It is not often the New England Patriots face a must-win game in September, but in 2023 here they are. After losing two straight games by a single score, New England cannot afford to fall to 0-3. This week they face the New York Jets and must emerge victorious. For years, the Patriots have dominated the Jets. If that changes Sunday, this season will be as good as over.
New England (0-2) is already facing an uphill climb in order to reach the postseason. As Christopher Price of The Boston Globe noted, since 1990 only 31 of 270 NFL teams (11.5%) beginning the season 0-2 have made the postseason. Fortunately for the New England Patriots there is still plenty working in their favor in this regard.
In 2021, the NFL switched to a 17-game regular season. This gives teams in 2023 an extra week to make up ground than they had from 1990-2020. Also in New England’s favor, beginning in 2020 an additional team made the playoffs from each conference. So the current Patriots team has both additional time and an additional playoff spot to help them buck those odds.
Also giving the New England Patriots reason for optimism, two seasons ago they were an 0-2 team that made the playoffs. The vast majority of that team’s nucleus in still in Foxboro. They know they can do it.
It is nice that the Patriots have reasons for optimism when it comes to their 2023 campaign. With a loss on Sunday however, those hopes can be kissed goodbye.
The Patriots/Jets rivalry has been lopsided in recent years. New England has reeled off 14 consecutive victories over New York. One key factor has been the QB play for the two teams. Quarterbacks to play for the New York Jets during this streak include Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty, Josh McCown, Luke Falk, Joe Flacco, Sam Darnold, Mike White and Zach Wilson. This week Wilson will once again get the start, having taken over for the injured Aaron Rodgers.
Pregame talk a week ago focused on the Dolphins Tua Tagovailoa being undefeated against both the Patriots and Mac Jones. This week the tables are turned, as New England has the historical advantage in the quarterback battle. Jones is 4-0 all-time against Wilson and the Jets. Safe to assume that feels extra nice for the Patriots QB, who was selected 13 spots after Wilson in the 2021 NFL Draft. While some may say Wilson and the Jets are “due” for a win, that principle did play out last week.
After losing to both the Eagles and Dolphins, it has been emphasized that there are no moral victories in the NFL. If that is accurate, the opposite must be true as well: there are no bad wins. So whether Mac Jones lights up the scoreboard, or New England squeaks out a 6-3 victory, getting a win is all that matters.
It’s not often that the New England Patriots face a must-win situation so early in the season. Bill Belichick has said that football season starts after Thanksgiving. But with the Bills tough once again, the Dolphins looking great, and the Jets sitting at 2-1 with a win, the Patriots season could be over before October without a win Sunday. How will they fair in the face of such pressure? Stay tuned.