FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Jets center Connor McGovern has played only three seasons in New York.
But he's spent his entire career in the AFC, more than long enough to know what it has taken for teams to succeed in the conference over the past two-plus decades.
“I think everybody in the AFC sees the Patriots as a team they have to go through, whether they have Tom Brady back there or Mac Jones or whoever is on their roster,” McGovern said. “No matter who’s on their roster, they’re a tough team to beat.”
New York found that out last month when it had its four-game win streak snapped in a 22-17 loss at home by what at the time was a sub-.500 Patriots team.
Three weeks later, the Jets (6-3) are still one of the NFL’s hottest teams as they prepare for their second shot against the Patriots (5-4), who are above .500 for the first time this season.
And for the first time in a long time, the outcome of Sunday’s rematch carries serious playoff implications for both sides.
New York is a half-game behind idle first-place Miami in the AFC East and would move into first with a victory over the Patriots. The Jets haven't been in that position 10 or more games into a season since 2010, when New England and New York were tied at 9-2.
There’s just that pesky 13-game win streak the Patriots have against the Jets. New York hasn't beaten New England since Week 16 of the 2015 season, when the Jets won 26-20 in overtime at home.
“There’s a lot at stake here,” veteran Patriots special teamer Matt Slater said. “These next coming games and in the back half of the season here, everybody’s playing for something. Especially in our division. That rivalry is certainly renewed — not that it ever died."
Still, Jets coach Robert Saleh is trying to keep his team’s focus on the game ahead and not the scenarios that could play out in the only division that features all four teams with winning records.
“We’ve got a good opportunity, obviously, over the next eight games to do something,” he said. “We all still have to play one another. We all still have to play a lot of really good football teams, and obviously this game coming up is the most important game."
Jets quarterback Zach Wilson had his worst outing of the season in the last game against the Patriots, throwing three interceptions and looking out of sorts against Bill Belichick’s defense.
A lot of the focus Sunday will be on how Wilson handles things this time around. Wilson, who threw for a career-high 355 yards against New England, is 5-1 as the starter this year and has thrown no interceptions in four of those wins.
“Extreme, extreme confidence and everybody feels that way,” receiver Braxton Berrios said of the Jets' belief in Wilson. “There’s absolutely no flinching in that with anybody in this building. And that’s not an exaggeration.”
It hasn’t cost the Patriots a victory, but Belichick acknowledged there have been instances when it seemed like both Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard and Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley saw something that tipped them to the offensive plays New England was calling.
In Mosley’s case, Belichick said it looked like he was on the play so fast it was “almost heard the play in the huddle.”
Preventing that from happening again was a point of emphasis this week.
“That’s what good defensive players do. They anticipate things and they are able to sometimes get a read on what they think is going to happen,” Belichick said. “They’re not always right but sometimes they are, and they can certainly make you look bad offensively but as an offense, you always want to be balanced and then try not to give things away. ... So, that’s kind of the game within the game there.”
Elijah Moore has been a forgotten man in the Jets’ offense, getting no catches in the past three games after requesting a trade because of his lack of opportunities.
But more chances might be coming with the second-year receiver expected to see increased snaps in the slot.
“I know it’s been a big deal over the bye week,” Saleh said. “He’s not making an official move to the slot. It’s just a lot more opportunities in the slot. So, just trying to utilize him to put him in the best positions to be successful.”
Moore, who had 43 catches as a rookie, has 16 in eight games this year.
MR. ROBINSON GOES TO FOXBOROUGH
Jets running back James Robinson played sparingly in his debut with New York against the Patriots after being acquired earlier that week from Jacksonville.
After just five carries for 17 yards in the Jets’ 22-17 loss, Robinson feels more comfortable in New York’s offense while complementing Michael Carter in the backfield. The two were major contributors on the winning drive the following week against Buffalo.
“I feel a little bit better, especially after the bye week,” Robinson said. “I didn’t like it at all as the trade just happened out of nowhere. I had to pack up at night and leave the next morning at around 6.”
Robinson should help make up for the loss of rookie Breece Hall, who tore an ACL — prompting the Jets to make the move for the veteran.
AP Pro Football Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed to this report.
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Kyle Hightower, The Associated Press