Jets see rematch with Patriots as a must-win
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Rex Ryan laid it all out for his players.
There was no hyperbole, no over-the-top rhetoric. Just brutal honesty.
"He told us flat-out, if we want a chance of winning this division, we've got to have this one," right guard Willie Colon said. " 'Cause if they beat us, they're going to take off. And there's no catching this team."
Sunday's rematch against the 5-1 Patriots is about pride. But it's also about position.
The Jets (3-3) wasted an opportunity to secure early-season leverage in the AFC East when they lost to the Patriots, 13-10, in Foxborough in Week 2. Although their young defense kept Tom Brady off balance for much of the game, all hope of a Jets comeback was dashed by rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
"The final 12 plays of the game, in my opinion, are what changed it for us," said Smith, who threw three fourth-quarter interceptions to seal his team's fate. "We were right in it . . . had a chance to kick a field goal. We had another chance to go down and tie the game, but we didn't get it done."
Losing isn't an option on any Sunday. But for the Jets, it won't be tolerated this weekend -- especially against this team. The Jets, 3-8 against New England since Ryan became coach in 2009, have dropped five in a row to the Patriots.
The tide could turn Sunday thanks to key Patriots injuries. Run-stopper Vince Wilfork (Achilles) and fellow Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo (torn pectoral muscle) are out for the season and top cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) did not make the trip, according to the Boston Herald.
But the Patriots will get back a key weapon. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was cleared to make his season debut, according to his agent, though he was listed as questionable.
It'll be a statement game for Ryan and his newbie QB as both look to prove they can keep pace with their potential Hall of Fame counterparts. But Ryan's defense might be more amped for the rematch than any other Jets unit. The defense will look to prove that its Week 2 performance against Brady -- who completed only 48.7 percent of his passes and threw for fewer yards than Smith (214 to 185) -- wasn't a fluke.
"I mean, it wasn't the Jets' defense that stopped Brady, it was what Tom Brady didn't do right," rookie Sheldon Richardson said, giving his take on the media's portrayal of the loss. "We didn't get recognition. But now we're getting it. As far as back then, nah, no one was trying to cut us no slack."
Richardson, like the rest of Ryan's defense, gladly bears the proverbial chip on his shoulder. And he's acutely aware of the extra passengers on the Jets' bandwagon.
"It's what happens," he said with a shrug. "It's OK. If they want to join the team, hey, whatever floats their boat."
After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, the Jets are determined to decide their own fate in 2013. But anyone who thinks playing the Patriots for the second time in six games will be easy ought to think again, Colon said.
"You can tell they're on a roll with the way they're playing," said the Bronx native and Hofstra product. "Those young guys are starting to trust Brady and Brady's starting to trust them. That last drive against New Orleans, Brady was surgical. It was amazing what he did to them.
"So you can tell that ball's getting bigger and they're starting to roll over teams. We've got to come with our 'A' game."
The Jets are four-point underdogs at MetLife Stadium -- a place Ryan hopes will be overrun by Jets fans in "a sea of green." But within the home team's locker room, the expectations of anything less than a "W" are unacceptable. Especially from the defense.
"I'm pretty sure [Brady] feels like he can come out here and duplicate some offense and make some plays," Richardson said. "And I feel like we can stop him."