FOXBOROUGH – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by Sports XChange) – You won’t find anyone around the New England Patriots talking about how winning the next two games assures them of home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
That’s not the way things are done around Gillette Stadium.
“I think you guys know him. This week is all about beating the Jets,” defensive captain and new Pro Bowl selection Devin McCourty said Wednesday.
“Him” is coach Bill Belichick, whose 12-2 team needs wins over the Jets on Saturday and then at Miami in the New Year’s Day finale to be sure of being a home team for their two playoff games (they have already clinched a bye) as they seek the fifth Super Bowl title of the Belichick/Tom Brady Era.
Devin McCourty (32)
The Jets are 4-10. They are a fractured group that seemed to go through the motions in last week’s blowout loss to the Dolphins. They appear to be ready to be
cannon fodder for a New England team on a roll.
“It’s kind of like we were in the same position last year — same opponents the last two weeks of the season, obviously same goals,” McCourty said. “Last year, whatever we thought of how good of a position we were in and ‘blah blah blah.’ The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to.
“I think the biggest thing we always talk about is past games, last year, the biggest thing is learning from those experiences. Obviously those games have no bearing on this year’s games but just learning of, ‘What did you do that week?,’ ‘Did you go the extra step to try to prepare?,’ ‘Did you go the extra mile at the toughest part of the season — two games left, Christmas, New Years, holidays — just trying to put in a little extra?'”
And Belichick, seeking his 200th win as New England’s coach, is always good at getting his message across.
“I think obviously Coach reminded us of that and I think as guys that were here last year and veterans, we’ve got to try to urge the team to have that sense of urgency by obviously first leading by example out there today,” McCourty said. “(It’s a) short week, try to get ahead of yesterday and then now just trying to put it on the practice field and get ready to go for Saturday.”
Brady, who needs 270 yards to pass Dan Marino and move into fourth place on the all-time list, showed up again on the injury report Wednesday, but this time for a thigh that led to his limited participation. There was no indication he won’t play — and rookie Jacoby Brissett was activated from injured reserve in time to meet the deadline, just in case something goes wrong with Brady.
While Brady is a sure thing for the Patriots, who beat the Jets 22-17 in New Jersey on Nov. 27, the Jets are still dealing with the Bryce Petty experiment. Petty is listed as a full participant on Wednesday’s report after taking that monster hit from Ndamukong Su and Cameron Wake last week.
“I couldn’t imagine this season ending that way,” Petty said Tuesday. “So I was really happy to see that everything was negative, everything was good. It was a good hit — hits, plural.
“So I’ll probably put that up in my man cave at some point. I thought something was messed up in there. But luckily everything was good, and we don’t have to speak in hypotheticals because we’re all cleared and good to go.”
Asked about his quarterback situation Wednesday on a conference call with New England media, beleaguered (fired?) coach Todd Bowles said, “We had (Ryan) Fitzpatrick early on. Obviously, we didn’t play great there, so we changed to Bryce until the end of the year to get a look at him. It’s not even about having the right guys, it’s about making plays and not turning the ball over, so we need some stability that way.”
Bowles said Petty is “getting better every day” but when asked if he will play Saturday, the coach said, “It’s probably too early to tell. I’ll see as the week goes by.”
Fitzpatrick was the Jets quarterback the first time the teams played, going 22 of 32 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady, fashioning his 50th career fourth-quarter comeback win in the game, was 30 of 50 for 286 yards, two touchdown and no picks, clearing the 60,000-yard plateau in that game.
Brady has thrown one interception in his 10 games as both he and the team close in on the record for fewest picks thrown in a season.
While the focus always seems to be on Brady and the New England offense — especially with Rob Gronkowski out for the season — the Patriots’ defense has been a real story the past two weeks as it continues to grow.