FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It doesn’t get too much better than a good ol’ football game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets, a pair of longtime AFC East rivals who make almost as much noise off the field as they do on it.
And because Rex Ryan has taken over Eric Mangini’s head coaching position for the Jets, Sunday’s showdown has a different feel than years past. No longer is there a thick wall of tension separating Patriots head coach Bill Belichick from his former assistant, Mangini. Instead, it’s a little looser, as Ryan has added more of a comedic, fun-loving appeal to the Big Apple.
Ryan, of course, has already anointed Belichick as The Godfather of the division with his kiss-the-rings diatribe in June. Then, earlier this week, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins told reporters the Jets were preparing for this game like it’s the Super Bowl (although the last time Jenkins prepared for a Super Bowl against the Patriots, things didn’t work out so well for the big fella).
Naturally, it’s not the Patriots and Jets without some hyperbole and a hint of trash-talking.
“They can treat it however they want to treat it,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “We’re going to treat it like we treat every game, and we’re going to put everything we have into it. It’s an important game for us, there’s no doubt. It’s a division game, second one in a row, playing on the road. It’s a tough place to play. It’s not the Super Bowl. That doesn’t get played until February, but it’s as important as they come in terms of our division and what that means in our place in our division.”
Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez wasn’t biting when asked about Jenkins’ comments, but the USC product was at least aware of the rivalry at hand. He was part of some good ones at USC, including the one against crosstown nemesis UCLA.
“I think that’s one of those things I’ll come to know here very shortly,” Sanchez said. “We want to build this game up but at the same time … not get carried away and make it bigger than it should be.”
This will also serve as the Patriots’ last scheduled visit to the Meadowlands, which closes after this season to make way for a new home for the Jets and Giants. There won’t exactly be a Yankee Stadium type of send-off at the Meadowlands, but the Patriots are at least aware of their last stand at the Shea Stadium of football fields.
“It’s tough,” Patriots center Dan Koppen said. “It’s hostile. The fans are into it. They don’t like us, so it’s going to be loud, and I’m sure everybody is going to be into it.”
Patriots tight end Chris Baker is experiencing the rivalry from the other side. He signed a five-year deal with New England during the offseason after spending the first seven years of his career with the Jets. He entered the NFL in 2002, just months after the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, so he had always been accustomed to looking up at New England.
“Every year, it was our biggest game because of the amount of wins the Patriots had put up in the past and our record against them,” Baker said, “so that’s how we always looked at it.”
On the other side of that, though, Baker said the natural rivalry between Boston and New York – as general sports towns, not just football teams – wasn’t nearly as significant from New York’s point of view as it is in Boston.
“I feel it a little bit here with the Yankees-Red Sox thing, but not too much from that end of it,” Baker said. “It was more of a big game because the Patriots were always at the top, and we were trying to get there. That’s the way we always looked at it.”
This will be the 100th all-time meeting between the Patriots and Jets, who each won their season openers in Week 1. In natural fashion, they’re split right down the middle. Each team has 49 wins and 49 losses, and they also played to a tie in 1966.
Plus, at least 50 players have suited up for both franchises in the last two decades, and they have recycled each other’s coaching staffs as well. The Patriots and Jets are as closely tied together as any two organizations in the current sports stratosphere.
“There’s always a good rivalry here between the Jets and the Patriots,” Belichick said. “There has been through the years, and I think there will continue to be this year and into the future. We’re in the same division. We know the whole Boston-New York rivalry thing. It’s there in every sport. It’s certainly there in this sport.”