EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There were no sighs of relief, no jumps for joy when the New York Jets found out they wouldn’t have to worry about Rob Gronkowski this week.
Sure, the New England Patriots lost perhaps the league’s top playmaking tight end for a few weeks with a broken forearm. But Rex Ryan’s team knew better than to celebrate.
“I don’t know,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “They have five tight ends on their roster, so I don’t know if they’ll put another guy in that role. I’m not sure how they’ll do it.”
If Ryan has learned anything in his nearly four seasons as coach of the Jets, it’s that Bill Belichick usually finds a way to win no matter who’s out there — or isn’t — on the field for the Patriots. Ryan also knows New England can change the personnel, but as long as it’s still Tom Brady’s bunch, it’ll be a tough task.
“When you look at him,” Ryan said, “you can almost say he’s a machine back there.”
And Ryan is right about the Patriots’ glut of tight ends. Aaron Hernandez could return for the game against the Jets (4-6) Thursday night at MetLife Stadium after missing the last three with a sprained right ankle, and New England also has Daniel Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui at the position.
“New England is so multiple, they give you sometimes it could be four wides, five wides, could be a bunch of tight ends and all that,” Ryan said. “So, we’ll see as the game goes how it affects them.”
Belichick was typically tight-lipped when asked if the loss of Gronkowski will change the offense for the Patriots (7-3).
“Well, we’ll see,” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Sounds as though Belichick, one win from becoming the eighth NFL coach with 200 victories, has something up his hoodie. Just as he always does. Gronkowski or no Gronkowski, the Patriots still have Brady, of course, and that’s enough for anyone in New England to feel confident.
Brady was asked earlier this week if Gronkowski seemed to be in a decent mood when the two spoke.
“I haven’t been thinking about his spirits,” Brady said. “I’ve been thinking about the Jets.”
A focused and determined Brady is certainly cause for concern for the Jets.
“He’s going to be Brady,” safety LaRon Landry said. “He’s going to complete passes and he’s going to be great out there. We are going against a tough quarterback.”
Talk about an understatement. Brady needs one touchdown pass to extend his streak with at least one to 43 straight games — third-longest in league history behind Drew Brees (53 and counting) and Johnny Unitas (47). He has 51 career 300-yard passing games in the regular season, and one more would put him into tie for fifth place with Kurt Warner. Brady also needs 86 yards passing to move past Dan Fouts (43,040) for 10th place on NFL’s career list.
“The thing about him is he’s a machine, yet he’s passionate and a fiery leader and all that type of stuff, so you wish he was just a machine,” Ryan said. “His competitive side elevates his team as well. That’s what you get in those once-in-a-generation type quarterbacks, that he’s just a special guy.”
The Jets know all about it, too. Brady is 4-0 with 10 TDs and one interception in his last four regular-season games against them. He’s 17-5 overall when playing New York, including New England’s playoff loss in the 2010 postseason.
The Patriots have also been dominant in the second halves of seasons since 2010, going a combined 18-0 so far — including 8-0 in both 2010 and ‘11, and 2-0 this season. That doesn’t bode well for a Jets team trying to get back into the playoff hunt after a miserable start.
“This is a very important game for our season, so I’m not overly concerned with their season,” Brady said. “I think about what our season is all about and what we need to do. This is a very good team. It’s always very challenging to play them, especially on the road. It’s a short week and there’s a lot to prepare for, so it will really test our mental toughness and see what we’re all about.”
Well, the entire league already knows that the Patriots’ top-ranked offense is efficient and explosive, as proven by their 59-24 walloping of Indianapolis on Sunday. Brady leads a steady passing game, and a four-man rotation of Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden gives New England a productive and unpredictable rushing attack.
The Jets handled Brady and the Patriots’ offense for much of the game the last time the teams played last month in a 29-26 overtime victory by New England that New York thought was theirs for the taking.
“When it mattered most, he delivered and they got the victory,” Ryan said. “We know each other so well. We know enough of Tom Brady to know if he knows exactly what you’re in, you’re in trouble.”
That game ended when Rob Ninkovich forced and recovered a fumble by Mark Sanchez, moments after Stephen Gostkowski kicked a go-ahead field goal in overtime. It started a string of three straight losses for the Jets, who appeared on the verge of seeing their season slip away until a solid performance last week in St. Louis.
Sanchez was efficient and mistake-free for the first time in weeks, giving the Jets plenty of hope heading into this matchup with the Patriots.
“They played really well against St. Louis if you watched that game,” Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said. “They’re a physical team. They got to the quarterback. They forced some negative plays for them and really did some good things. So, they got some momentum coming off that game and we’ve just got to make sure that we keep our momentum going.”
Both teams are cramming to prepare for their second game in five days, a short work week for such a big game.
For the Jets, a win would get them within a game of .500 and avoid a sweep by the Patriots for the second straight season. For New England, it would put them in control of the division at 4-0 with just two games against Miami left and send New York scrambling to stay in the wild-card hunt.
“You look at this as a chance to separate yourself from the rest of the pack,” Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “We handled the Bills and now this is a big game for us to kind of distance ourselves.”
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Houston Texans (9-1)
At Detroit Lions (4-6)
OPENING LINE — Texans by 3
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Houston 7-3; Detroit 4-6
SERIES RECORD — Tied 1-1
AP PRO32 RANKING — Texans No. 1; Lions No. 19
LAST MEETING — Texans beat Lions 28-21, Oct. 19, 2008
LAST WEEK — Texans beat Jaguars 43-37 OT; Lions lost to Packers 24-20
TEXANS OFFENSE — OVERALL (6), RUSH (8), PASS (12)
TEXANS DEFENSE — OVERALL (4), RUSH (2), PASS (7)
LIONS OFFENSE — OVERALL (2), RUSH (23), PASS (1)
LIONS DEFENSE — OVERALL (10), RUSH (16), PASS (8)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Texans only NFL team that can clinch spot in playoffs with win and losses from handful of other teams. ... Lions have lost two straight after winning three of four. ... Houston has won four in row overall and is 4-0 on road. ... Detroit has to rally to be in playoffs in consecutive years first time since mid-1990s. ... Texans shooting for first 10-1 start in 10-year history and second straight postseason for first time. ... Texans QB Matt Schaub AFC offensive player of week after completing 43 passes for 527 yards, both totals tied for second most in NFL history, and team-record five TDs in OT win over Jacksonville. ... Lions QB Matthew Stafford coming off one of worst games, connecting on 43.6 percent of 39 passes with two INTs and a fumble in loss to Green Bay. .. Schaub 13-1 in last 14 games with 23 TDs and nine INTs. ... Lions leaving WR Titus Young inactive for week after coach Jim Schwartz said second-year pro had “unacceptable” behavior against Packers. ... Houston RB Arian Foster 51 yards rushing from third straight 1,000-yard season. ... Lions rookie LT Riley Reiff, first-round pick, expected to make start in place of Jeff Backus, whose injured right hamstring likely to end 186-game starting streak. ... Texans WR Andre Johnson, who Detroit passed on to draft WR Charles Rogers in 2003, had career-high 273 yards receiving last week. ... Lions, playing 73rd game on Thanksgiving, have lost eight straight and 11 of last 12 in their annual showcase.
Washington Redskins (4-6)
At Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
OPENING LINE — Dallas by 4
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Washington 5-5; Dallas 4-6
SERIES RECORD — Cowboys lead 62-40-2
PRO32 RANKING — Redskins No. 18; Cowboys No. 16
LAST MEETING — Cowboys beat Redskins 27-24 OT, Nov. 20, 2011
LAST WEEK — Redskins beat Eagles 31-6; Cowboys beat Browns 23-20 OT
REDSKINS OFFENSE — OVERALL (8), RUSH (2), PASS (22)
REDSKINS DEFENSE — OVERALL (26), RUSH (7), PASS (29)
COWBOYS OFFENSE — OVERALL (11t), RUSH (29), PASS (7)
COWBOYS DEFENSE — OVERALL (7), RUSH (13), PASS (6)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Dallas has won three in row, and six of seven, in series. ... Cowboys’ 62 wins over Redskins most over any team. ... Dallas 28-15-1 on Thanksgiving Day. ... Redskins 0-6 against Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. ... Robert Griffin III last week became first rookie in NFL with 200 yards passing, four passing TDs and 75 yards rushing in same game. ... Griffin played one college game at Cowboys Stadium, last Nov. 26 when he completed 7 of 11 passes for 106 yards and a TD, and ran 14 times for 62 yards and two scores in first half for Baylor against Texas Tech. He didn’t return in second half because of concussion-like symptoms. ... RGIII needs 145 yards passing to break Norm Snead’s team rookie record of 2,337 set in 1961. Only 94 yards shy of breaking Cam Newton’s NFL rookie QB single-season rushing record of 706. ... Redskins have gone three consecutive games without turnover, longest streak since at least 1950. ... Washington LB London Fletcher set to play 235th consecutive game, tied for NFL’s longest active streak. ... Tony Romo 5-0 on Thanksgiving Day with 14 TDs and four interceptions. Danny White is only Cowboys starting QB with more turkey day wins (seven) ... Romo 14 passing attempts from 3,000 career. ... Dallas playing second of five home games in six-week span. ... Based on Cowboys coaching film, LB Sean Lee (77 tackles) still team’s leading tackler even though he hasn’t played last four games since season-ending big toe injury. LB Bruce Carter has 71.
New England Patriots (7-3)
At New York Jets (4-6)
OPENING LINE — Patriots by 7
RECORD VS. SPREAD — New England 5-4; New York 5-4
SERIES RECORD — Patriots lead 54-52-1
AP PRO32 RANKING — Patriots No. 7; Jets No. 21
LAST MEETING — Patriots beat Jets 29-26 OT, Oct. 21
LAST WEEK — Patriots beat Colts 59-24; Jets beat Rams 27-13
PATRIOTS OFFENSE — OVERALL (1), RUSH (5), PASS (4)
PATRIOTS DEFENSE — OVERALL (28), RUSH (10), PASS (30)
JETS OFFENSE — OVERALL (29), RUSH (15), PASS (29)
JETS DEFENSE — OVERALL (14), RUSH (30), PASS (4)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Patriots playing on Thanksgiving for fifth time, going 2-2 in previous appearances. Jets playing on holiday for second time in three years and are 1-3 on Thanksgiving — but were 3-0 from 1960-62 as New York Titans of AFL. ... In last meeting, Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich forced and recovered fumble by Jets QB Mark Sanchez to seal OT victory. ... Since 2010 season, Patriots combined 18-0 in second half of regular season, including 8-0 in both 2010 and ‘11. ... Bill Belichick needs one victory to become eighth NFL coach to record 200 wins. ... QB Tom Brady 4-0 with 10 TDs and one INT in last four regular-season games against Jets. He’s 17-5 overall vs. New York, including New England’s playoff loss in 2010 postseason. ... Brady needs one TD pass to extend streak with at least one to 43 straight games — third-longest behind Drew Brees (53 and counting) and Johnny Unitas (47). He has 51 career 300-yard passing games in regular season, and one more would put him into tie for fifth place with Kurt Warner. Needs 86 yards passing to move past Dan Fouts (43,040) for 10th place on NFL’s career list. ... WR Wes Welker has caught at least one pass in 104 straight regular-season games, including franchise-record 87 in row with Patriots. Needs one 10-reception game to break tie with Marvin Harrison and Andre Johnson and match Jerry Rice for the most in NFL history with 17. ... K Stephen Gostkowski has two FGs of 50 or more yards this season, and needs one more to tie Adam Vinatieri’s Patriots career mark with eight. ... TE Rob Gronkowski first at his position with three straight seasons of 10 or more TDs, but expected to miss at least a month with broken left forearm. ... WR Julian Edelman became first Patriots player to score on a reception (2-yard catch) and return (68-yard punt return) in a game last week since Irving Fryar in 1985. ... Newly signed CB Aqib Talib returned INT for TD vs. Colts in debut with Patriots. ... Jets snapped three-game skid Sunday, putting them 4-6 for first time since 2009 — when they went on late run to AFC title game. ... Sanchez broke out of slump with efficient performance vs. Rams, going 15 of 20 for 178 yards and a TD — and no turnovers. Jets 2-1 this season when Sanchez has no turnovers, and 14-5 in regular season in his four-year career in those situations. ... Since top WR Santonio Holmes was lost for season against San Francisco in Week 4, Jeremy Kerley leads Jets with 30 catches, 393 yards receiving and 13.1 yards per catch. ... Backup QB Tim Tebow has been used only in limited role this season, seeing just three snaps on offense last week. ... Backup RB Bilal Powell, back from concussion, ran for first two TDs of two-year career in win vs. Rams. ... Since joining Jets in 2010, CB Antonio Cromartie has 10 INTs, tying him for second-most in AFC with Bengals’ Jason Allen — two behind the Patriots’ Devin McCourty.