Critical Matchups and Urgent Wins: Patriots-Jets and Chargers-Vikings Set to Determine Early Season Fate

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The New England Patriots always beat the New York Jets.

They did it routinely while dominating the AFC East and winding down their NFL dynasty. They’ve continued to do it routinely since then.

But rarely have the Patriots entered a game in which it felt like they needed to beat the Jets. Such is the case for this meeting in the Meadowlands on only the third Sunday of the NFL season.

Nothing about this season will be decided in Week 3. But even this early, it will begin to feel awfully late for the losers of two games Sunday, the latest Patriots-Jets installment and the matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis.

The Patriots have prevailed in 14 straight meetings with the Jets. It is the NFL’s second-longest active winning streak by one team over another, one behind the Kansas City Chiefs’ 15 consecutive victories over the Denver Broncos. The league record is 20 straight triumphs by the Miami Dolphins over the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s. The Jets last defeated the Patriots late in the 2015 season.

The circumstances surrounding this game seem unusually foreboding for the Patriots. They are 0-2 after losing at home to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dolphins. The Patriots were competitive in both games, hanging tough against two of the league’s best teams. But 0-2 is 0-2. They have not begun a season 0-3 since starting 0-4 in 2000, Bill Belichick’s first year as their coach.

That was six Super Bowl titles ago. But the last of those championships came in the 2018 season. This is now the fourth season since quarterback Tom Brady left in free agency. The Patriots still don’t have a playoff victory since Brady’s departure. They have a regular season record of 25-27 in the post-Brady era. Third-year quarterback Mac Jones seems more comfortable in the system of new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. But that has not gotten the Patriots into the win column yet.

Belichick is 18 victories from tying Don Shula for the most by an NFL head coach, including postseason games. But even the all-time greats face scrutiny when things don’t go well. And the scrutiny on Belichick would intensify if the Patriots reach 0-3.

Deshaun Watson’s play is ‘not good enough,’ and neither is Zach Wilson’s

There also is urgency for the Jets in quarterback Zach Wilson’s second start since he reinherited the job when Aaron Rodgers suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon in the opener. The Jets have not signed a veteran quarterback since Rodgers’s injury and have maintained they are confident in Wilson, the No. 2 selection in the 2021 draft.

But Wilson threw three interceptions in last Sunday’s 30-10 loss at the Dallas Cowboys, dropping the Jets to 1-1 after they somehow defeated the Bills in the game in which Rodgers was injured. Wilson has struggled mightily against the Patriots. He had a four-interception game against them in 2021 and a three-interception performance last season. Wilson declined to accept the blame for that defeat and was benched as the starter soon thereafter, the first of his two demotions last season.

The Chargers and Vikings are playoff teams from last season that are off to identical 0-2 starts. That is not insurmountable. Teams that started 0-2 have reached the playoffs in seven of the past 10 seasons.

But 0-3 is another matter. Since 2002, only one team has made the playoffs after starting 0-3: the Houston Texans in the 2018 season.

The Chargers are 0-2 despite totaling 58 points in their first two games without committing any turnovers. They surrendered a total of 63 points in their defeats to the Dolphins and Tennessee Titans. Some wondered whether the team would dismiss Coach Brandon Staley following last season’s opening-round playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Chargers squandered a 27-0 lead in that game before losing, 31-30.

Owner Dean Spanos stuck with Staley then. But his patience could be tested if the Chargers keep losing. They made quarterback Justin Herbert the league’s highest-paid player, albeit temporarily, by signing him in July to a five-year, $262.5 million contract extension. Herbert’s deal since has been surpassed by Joe Burrow’s five-year, $275 million extension with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals have reached two AFC championship games and a Super Bowl with Burrow. The Chargers have yet to win a playoff game with Herbert. At some point, patience with the coaching staff overseeing Herbert’s development could run out.

Few fair catches: There was so much angst about the potential demise of the kickoff return when team owners ratified a proposal by the NFL competition committee in May related to fair catches on kickoff returns. The new rule results in the football being spotted at the 25-yard line, equivalent to a touchback, on a fair catch by the receiving team inside the 25.

The new rule has been relatively inconsequential so far. Leaguewide, there were only three fair catches of kickoffs in the field of play for touchbacks in the season’s first two weeks.

NFL kickoffs hang on as efforts to reimagine the play continue

NFL leaders have said they regard the rule as a temporary measure, designed to curb the number of concussions suffered by players on kickoffs, as they study prospective long-term solutions to make the play safer.

Another notable number reflects an uptick in scoring in the season’s first two weeks. The average game had a total of 45.4 points through Week 2, up from 42.8 last season through two weeks.

Dallas defense minus Diggs: The Cowboys had the league’s top-ranked defense in the season’s first two weeks. They are justifying the claim by star pass rusher Micah Parsons following a shutout of the New York Giants to open the season that they are the NFL’s best defense.

But now the Cowboys must play without two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during practice Thursday and is expected to be sidelined for the rest of the year.

Diggs, with 18 interceptions in his four NFL seasons, is a tremendous playmaker on defense. But the Dallas defense might be able to overcome his absence thanks to a ferocious pass rush and good depth at cornerback. The Cowboys are in Arizona to face the winless Cardinals in their first game without Diggs.

NFL best bets for Week 3: Cover your eyes and take the Cardinals

Bears issues: It will be interesting to see if the Chicago Bears are at all competitive Sunday when they face the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

The 0-2 Bears have lost 12 straight games. They are coming off a turbulent week in which defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned, citing a desire to “take care” of his health and his family, and quarterback Justin Fields created a bit of a stir when he said during his midweek news conference that “coaching” could be contributing to him overthinking during games. Fields spoke to reporters again later and said his comments had been taken out of context.

The Chiefs are seeking a breakthrough performance on offense after being uncharacteristically sloppy through two games, even in last Sunday’s road triumph over the Jaguars. It is not a particularly promising set of circumstances for the Bears.

Rookie QBs: Two of the NFL’s three prized rookie quarterbacks will be sidelined Sunday.

The Carolina Panthers will be without Bryce Young when they play at Seattle. Andy Dalton starts in place of Young, who was ruled out Friday because of an ankle injury.

Gardner Minshew starts for the Indianapolis Colts in Baltimore, with Anthony Richardson in the NFL’s concussion protocol. The Colts ruled out Richardson on Friday.

C.J. Stroud has been on what the Texans called an arm management plan because of shoulder soreness. But he practiced fully Thursday and Friday after being listed as limited during Wednesday’s practice. Stroud was not given an injury designation Friday and is slated to be in the lineup when the Texans play at Jacksonville.

2023-09-24 10:17:14
#NFL #Sunday #primer #big #week #Bill #Belichick #Zach #Wilson


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