nevertheless several breakdowns in coverage. Rodgers can exploit those with the improved weapons he has this season over his matchup with the Patriots in 2022.

Special teams will be suspect for the Jets until proven otherwise. Thomas Morstead should not be the mess that Mann was in 2022. However, Zuerlein had his struggles down the stretch, and the Jets’ coverage allowed two of the NFL’s three punt return touchdowns in 2022.  Zaire Barnes had 13 special teams tackles across four college seasons, including five in 2022, and has a possible inside track on a roster spot for that reason.

Discipline has been an ongoing question for the Jets. I questioned Robert Saleh’s ability to instill accountability and discipline in his players. Over his two years with the team, there has been a concerning trend of players making boneheaded errors with no consequences. Notably, Justin Hardee has been called for two unnecessary roughness penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, a taunting penalty, and two fair catch interference penalties in his two seasons with the Jets, yet he retained the captain’s badge in 2022.

If the Jets cannot sweep the Patriots this season, it may be time to despair from that ever happening again. Still, never write off Belichick and the Patriots. I would be shocked if they finish this season with fewer than eight or nine victories despite that universal last-place expectation. The Jets simply need to add two to New England’s loss column.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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2 months ago

I feel like you and Tigo lead the anti-Justin Hardee club lol

2 months ago

The Jets are obviously imbalanced in several areas, with a surplus of pass rushers but a scary lack of dependable linebackers and safeties, some excellent skill players on offense, but a sketchy OL. Belichick is a genius at exploiting the opponents’ weaknesses and neutralizing his strengths, so the best strategy against him is to have strength throughout the team, or at least not have any blatant holes. I feel like Douglas and Saleh have unnecessarily tempted fate with they way they have built this team. The games against the Patriots will show us just how well the Jets are constructed.

verge tibbs
verge tibbs
2 months ago

Hardee brought his penalties down from 5 in 2021 to 2 in 2022. And i could swear i remember thinking most of them were shit calls. So Im not gonna hold it against him unless i see it for myself.. he’s a good player imo.

2 months ago

I don’t know that truer words have even been spoken. It’s on all of our minds, particularly since Richard Seymour made his “homecoming” remarks. I don’t know why they come to NY first this season, they were here first last season, but for me…it has to be a blowout in NE, during the homecoming game to satisfy me. That NE team last year was trash, and should not have swept us, things need to change.

You have it all exactly how I see it, I’m sure others…to quote the Emperor …”I can feel your anger”