FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Jets close out the season, and Todd Bowles’ time as Jets coach, Sunday against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The Jets won’t make it official until after Sunday’s game, but Bowles’ time with the team is ending, and he will be fired either Sunday night or Monday morning.
Can the Jets send him out with a win? Not likely.
The Jets enter this game 4-11 and Bowles is 24-39 as the Jets’ coach in four seasons, with 10 of those wins coming in his first year.
“The record says it all,” Bowles said this week when asked about his job performance this season.
Bowles has looked like he was on the way out for more than a month ever since the 41-10 thumping the Jets took at the hands of the Bills in November. But the Jets have played hard for him down the stretch, winning one game and losing three in the fourth quarter when they blew leads.
The 10-5 Patriots enter this game with the AFC East already wrapped up for the 10th straight season, but they can get a first-round bye with a win over the Jets. They also still have a shot at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win and losses by the Chiefs and Chargers.
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The Patriots have now won the division in every year that Bowles and his predecessor, Rex Ryan, have been the Jets coach. The last time the Jets won the division was 2002 when Herm Edwards was in charge. It underscores how difficult it is living in a division with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
“With our record it’s difficult to be in any division,” Bowles said. “Divisions come and go, they’ve won it for a while. When you don’t win it’s difficult, regardless of who’s leading the division. You just have to win your share and try to win.”
For Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, this is his first taste of playing the Patriots. He was injured when the two teams played earlier this season. Darnold has shown major improvement since returning from his sprained foot. He has six touchdown passes and one interception in the last three games.
After facing Aaron Rodgers last week, Darnold gets to stare down another future Hall of Famer in Brady.
“There’s always something there whenever you’re playing Brady, guys like Rodgers and everything like that,” Darnold said. “For me, I grew up watching those two play and dominate, so at the same time, I’m not just going to ignore the fact that I’m playing those guys. I know that I am and I want to step up … mot that I don’t want to play well when I’m going up against those guys, but there is a little something extra there.”
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Jets safety Jamal Adams
Gronkowski has not looked like himself lately, but he always seems to find a way to get in the end zone against the Jets. He did when the two teams played on Nov. 25. He has nine touchdown catches against the Jets in his career (he has only scored more against the Bills, 12).
Adams has looked up to the test when guarding Gronkowski. The second-year safety made his first Pro Bowl this season and always gets excited to take on a top player like Gronk.
“He’s a good player,” Gronkowski said of Adams. “He’s young. He goes hard. He’s physical and he’s always ready. He’s definitely always ready, so you’ve got to be ready for that guy. He’s playing hard. He knows how to time it up, get some big hits, hit the gaps in the run game. A guy like him, you’ve got to be prepared.”
When you think of the Patriots offense, Tom Brady comes to mind immediately. But New England is getting it done in the running game this year, too. The Patriots are seventh in the NFL, averaging 127.1 yards per game. Against the Jets last month, they rushed for 215 yards, with rookie Sony Michel gaining 133 of them.
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“They ripped us and there was no doubt,” defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. “From my standpoint, I felt like we should have been embarrassed, some of the runs we gave up. It was just really unacceptable.”
The Jets are 26th against the run this season and have given up 100 yards rushing in five of their last six games.
“I think that’s going to be our biggest challenge this week is trying to stop the run,” defensive end Leonard Williams said. “You usually don’t think about that going against the Patriots offense. You’re usually thinking about Tom Brady, and you clearly still have to account for him, but I think this week is a little bit different — we have to really account for the run this time.”
The Patriots are tough no matter where you play them, but at Gillette Stadium they have been nearly impossible to beat. They have won 12 straight regular-season home games, dating back to last year. They are 33-4 in the month of December at Gillette.
The Jets’ last win in Foxborough came in January 2011 during the playoffs. They have lost seven straight there since then, the last two games blowouts. Forget about coming back against the Patriots if they get an early lead at home. They are 93-1 when leading at halftime at Gillette.
Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is going to be playing with a reduced cast this week as the injuries have piled up for the Jets. Wide receivers Quincy Enunwa (ankle) and Jermaine Kearse (Achilles) are not playing. That leaves Robby Anderson, Andre Roberts, Deontay Burnett and Charone Peake as his receivers.
Anderson has clicked with Darnold in recent weeks and has scored touchdowns in each of the last three games. Expect Bill Belichick to pay plenty of attention to Anderson and tight end Chris Herndon. The Patriots will force other players to beat them.
There are not many bright spots to this Jets season, but one has been their special-teams play. Both kicker Jason Myers and returner Andre Roberts are going to the Pro Bowl. Roberts returned a kick for a touchdown last week and the Jets also executed a fake punt.
“Their return game has been outstanding, probably as good as anybody’s in the league,” Patriots coach Belichick said. “We’ll definitely have our hands full with that one. They have a lot of size on their special-teams units. … They have a good unit and good specialists. Myers has had a great year. They are probably the best unit we’ve faced all year.”
The Jets have played tough even in losing efforts over the past month, but I think they run out of steam in this one. The injuries will take their toll and New England will find a groove.
Patriots 45, Jets 17