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Stakes higher than ever in Jets/Patriots game

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It’s not quite the Super Bowl — but it almost feels like it.

Mark Sanchez and the surging Jets can give their long-suffering fans hope for a championship if they can pull out a victory tonight in their showdown with the New England Patriots.

Both teams are 9-2, and tonight’s winner will have a huge edge in winning the division and gaining home-field advantage in the postseason. But more importantly, the Jets could outdo the Patriots in a rivalry some call one of football’s best — on their home turf, Gillette Stadium, no less.

“This is kind of a ‘slaying the dragon’ mentality for the Jets,” said Matt Loede of football blog NFL Gridiron Gab. “A win shows the Pats that there’s been a shift in the division, and the Jets are the big boys on the block again.”

Tyson Rauch, editor for JetNation.com, agreed, adding that the game is a rallying point for fans.

“This is the first time in a long time Jets fans have had pride and confidence in the team,” he said. “With the stakes this high, it could be a game we talk about for years.”

Derek Hanson of Foxboro Blog agreed, but said: “When things are really on the line, the Patriots always come through.”

In September, the Jets toppled the Pats 28-14 at New Meadowlands Stadium, but a win tonight assures their place among NFL elite.

They could also stop Pats quarterback Tom Brady from breaking the record for most consecutive home wins, for which he’s tied with Brett Favre at 25. He last lost at home in 2006 — to the Jets.

Never shy, Jets coach Rex Ryan set the tone last week when he told Newsday he wants to kick Pats coach Bill Belichick’s “ass.”

Still, Jets fans have learned to be cautiously optimistic.

“I’ve surprised they’ve done as well as they have, so who knows what will happen,” said Jets fan Sawyer Cooper, 47, of the Upper West Side. “They’ve won a lot of close games.”

Added John Butchko, editor of Jets blog Gang Green Nation: “A lot of fans are saying, ‘We’ve seen this before, the team looks great but I know the big fall is coming.’ … A win may finally convince those fans that this team is for real.”

***

Tale of the tape

Coaches:

Bill Belichick
Age: 58
Head coach record: 157-94
Super Bowl rings: 5
Run-in with the league: Spygate, when the Patriots were fined by the
NFL for illegally taping Jets coaches during a game in 2007.
Personality: Subdued and cerebral
Personal fashion: Gray cut-off hoodie
Lowest moment: Suddenly resigning as Jets coach in 1999.
Thoughts on counterpart: “I have a lot of respect for him, what he
does and the success that he's had doing it throughout his career.”

Rex Ryan
Age: 47
Head coach record: 18-9
Super Bowl rings: 1
Run-in with the league: Ines Sainz
Personality: Brash and cocky
Personal fashion: Sweater vest
Lowest moment: Flipping the bird at Miami Dolphins fans during a mixed
martial arts event in Sunrise, Fla. in Jan.
Thoughts on counterpart: “I came here to kick his ass, and that¹s the
truth.”

Quarterbacks:

Mark Sanchez
Age: 24?
Hometown: Long Beach, Calif.
Nickname: ?The Sanchize?
2010 Salary: $6.442M
+ $10M option bonus?
Hottie love interest: Rumored — reporter Lindsay McCormick. (But Mark says?the Jets are his only girlfriend.)?
Hairstyle: Dark and curly?
Thoughts on rival team: “I love the Patriots.
I love Tom.”

Tom Brady
Age: 33
Hometown: San Mateo, Calif.
Nickname: Tom Terrific
2010 Salary: $7.5M
Hottie love interest: Hot wife Gisele Bundchen
Hairstyle: Long, flowing locks
Thoughts on rival team: “I hate the Jets.”

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