Jets-Patriots tug-of-war resumes Sunday

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The tug-of-war between the New England Patriots and New York Jets resumes Sunday night when the Patriots come to the Meadowlands for another AFC East showdown.

The teams are tied with Buffalo with 5-3 records, but this time in their see-saw series the Jets have the momentum and the Patriots are struggling.

New York limped out of Foxborough a month ago after a 30-21 defeat to the Patriots that gave them a three-game losing streak and a 2-3 record.

Now New England and quarterback Tom Brady are struggling, coming off back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Giants, who handed the Pats their first regular season home loss after 20 straight wins.

Going against the National Football League's lowest-ranked pass defense, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez could be the key.

"I've just been proud the last three weeks of the way we really worked through three tough losses at one point in the season," Sanchez told reporters on Wednesday.

"This is right where we want to be and there's no better team that we'd want to play."

With center Nick Mangold back from injury, the Jets have rounded into shape on offense with the running game revived and Sanchez getting comfortable with new receiver Plaxico Burress.

"We're coming into our own as an offense," said Sanchez. "I don't care if we throw it 100 times or run it 100 times, as long as we're winning. We're in the winning business and we've got to win, so whatever it takes."

Jets-Patriots games have been hard to figure.

In the second-round of the playoffs, the wild card Jets returned to Gillette Stadium and beat the Pats 28-21.

Mangold was upbeat about their Sunday night date.

"I think we are really finding our rhythm. We were kind of missing that for a little bit, having that skid, the two-game skid going into (the last Patriots game)," he said Wednesday.

"(Now) we're just firing on all cylinders, we're executing, we're not missing assignments. We've worked very hard to correct those things."

Coach Ryan said he knew it was just a matter of time.

"I don't know who would've counted us out, but we certainly didn't count ourselves out," he said. "We knew that our team could improve.

"We thought we could get better, and we have gotten better. So we'll see how much. This is the tops. If you want to win your division, you've got to beat these guys."

When Ryan took the Jets job three years ago, he said that while he respected the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots, he was not about "to kiss the rings" of coach Bill Belichick.

"Both teams are going to be humming for this one," said Ryan. "You can sugarcoat it all you want, but they know they need it and we know we need it."

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)