The New England Patriots may be dealing with a slew of injuries, but their most important player is still healthy.
Tom Brady also tends to have few issues against the New York Jets.
A week after engineering a stunning winning drive in the final seconds, Brady will try to make things go a lot easier Sunday as he tries to continue his dominance of the host Jets.
New England (5-1) leads the AFC East by 1 1/2 games over Miami despite an injury report that's grown to 10 players. Star linebacker Jerod Mayo joined tackle Vince Wilfork on season-ending injured reserve this week, while cornerback Aqib Talib's hip injury along with receiver Danny Amendola's and guard Dan Connolly's concussions could keep them out Sunday.
The Patriots, though, will apparently have star tight end Rob Gronkowski available, as his agent said he's been cleared to make his season debut after undergoing surgeries on his left forearm and back.
"A lot of teams face challenges. It's just really how you deal with them," Brady said. "We've lost some guys, dealt with some issues, like every other team. We're handling them OK. We're 5-1. It's a decent start."
Brady may have been less optimistic had he not engineered a game-winning drive to help the Patriots rally past New Orleans 30-27 on Sunday. The two-time NFL MVP capped the eight-play, 70-yard drive in the final 73 seconds by hitting rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with a precision, arcing pass in the corner of the end zone with five seconds to play.
"We just knew that it was going to come down to the last minute," said Thompkins, who has four touchdowns in four games. "Until that clock said all zeros on it, we were going to fight until the finish."
That's not usually necessary against the Jets (3-3).
Brady has an 18-4 career regular-season record against New England's division rivals as a starter, leading the Patriots to wins in each of the last six meetings after beating them 13-10 at home in Week 2.
He's completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,743 yards and 14 touchdowns with one interception and a 110.6 passer rating during that winning streak. That includes a pair of victories at MetLife Stadium as Brady connected on 44 of 66 passes for 652 yards and six touchdowns while running for another and not getting reached for a sack.
The Jets defense got to him once on Sept. 12, but it's totaled 16 in four games since. That unit is fourth in total defense, allowing 303.8 yards per game and has been particularly superb against the run, ranking second while yielding an average of 75.7 yards.
"They're all pretty big, physical guys," said Brady, who went 19 of 39 for 185 yards and a TD in Week 2. "Got some really good players over there, especially in the front. They're a very good defense."
New York, though, is dealing with its own injuries, particularly to the secondary. Cornerbacks Dee Milliner (hamstring) and Kyle Wilson (concussion) were full participants in practice Friday, but wide receiver Santonio Holmes (hamstring) is out this week.
The defense, however, couldn't take much blame for last week's 19-6 home loss to previously winless Pittsburgh, holding the Steelers to 328 yards of offense while the Jets mustered a season-low 267.
"Obviously, we have to get better," coach Rex Ryan said, "and that's where our focus is going to be."
They'll need to since each of the Jets' next three opponents are current division leaders. After facing New England, New York visits Cincinnati next week before hosting the Saints in Week 9 ahead of its bye.
"I think we'll get a better sense this week," center Nick Mangold said. "We've got a heck of a game coming up, a division game. We've got to put some work in to get better. We've already dropped one to them."
Geno Smith's worst performance of the season came in that meeting. The rookie completed 15 of 35 passes for 214 yards with a season-high three picks while being sacked four times.
He wasn't much better last week, going 19 for 34 to amass 201 yards with two INTs after completing 80 percent of his passes with three TDs in a 30-28 win at Atlanta six days earlier.
Smith has seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
"Although I am a rookie, I don't tend to use that excuse as the reason behind me making those mistakes," Smith said. "I think they're just simple mistakes in a game and they've got to be eliminated."
Perhaps facing a banged-up Pats defense can help Smith rebound. That unit has surrendered an average of 386.3 yards - 269.3 passing - in its past three games.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved