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Hey, Guys, Jets Play the Patriots This Week

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots hugs head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets following their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) These two again.

Of all the Jets–Patriots matchups since, well, since Eric Mangini was here, this week's has been the quietest without question. This is mostly because of those Yankees, who have taken up everybody's psychic energy for seven days, but that's over now. (Sniff.) But it's not just that. The Jets are reeling right now, and when the Jets are reeling, Rex Ryan and company are a lot quieter than they usually are. (Though not silent.) It's difficult to talk about overthrowing the big bad Patriots when the Bills — the Bills! — are ahead of both teams in the standings. But now that the Yankees' season is over, the Jets and the Giants are all that's left. (Okay, fine, also the Rangers, Joe.)

The main way opponents have been scoring against the Patriots this year has been through the air — that Bills win was Exhibit A in how to do it — but the Jets think they see an opening in their ground game. Even with Shonn Greene, who is getting dangerously close to flop status, really.

Rex Ryan has underscored the importance this week of his team returning to its physical roots on offense. The Jets have the 30th-ranked rush offense (71 yards per game) after boasting one of the league's elite ground attacks in his first two seasons. Although Ryan said the shift won't guarantee 50 carries a game, he promised a more balanced approach to swing the pendulum away from the 62-38 pass-to-run split during the first month of the season. "The 'ground and pound' (has) always been a mentality more than a run-pass call sheet," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "It's a physical mentality."

This might have more to do with Mark Sanchez's recent struggles than faith in the ground game, though. Sanchez will still need to rebound; if he can't throw against the Pats, the Jets are in trouble in the long term. This is a game for him to get back on track, or for it all to fall apart.

The Jets are in danger of falling to 2-3. This would be the first time Ryan has been under .500 as coach of the Jets (or any team, we guess) since November 2009 (if you don't count an opening game loss to Baltimore last year that was followed by wins in nine of their next ten games). This is as on-the-brink as the Jets have been since Ryan got here. A Pats loss could lead to some bad thoughts around Jets camp. But a win would make everything turn around, and fast.

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Photo: Elsa/Getty Images