Since Rex Ryan entered Florham Park declaring that he wasn’t here to kiss Bill Belichick rings, the Patriots have become the Jets favorite measuring stick. Knowing that beating them validates all of the hard work, while providing instant credibility around the league. That winning more regular season games over the entire season than New England allows for a more high level entry into the postseason. One containing home playoff games and some years, even first round byes. A scenario that on paper, increases any franchise’s odds of reaching the Super Bowl.
Sunday’s matchup that pits an underachieving Pats team against a Jets team that is rebranding itself after key personnel losses, will again be a gauge for this years progress to date. The big question for the Jets heading into Sunday is how far along they are adaption wise, as they adjust to what has been an ever altering roster. If the Jets collective growth shown against the Texans and Colts continues to develop on Sunday, then maybe the Jets can give the Patriots, a team that is loaded on offense and thriving in their new hyper no huddle style, a real run for their money.
Ryan’s direct challenge to Belichick from the moment he entered the scene in 2009 has this rivalry to another level. One that at times, due to the importance Ryan and his Jets always place on the meetings, has left them with a hangover that has led to more immediate losses. In November 2010 a 45-3 blowout dubbed “The Monday Night Massacre,” in a game that was for sole possesion of first place, left the Jets 9-3 and pretty embarassed. Wondering if they truly were a team who had the goods to topple their favorite enemy. A symbolic ball burying ceremony led by Ryan failed to exorcise the demons of that nationally televised ass kicking. A listless and putrid 10-6 loss to a struggling Miami club at home. best noted for the Sal Alosi and Trip Gate saga, became the fallout. Ending any hopes for a division title.
Last year’s second meeting between the two, a 37-16 Sunday night loss in yet another game for first place in the division, sent the Jets reeling. A loss days later on a Thursday in Denver dropped the Jets to 5-5. Days earlier they were 5-3 and looking to make a move in the AFC. The club never regained it’s footing, finishing at a disappointing 8-8.
On the flip side, there was no bigger franchise win, aside from Super Bowl III, than there was during the Divisional Playoff round in January of 2011. A game that saw the Jets shock and defeat a 14-2 Pats squad 28-21. Squandering home field advantage throughout the playoffs in the process. A game whose lasting impression became Bart Scott’s “Can’t Wait” interview with Sal Paolantonio.
Some questioned whether finally knocking the Patriots off and sending them home was too much for the emotional Jets one week later however, when Rex’s Jets came out flat and got too far behind the Steelers in the AFC Championship. The passing of the big Patriot test perhaps taking all of the wind out of their sails as they fell one game short of the Super Bowl in the 24-19 loss.
The Pats have won nine division titles and three Super Bowls under Belichick They are a litmus test not just for the Jets, but for all clubs who face them throughout the year. Unfortunately for Gang Green, the matchup is not some once in a while gathering, that win or lose can still provide some valuable insight. Instead, it is one that has to be dealt with head on. Twice a year, with little hopes for a home playoff game or a bye without at worst, a split during the regualr season series.
Under Ryan, everything has grown with the Jets. Their expectations. Their visibility. Their exposure. Their obsessive need to beat the Patriots amd prove to themselves that they are the better team.
A win on Sunday, as these two renew a rivaly that dates back to 1960 when the Pats were from Boston and the Jets were the Titans, would give Ryan and the Jets just cause for believing that a successful season without Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes CAN happen. What the Jets can’t allow, under any circumstance, is for a loss to linger much longer than Sunday. The way it has recently after facing the Pats. At 3-3 and in a four way tie for first place in the division, too much is still possible. Especially in a conference, the AFC, where only two teams have records better than 3-3.
As Ryan likes to say, the Jets are going to “take their swing ” at the champ this weekend. In a game whose outcome will, as it so often has in the recent past, give the Jets a clearer view of where they stand. Of how much farther they have to grow as a team in 2012, in order to earn a chance to play for the right to kiss their own rings.