FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Geno Smith was 10 years old when Tom Brady played his first game against the Jets. On Thursday night, New York’s rookie quarterback makes his debut in the rivalry with the New England Patriots.
He’s hoping for a better result than Brady had.
In his second season, Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe in the fourth quarter of the second game in 2001. The Jets won 10-3.
“From an outside view, it’s always been one of the best rivalries in the NFL,” Smith said. “Looking to see who can come out and be the toughest team, and hopefully (we) get the victory. From being on this team now, I know it means a lot to everyone around here.”
Since that loss 12 years ago, Brady is 18-5 as a starter against the Jets, including the postseason. He’s won three Super Bowls and two regular-season MVP awards. Facing the Jets, though, is still special.
“It’s awesome,” Brady said. “It’s Boston-New York. It’s been that way for a long time, long before me, and any time you see them on the schedule you just think of all the great games that you’ve had against them and you think of how challenging the game will be.”
Both teams are coming off openers that they won in the final seconds. The Patriots struggled against the Buffalo Bills before winning 23-21 on Stephen Gostkowski’s 35-yard field goal with 5 seconds left. The Jets beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 18-17 on Nick Folk’s 48-yarder with 2 seconds remaining.
And Smith’s passer rating of 80.6 was better than Brady’s 76.4.
“There are some new faces that are part of the rivalry, so it’s going to be an exciting game,” Brady said.
“It’s going to be tough. I expect it to be a packed house,” Smith said. “Everyone is going to be excited and amped.”
Here are five things to watch for Thursday in the Patriots’ home opener:
* Banged-up Patriots: After just one game, the ranks of Patriots runners and receivers are being depleted. Shane Vereen broke his left wrist early in his 101-yard rushing performance against the Bills and went on injured reserve with a designation to return, forcing him to miss eight games. Wide receiver Danny Amendola, who led the Patriots with 10 receptions in the opener but aggravated a groin injury, and tight end Rob Gronkowski, coming back from forearm and back surgery, are listed as doubtful. “When people are injured, that’s why you have a deep roster,” Brady said, “guys that you have confidence in, that you’ve gained trust in, and I certainly have that at the skill position.”
* Chasing Brady: For all his accomplishments, Brady does have a weakness: He’s rather immobile. Combine that with a Jets defense that is younger and faster than it was last year and he could be under a lot of pressure. The Jets got that last Sunday against Josh Freeman and held the Buccaneers to 250 yards. “We played against (Brady) last year and got some three-and-outs,” defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson said. “As long as we do that, we’ll have no problem.” The Patriots are familiar with the Jets after playing against Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who held that job in New York the past four years. And they have a solid, veteran offensive line.
* Rookie Redux: Two games, two rookie quarterbacks. The Patriots face Smith, the 39th pick in the draft, just four days after going against EJ Manuel, the 16th choice. “Both quarterbacks are able to scramble and use their feet a little bit to extend plays, so you just have to be smart as a defensive lineman,” Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. Manuel had a good debut, even posting a better passer rating than Brady. Smith was cool and productive on the winning drive against the Buccaneers and finished with 256 yards passing and 47 yards rushing. But can the rookie do it against coach Bill Belichick’s intricate defensive schemes?
* Keeping the ball: It’s imperative that the Jets maintain possession and keep the ball away from the Patriots productive, fast-paced offense. New England led the NFL in points and yards last season and ran 89 plays in the opener, 28 more than the Bills. But Smith will be without wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, out with a concussion after catching three passes against the Buccaneers. Santonio Holmes had one catch and 45 snaps after missing most of last season with a foot injury. “The offense has to stay warm and keep moving,” tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. said. “It’s our job as an offense to keep the defense off the field as much as possible.”
* Preparation a priority: With just three days between games, both teams had to get ready fast. Whoever did a better job should have an advantage. “We’ll probably go in this week all the way up till the day of the game putting things in (the game plan), taking things out,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said.
“You just got through playing a game, and it’s about keeping your players fresh,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said, “Obviously they have to mentally be focused.”