AWFUL in Oakland. Unconvincing against Kansas. Better in Buffalo. Rampant against the Rams. Which New York Jets team is going to show up in New England this Thursday night?
It had better be the one that crushed St. Louis 47-3 yesterday because make no mistake, this game is going to be pivotal in deciding the AFC East Division.
If the 6-3 Jets can beat the 6-3 Patriots, they will be in sole possession of first place and masters of their own destiny.
Should they lose, they will have no better chance of winning the division than the 5-4 Dolphins and Bills.
In so many ways, this is the acid test for Eric Mangini as he approaches the end of his third year as Jets head coach.
Once again, he goes up against his mentor, Bill Belichick. Hartford-born Mangini spent five years under Belichick in New England, first as defensive backs coach and then as defensive coordinator.
It was Belichick who gave Mangini his chance in football after he spotted him working in the PR department for the Cleveland Browns.
Those are distant memories now. These days, there seems to be no love lost between the two as they vie for supremacy in the East.
And Mangini has a score to settle after the Pats left New York with a morale-sapping 19-10 victory in September.
Jets must beat Brady-less bunch this time
At least the Jets won’t have to face Tom Brady. However, they should be aware that in 26-year-old Matt Cassel, the Patriots have a maturing and developing quarterback.
Cassel knows the importance of Thursday’s game to both teams. “We’re in first place in the division and that’s where we want to be,” he says.
“We’ve got a big ballgame coming up this week, and we’ve got a quick turnaround. Everybody is excited about it. We’re always excited to play the Jets. It should be a big challenge for us. We’ll be up for the challenge, I’m sure.”
The Pats have lost just once in Foxborough this season (to the Dolphins) but have not been as dominant a force as they were this time last year, when they were winning games by landslide margins.
On the opposite side of the coin, they have tightened up their defense, allowing an average of just 12.8 points in their last four games.
Already seriously handicapped by the loss of Brady, safety Rodney Harrison and running back Laurence Maroney, they must now cope without linebacker Adalius Thomas, who is reported to have broken his left arm during yesterday’s 20-10 win over Buffalo.
If Brett Favre and the Jets harbor serious ambitions of not just making the playoffs but going deep, then this is a game they must win.
+++The Giants remain in charge of the NFC East after their 36-31 win in Philadelphia…but the game was much closer than it should have been.
They controlled the ball for close to 40 minutes but an Eli Manning interception and two fumbles by the otherwise enormous Brandon Jacobs kept the Eagles in the game.
Tom Coughlin’s team will bid to extend their record to 9-1 when the Baltimore Ravens, also on a four-game winning streak, visit the Meadowlands on Sunday (1pm).