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Dismissing Jets could be a trap play

If the more desperate team is the more dangerous team, then the Patriots could not be facing a more dangerous opponent than the one that will come to Razor Blade Field Sunday.

Forget about the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs or the surprising Indianapolis Colts. Worry about the undefeated Denver Broncos or the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills later. For the moment, it is the New York Jets who represent the gravest danger to the Patriots' fortunes and not simply be-

Colvin's hip injury could be serious. D8.

cause they are the next team on the schedule.

The Jets appear to be a mess. During the offseason, they lost their most dangerous wide receiver, their most dangerous kick returner, a top offensive lineman, and their placekicker to the Washington Redskins, and then they lost quarterback Chad Pennington with the kind of preseason injury that has the league's commissioner rethinking the need for four exhibition games.

To start the season, the Jets lost a close game to the team that raided their roster last winter and then got trampled by the Dolphins at home, rushing for just 21 yards while Ricky Williams was running over them for 125. That so irked Jets coach Herman Edwards that he could be heard outside the team's locker room reading them the riot act.

Now, in theory, when an 0-2 team is coming to town averaging 11.5 points a game, it could be considered a break in the schedule, but seldom have the Jets given the Patriots a break in recent years.

That may not be the case with Vinny Testaverde still at quarterback and Curtis Martin finally seeming to show wear and tear, but still these are the Jets and one thing the Patriots have learned over the years is that you can't trust them.

Just a year ago, the Jets began their season a dismal 1-4, including a 44-7 lacing at the hands of the Patriots, only to end up winning the division and beating New England in December when the season was on the line for both teams.

None of that will mean anything Sunday on one level, but on another it should strike a cautionary note for those who assume this is a walkover for the Patriots after their strong performance against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

The Jets are seldom fun to have around if you are the Patriots and they seem even less so now because they surely understand that to begin the year 0-3 with two division losses is to invite an early end to their season. That may be what happens, but if it is to happen, the Patriots must avoid slipping into the easy trap of putting the W down on paper before they put the players down on the field.

This is not to say the Jets are a formidable opponent because as currently constituted they are not. They are far weaker on offense than a year ago when Laveranues Coles blossomed and Pennington appeared like a revelation after Testaverde struggled as the early-season starter. They are at the moment the least talented of the four teams in the division.

But there is one thing that should be noted about the Jets. They can still play defense and they still have speed pass rushers such as John Abraham around to make life difficult. Despite their dismal start, the Jets have allowed an average of only 18.5 points a game, which means their average margin of defeat is only one touchdown.

Two weeks is far from a sound statistical model from which to draw conclusions, but for now that's all we have to go by, and a one-touchdown difference between victory and defeat isn't much to reverse. That, among other things, is a point not lost on Bill Belichick.

When asked yesterday if he feared it might be difficult to convince his team of the danger posed by the Jets, Belichick thought he had the perfect antidote for such thinking.

``We'll take out last year's game where they came up here and beat us,'' Belichick said of that 30-17 pounding last December in Foxborough. ``In the end, that is really the game, from our standpoint, that made them the division champions. Just look at the game. Just look at the score. Just look at what happened.

``I think that is all we need to see. I don't care what they did against anybody else. I don't care what anybody else did against them. I know what they did against us. They beat us and they deserved to win that night. That's why they ended up ahead of us.''

True, but that was last year and this is a depleted version of that team, is it not? Their starting quarterback is out until midseason. Their best receiver plays for the Redskins. Their top running back took a beating last weekend. Their line seems suspect. Why wouldn't you take the Jets lightly?

Maybe because the Jets have won five straight times in Foxborough. Maybe because the last time they lost here was in 1997, and that game was decided in overtime, 27-24. Fans can think what they want about Sunday's game with the Jets but it is the kind of game that can trip a team up because it is the kind of game that should be won and everyone knows it.

But just because you should win doesn't mean you do. The best way for the Patriots to ensure that they do is to forget last week and remember last December.

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