Let’s face it: Monday Night Football is a must-win affair for the Patriots (2-5).
For division rivalry purposes, the Jets (0-8) have lost eight straight to New England, with their last victory coming in overtime in 2015. Fresh off a winless October, Cam Newton’s Pats do not want to be the ones to end that streak and give New York its first W of the year, if they intend to somehow salvage their season.
Here are three storylines to watch for when the Patriots and Jets face off on MNF (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN):
Is this Cam’s last stand?
Since returning from his brief bout with COVID-19, Newton has struggled mightily in the passing game. After averaging 238 pass yards through the first three games, he’s managed just 127.5 YPG over the last three, giving him a career-low 190.5 YPG on the year. Back-to-back lopsided losses to the Broncos and 49ers saw Newton look uncomfortable in the face of pressure, which led to two fumbles and five picks. He currently owns the worst TD-INT ratio (2-7) in the NFL. He threw for 174 yards — his most since Week 2 — versus the Bills in Week 8, but a game-sealing lost fumble on his ninth carry became the headline. New York hasn’t done much well, but it’s been competent defending the run (see: holding the Chiefs to 50 yards). Part of the Jets’ success in that area last week, however, had to do with K.C. feasting through the air. Success on the ground will likely still be there for New England, but Newton and his patchwork receiving corps will have to be on one accord and convert opportunities against one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses. If they aren’t, his QB1 status could very well come into question.
Will the Jets…finally get a win?
The most tragic aspect about this game is that Sam Darnold won’t be able to avenge the “Seeing Ghosts” Game after being ruled out with a shoulder injury. Luckily for Joe Flacco, who will be starting for the third time this season, much of the personnel that tormented Darnold in 2019 won’t be on the field. New England’s traditionally stingy defense hasn’t been as imposing this season, but New York’s offense hasn’t proven to be much different than it was when these teams last met, ranking near the bottom of the NFL in most statistical categories. The same can also be said for the defense, which will be without standout Quinnen Williams. The best-case scenario for Adam Gase’s crew would be to follow a script similar to the one that nearly brought them a win against Buffalo in Week 7. But, in all honesty, Jets fans already looking ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft probably have no problem answering the above question with a “No” and throwing that script away.
An era like no other for Belichick
All season long, graphics comparing the 2020 campaign to the “wonder years” have followed Bill Belichick around. It makes sense considering the success Belichick-led teams have enjoyed for two decades, but it’s hard to imagine the new Pats would’ve looked like the old Pats, even if health wasn’t an issue. Still, the drop-off is astonishing. New England’s 19.4 PPG (29th in NFL) and 23.9 PPG allowed (12th in NFL) are the second-fewest PPG (17.3 in ’00) and most PPG allowed by the club since the 2000 season, per NFL Research. Their four-game losing streak is their longest since 2002, and the 2-5 start is the worst since Belichick’s first season in Foxborough. The Patriots’ all-around struggles have made the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 a very real one. With that in mind, a loss in prime time in the midst of an uncharacteristic season to a team they’ve routinely beat up on would absolutely not be a good look.
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