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Bowles goes low-key in run-up to Patriots encounter

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The Sports Xchange

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Todd Bowles’ objective as the head coach of the New York Jets is the same one Rex Ryan had for six years: Build a team that can not only compete with the New England Patriots, but also dethrone them atop the AFC East.

But Bowles is going about it in far different — and quite possibly more sustainable — fashion than Ryan.

Look no further than how Bowles is approaching his first meeting this Sunday with the Patriots and their Hall of Fame-bound head coach, Bill Belichick. Whereas Ryan spent the days leading up to his 13 meetings (12 regular-season games and one playoff clash) taunting Belichick about everything from his press conference decorum to how he wasn’t going to kiss his rings, Bowles has kept a Belichick-ian low profile.

During his press conference Wednesday, Bowles even looked like Belichick as he grimaced his way through the Q&A session while wearing a green Jets hat and a gray Jets sweatshirt.

Every attempt to elicit something interesting out of the coach met the same dead end. For instance: What has allowed Belichick to build such a dominant franchise in the suburbs of Boston?

“I don’t know, because I’m not up there,” Bowles said. “I just know he wins. They run a good organization. They’ve got a great coach and they’ve got a great player. That’s as much insight as I can give you without knowing what’s going on.”

Is a game against the Patriots as much between the coaches on the sideline as it is the players on the field?

“It’s just about our guys making plays or their guys making plays,” Bowles said. “It’s not so much a battle of wits. They know us pretty well. We have a lot of guys on this team that’s played them quite a bit so they know them pretty well. If their guys make plays, they’re going to win. If our guys make plays, we’re going to win.”

Bowles did expound a little bit when asked about his task of building a program and instilling the long-haul mentality required to survive a six-month NFL season. For all of Ryan’s skills as a motivator, he never seemed to grasp treating certain games like homecoming would result in inevitable letdowns. According to the NFL Network, Ryan’s teams are 2-17 following a win since 2012.

“I think they’re starting to understand what it takes to try and win,” Bowles said. “We’re trying to win ballgames. We’re not trying to win one ballgame. We’re trying to win them all.

“We know it’s a long season, a long process with injuries and everything else. I think we’re starting to realize that.”

And just in case they weren’t, Bowles offered up a reminder when asked if a win over the Patriots — which would move the Jets into a tie atop the AFC East at 5-1 — would mean more than any other victory.

“It just means we’re 5-1,” Bowles said. “And we have to get ready for Oakland.”

SERIES HISTORY: 110th regular-season meeting, Patriots lead series, 56-52-1. The Patriots are 2-1 in three postseason games against the Jets. The Patriots have won seven of the last eight games between the teams, including last Dec. 21, when RB Jonas Gray’s one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter lifted New England to a 17-16 come-from-behind win. Former head coach Rex Ryan finished 3-9 in the regular season against the Patriots. The biggest win of the Ryan tenure happened on Jan. 16, 2011, when the Jets stunned the top-seeded Patriots, 28-21, in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. The most memorable regular-season game between the two teams remains the Patriots’ 38-14 win on Sept. 9, 2007c — i.e. the “Spygate” game. Following the game, the NFL confiscated a videotape and video camera used to spy on the Jets and eventually fined Belichick $500,000 while fining the Patriots $250,000 and taking away a first-round draft pick. Then-Jets head coach Eric Mangini, a former Patriots assistant, had told the NFL of the Patriots’ spying activities once he was named Jets head coach following the 2005 season.

GAME PLAN

–Despite their 5-0 record, the Patriots are vulnerable, especially on defense. New England has given up at least 100 rushing yards four times and has surrendered eight touchdown passes. Bill Belichick will certainly game-plan to stop RB Chris Ivory, but this is Ivory’s chance to prove he’s here to stay among the game’s elite backs. Head coach Todd Bowles has made it clear Ivory is the bellcow, so expect offensive coordinator Chan Gailey to feature the bull-headed back early and often in hopes of wearing down the Patriots and opening things up for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR Brandon Marshall, who might be the best aerial tandem the Jets have ever presented against Belichick.

It’s a lot harder to stop the Patriots’ high-octane, unpredictable offense. Ever the contrarian, Belichick might try and establish a running game against the Jets simply because nobody else will. It’s more likely that he’ll do his best to expose the one weak spot of the Jets’ defense — linebackers in coverage — by employing RB Dion Lewis as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. LBs David Harris and Demario Davis can’t be caught flat-footed, especially on the familiar wheel route.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Jets LBs David Harris and Demario Davis vs. Patriots RB Dion Lewis.

The one problem spot for the Jets has been in coverage against pass-catching running backs. Eagles RB Ryan Mathews scorched Davis on a wheel route for a touchdown on Sept. 27 and Redskins pass-catching RB Chris Thompson was targeted 10 times last weekend. Belichick identifies weaknesses as well as anyone, so figure on Lewis getting a ton of targets as the Patriots try to turn a routine play into something big.

–Jets DEs Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson vs. Patriots LT Marcus Cannon and RT Sebastian Vollmer.

Getting hit is one of the few things that can rattle QB Tom Brady, who has been sacked two times or fewer in four of the Patriots’ first five games. Brady is a mere 17-10 (.630 winning percentage) when he is sacked four times or more. That’s pretty darn good for most mortals, but Brady’s overall record as a starter is 127-45, which works out to a .778 winning percentage. So if the Jets are to have any shot at pulling off the upset, Wilkerson and Richardson will need to get past Cannon — who replaced Nate Solder after the latter suffered a torn biceps — and Vollmer and hit Brady early and often.


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