What to watch for in Patriots-Jets on 'MNF'

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  • By Grant Gordon NFL.com
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More often than not over the last umpteen autumns, the New England Patriots have celebrated dynastic success while the Jets have searched and searched for franchise quarterbacks, capable coaches and winning seasons.

Nonetheless, the matchup remains a marquee offering.

That's the case yet again as the underdog, but all-of-a-sudden upstart New York Jets (1-4), led by returning quarterback Sam Darnold, aim to upset Tom Brady and the visiting Patriots (6-0) on Monday Night Football, which kicks off at 8:20 p.m. ET from MetLife Stadium on ESPN.

In an AFC East rematch, the Jets will have a second shot to bestow upon the Patriots their first loss of the season. An injury-ravaged Gang Green lost to the Pats, 30-14, in Week 3, a seventh straight defeat for the Jets in a one-sided rivalry.

Darnold's return from mononucleosis boosted the Jets to their first victory of the season a week ago in an upset over the Dallas Cowboys, so perhaps another stunner is in line.

The Patriots' defense has been one of, if not the, most impressive in coach Bill Belichick's legendary tenure. And though the offense has often underwhelmed, Brady still brings a presence that only he can.

As kickoff approaches, here are four things to watch for on Monday Night Football:

Tom and Sam take top billing


Though defense is likely the strength of both squads on Monday night, Tom Brady and Sam Darnold certainly aren't taking a backseat.

Absent since Week 1 due to illness, Darnold returned in almost mythical fashion a week ago, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and 338 yards in a startling upending of the Cowboys that rescued Gotham from the doldrums of a five-week skid to start the season.

On the mend when the teams first played, Darnold competed only once against the Patriots in his rookie season and hasn't yet thrown a touchdown pass against the AFC East titans. More important than any stats, though, Darnold has reinvigorated his team and its fan base.

Sober thoughts of the Jets knocking off the Patriots would've been ludicrous a few weeks ago, but with Darnold's return, stunning wins don't seem to be such shocking propositions.

While Darnold has yet to toss a TD against the Pats, Brady has made a very healthy living picking the Jets apart. Having already passed for more yards in the Super Bowl era than anybody else against the Bills and Dolphins, the Jets are the next and last division rival on his list.

Only Dan Marino, co-star of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (along with being one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time), has thrown for more yards against the Jets in his career. With 8,400 against New York coming in, Brady needs 252 to surpass Marino on Monday and he threw for 306 in the teams' first meeting -- the first of four 300-yard games this campaign.

As long as Brady continues his phenomenal days of autumn, prime matchups with a budding Darnold will have a chance to produce an added storyline to this rivalry.

Monday night, thankfully, is another chance for that to take place.

Will the Patriots continue to roll on with their dominant defensive ways?


There are few constants in the unpredictable NFL universe. The Patriots' defense overwhelming overmatched foes has been one of them so far.

While the story of the Jets' season prior to their first win was injuries and tough-to-watch losses, the Jamal Adams-led defense fought the good fight. New York might finally get linebacker C.J. Mosley back and obviously the Jets rejoice in a big return.

But this season has belonged to the Patriots' defense. Total defense, scoring defense, third downs, turnovers, red zone defense, big plays, yards per play and turnover differential are all categories in which the Patriots lead the NFL. Just about every other category, they likewise reside in the top three.

Linebacker Jamie Collins (team-highs 30 tackles and 4.5 sacks, three interceptions) is quietly having a stellar season. Devin McCourty (four interceptions), Kyle Van Noy (3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles), Chase Winovich (four sacks) and on and on have swarmed to success in a run in which every starter seems to be contributing mightily.

The Jets were the first team to score a TD against the Patriots this season, but neither touchdown was on offense. Darnold's return has the New York offense trending upward, but the Patriots' defense has been a nightmare for every opposing offense so far and no opponent is likely to wake up from that anytime soon.

Receivers catching plenty of attention


New England has had issues maintaining healthy receivers (and tight ends) for Tom Brady to throw to this season, while New York, in Sam Darnold's absence, saw its receivers' production vanish prior to the QB's return.

Storylines and quandaries abound when it comes to the Patriots and Jets' receiving corps.

Example one is the guy who's spent time on both squads in the calendar year. Demaryius Thomas caused some chatter this past week when he said his time in New England was a waste of time. Thomas was released by the Patriots in the preseason, then re-signed, then traded to the Jets. It looms as somewhat head-scratching as the Patriots have had problems in their wide-receiving ranks throughout the year.

Thomas is coming off his best game of the season with four catches for 62 yards as just about every receiver had their best performances upon Darnold's return.

Robbie Anderson is coming off a five-catch, 125-yard day. Those were season-highs and his touchdown was his first.

Then there's Jamison Crowder, who leads New York with 272 yards receiving and is averaging 13 targets, 10 catches and 99 yards per game with Darnold at QB and five targets, three catches and 25 yards when he's not.

Absent from relevance for weeks, the Jets receivers are reinvigorated.

As for the Patriots, Julian Edelman (chest) and his team-best 38 catches are questionable for Monday and Josh Gordon has already been ruled out, along with tight ends Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse. Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) and Gunner Olszewski (hamstring) are also questionable.

So who does TB12 throw to down the field? The door's open for Jakobi Meyers to emerge with a bigger role and for the first time there's a chance rookie first-round choice N'Keal Harry could make his debut. The Patriots finding a way is as much a part of the Patriots way as anything and Brady seems to always find a way to get unknown receivers known and contributing.

Will Monday night rekindle the struggling Le'Veon Bell?


As the Gang Green faithful rejoiced in the Jets' upset of the Cowboys and reveled in tails of Sam the Slayer, Le'Veon Bell's continued struggles thus far with New York were somewhat overlooked.

On the bright side, Bell scored his first Jets touchdown in the Jets' first victory. Still, he's averaging only 51.2 yards per game on the ground and a career-low 3.0 yards per carry.

With a so-far sensational Patriots defense opposing him, Bell's unlikely to have an easy night in front of him. Historically, he never has against the Pats, who confined him to a season-low 35 yards in the teams' first meeting of the season and across four career games have limited him to 76.8 yards per outing.

However, the game is on Monday night and Bell has been brilliant on Monday nights.

In five career Monday nighters, Bell's average of 161 scrimmage yards is the best in history. Of course, those games were with the Steelers and this game is against a New England defense allowed running backs just 87 scrimmage yards a contest.

So, will Bell sparkle once more on Monday night or will the Pats' defense toe the line as it has all season?

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