The Jets-Patriots matchup on Sunday is not quite a battle for the ages, but at quarterback it is a battle of the aged.
The 39-year-old Josh McCown will be at quarterback for the 3-7 Jets, as rookie Sam Darnold continues to nurse a right foot injury. The Patriots (7-3) will have 41-year-old Tom Brady under center, as usual.
“Our careers, other than the age, there’s probably not a lot of similarities,” McCown said this week.
The two have a combined age of 80 years, 258 days, making them the second-oldest pair of starting quarterbacks since the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Only the 2007 matchup between Vinny Testaverde and Brett Favre — a combined 82 years, 44 days old — had a greater combined age.
This is McCown’s second straight start, and the Jets are hoping it goes better than the 41-10 debacle against the Bills two weeks ago. McCown looked rusty and out of sync in that game, but so did the entire offense. McCown had one of his best games as a Jet last year against the Patriots, throwing for 354 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 loss.
“He played well,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week of McCown “He can throw, can run, obviously a smart guy. He has a lot of responsibility at the line of scrimmage to make coverage or protection adjustments or check plays. I wouldn’t say it’s a huge part of their offense, but they do do it. I’m sure he would do a good job of whatever they asked him to do. I thought he played well against us in the first game. Threw for — I don’t know, 350 yards — whatever it was, and moved the ball.”
For the Jets, it is another crack at Brady, who is 25-7 as a starter in his career against the Jets. Brady’s statistics are down this season, and he has been nursing a knee injury all week that limited his practice time.
Still, you know Brady will pose plenty of issues for the Jets.
“There’s nothing new you can show him,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “We have to execute. We have to be clicking on all cylinders. And we have to communicate and execute and play our game.”
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Jets safety Jamal Adams
Adams is hoping to go to the Pro Bowl in his second season. Here is a way to prove he deserves the trip. Stopping Gronkowski would be a huge addition to his résumé. Now, this does not appear to be the same goofy, 6-foot-6 tight end Jets fans have come to loathe over the years. He missed the past two games with various injuries and has only scored one touchdown this season. Some people have written him off as finished. But the Jets expect a handful from Gronkowski, who pronounced himself ready to go this week.
“He’ll be a game-breaking talent until he retires,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “That’s the only time you don’t have to worry about him.”
Adams got an education against Gronkowski last year in the teams’ first meeting. Gronkowski had six catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns. But he was a non-factor in the Week 17 matchup, going without a catch.
“He’s a good player,” Gronkowski said of Adams. “He plays hard. He doesn’t really take off plays in the pass game or run game.”
Third-and-nowhere: The problems on the Jets’ offense are too long to list, but they feel like the biggest problem they need to solve is third down. They have been atrocious at extending drives — a league-worst 28.8 percent conversion rate on third downs. In their past four games, their third-down success rate has been 15.4 percent, 21.4, 15.4 and 8.3.
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“[We have] got to find a rhythm,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “I think the biggest thing right now is third-down conversions. That allows us to get another first- and second-down opportunity in both the run and the pass game. With that being said, third down, we got to get in manageable down-and-distance. Having better execution on first and second down will help.”
The Patriots have not been great on defense on third down this year, allowing a 43.1 percent conversion rate, 25th in the league. So, the Jets might find some luck Sunday.
Keeping it close: The natural expectation for this game is a blowout, since the Jets got their doors blown off by the dismal Bills two weeks ago, 41-10. If Matt Barkley can do that to the Jets, what can Tom Brady do? But these Jets-Patriots games at MetLife Stadium have been close recently — the past five have been decided by a touchdown or less, with the Jets winning two of those.
“It’s always tough down there with the Jets, and I’m sure it will be again this time,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “The last five times we’ve gone down there, they’ve all been hard-fought games, close games.”
The White stuff: The Patriots have so many good players that James White’s contributions sometimes get overlooked. The running back is a tough matchup. He has four rushing touchdowns and six receiving touchdowns. White has 792 yards from scrimmage, a do-it-all back.
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“He can run, and he can catch,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s a receiver, he’s small in stature, but he’s a power back as well as a quick back. He has outstanding hands, they use him all over the field, whether they’re going to run it or throw it with him. Between him and [Sony] Michel, they present a great challenge.”
Delay of game: The Jets have been dismal early in games this season. They have yet to score on an opening drive this year and have managed just 24 points total in the first quarter. The key for the Titans two weeks ago was a quick start against the Patriots, jumping out to a 17-3 lead. The Jets could improve their chances at getting the upset with a quick start. Bowles knows their play in the first quarter has to improve.
“Way better,” Bowles said when asked how much better they need to be early. “That speaks for itself. We got to do a way better job.”
The Patriots looked awful against the Titans two weeks ago. Did they fix things in the bye week? Probably. Still, I think the Jets keep this close until a late defensive breakdown gives Tom Brady an opening and he takes it.
Patriots 27, Jets 17