FOXBORO, Mass. — Everything the Patriots have done up until this point has prepared them for Monday night’s substantially important showdown with the Jets.
The Patriots have passed so many tests — the Dolphins on a Monday night, the Steelers on a Sunday night, the Ravens, Chargers, Vikings and Colts in other big-time battles — and they’ve learned they’re capable of winning significant games when the world is watching.
“All those games, they definitely built confidence and character with our team, knowing it isn’t always easy,” Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “Most games are going to be dogfights. For us to come out on top of those games against very good opponents speaks a lot in our coaching, in our overall team preparation and our ability to execute.”
Surely, the Patriots’ résumé won’t count for anything against the Jets, who conversely have only defeated two teams that currently boast winning records. One of those wins, obviously against the Patriots, set up this prime-time thriller to be, perhaps, the single most important game in the AFC this regular season.
The winner will have the inside track at the AFC East title, a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs, while the loser will likely open the postseason on the road, in a city like San Diego, Indianapolis or Kansas City.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick always puts divisional games on a pedestal, and since this one is pitting two of the NFL’s three 9-2 teams on the same field, that’s got to mean this is the most important divisional game the Patriots will play this season, right?
“Yes it does,” Pats defensive lineman Gerard Warren said. “[It’s a] very important game, but we’ve got to approach this like any other [with the] same preparation, work ethic, focus on doing the right things.”
New England safety Patrick Chung took a similar stance, preferring to focus on the Patriots’ preparation.
“Every game leads us up to the next game,” Chung said. “Monday night, Miami, that was weeks and weeks ago. Games from weeks and weeks ago can’t help us for this game. It’s a whole new game, a whole new team, a whole new atmosphere.”
Naturally, there’s no telling that the winner of this game will take care of business over the final four weeks of the regular season. That can only be an assumption, something based on the Patriots’ and Jets’ body of work through their first 11 games.
So, while each side understands the overall magnitude of Monday night — and the ability to control one’s own destiny is more appealing than the alternative — a victory won’t allow anyone the luxury of going in the tank for the remainder of December.
“It’s a big game anytime we play those guys,” Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch said. “Right now, we’re both 9-2. Who’s to say what could happen after this game? There will be four games left. Take advantage of what’s in front of us now.”