On football

With Patriots arriving, Jets check the baggage

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / September 15, 2010

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – The Jets swaggered into the season with a Manhattan-sized target on their backs, because of last year’s run to the AFC Championship game, the appointment television that was “Hard Knocks’’ this summer, and, well, because they brought it on themselves.

The Patriots entered the season much farther under the radar.

Amazing how quickly all of that changed.

The Jets are wounded, all right. The lack of inspiration they showed in Monday night’s 10-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens —possible Super Bowl contenders — has many locals here screaming as if it were a 56-0 defeat to Buffalo. And early as it might be, there’s a tinge of “must win’’ to this week for New York’s AFC entry.

Meanwhile, the Patriots will ride high into New Meadowlands Stadium, fresh off a 38-24 win over Cincinnati, with a chance to quiet months of bluster and shove the team Tom Brady hates into the rearview mirror.

A word of caution: Just as quickly as this situation turned in a week’s time, it can turn back just as quickly.

But for now, the Jets are getting an early gut check and the pressure is off the Patriots.

“This game’s everything, and the only thing right now — 0-2, it’s not acceptable,’’ said Jets tight end Dustin Keller after Monday’s loss. “We need to go out and give it everything. I promise, I’m going to give it my all. I’m going to try and make it my best game, and we’ll see what happens. I guarantee we’re going to be better next week on third down.

“I take a lot of pride in that. I want that to be a spot where I really step up and make big plays. It’s going to definitely be better on third down.’’

And that, really, is what it came down to for the Jets against Baltimore — a bunch of details that, when put together, added up to quite a problem. The issues on third down, both offensively and defensively, were troublesome. So were the penalties that cost them 125 yards. And an offense incapable of threatening to move downfield, outside of a 33-yard seam route to Keller that wound up being, yup, negated by a penalty.

Put a couple of games like that together, and the Jets will see the issue expand exponentially again, with the impact quite possibly putting New York in a hole that won’t be easy to climb out.

Consider the Jets’ position should they lose this week. They’ll be staring down a trip to Miami in the September humidity to play another division contender, while the Patriots would have the Bills at home with a chance, if things fell their way, to push their lead over New York to three games. The Jets schedule eases some from there, and the Patriots slate toughens, but that doesn’t mean the deficit becomes an easy one to overcome.

There’s no overstating it: This one is huge for a Jets team that might be combustible if (a) it has to deal with that kind of adversity and (b) one side (the defense) has to carry the other as it did the other night.

“We need to get a win,’’ said veteran pass rusher Jason Taylor. “We understand that. But you don’t need to go pressing just because you lost the first one. I think the New England game, it doesn’t get much bigger.

“It’s the next one on the schedule, it’s a division game, it’s here at home, they won this week, we lost this week, we need a win, simple as that.’’

The difference in tone, when juxtaposed against the Jets’ big talk entering last year’s Week 2 showdown, is stark.

Has the swagger subsided? Is confidence an issue?

It’s far too early to tell. All these comments, after all, came within 24 hours of a devastating loss, inside the period of time that coaches and players generally give themselves to mourn or celebrate a game before moving on.

Maybe it’ll be different here today and tomorrow, as the Jets move into the teeth of a short game week. But all the respectful words you hear coming down I-95, for now, displayed not only a sort of deference, but also a genuine seriousness and concern about where this season is headed.

In discussing the offense’s woes, coach Rex Ryan said yesterday, “This team we’re going up against, we’ve got to find a way [to score]. That team right there is going to score and we have to be able to score, obviously.’’

Veteran tackle Damien Woody added, “A team like New England rarely beats themselves. I’m sure that’s something that’s going to be emphasized this week, and that’s why we have to clean up the mistakes that we have — 14 penalties — you can’t have that next week, because the turnout would be the same.’’

See? There’s no talk of new eras or kissing rings or dominance.

That’s because the Jets recognize the dire situation they find themselves in. They know they only have themselves to blame. They understand where a similarly sloppy performance will land them.

“Obviously, this team is well-disciplined, well-coached, and they don’t beat themselves,’’ said veteran fullback Tony Richardson. “They’re playing extremely well.

“We don’t want to go down on those guys because they’re playing some good football on offense, defense, and special teams. We’ve got to play well.’’

And if the Jets don’t, harsh consequences await them.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

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