FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
With all eyes on the never-ending controversy in New England, where DeflateGate has flared yet again after Roger Goodell upheld Tom Brady's four-game suspension, the sense of optimism at the Jets' training complex was more pronounced than usual.
And it was more than just the usual feeling of hopefulness that accompanies the start of camp, where even the dregs of the NFL can feel good about the future with the regular season still weeks away. The injection of talent after general manager Mike Maccagnan's bold offseason roster remake has the Jets thinking big. And rightfully so, even if there are continued questions about whether Geno Smith can elevate his game.
With the Patriots still stuck in the quagmire of Brady's suspension, which now heads to federal court as the players' union attempts to have Goodell's ruling reversed and the league looks to uphold the commissioner's right to discipline the players, there may now be a greater window of opportunity than ever before.
The Patriots are coming off a Super Bowl championship, and still might be favored to win the division. But with a host of free- agent losses and with the Brady controversy casting a shadow over the team and showing no signs of dissipating anytime soon, the door has opened just enough for the Jets and fellow AFC East also-rans Buffalo and Miami to have legitimate aspirations to unseat the Patriots.
Don't expect the Jets to admit that -- at least publicly -- as they prepare for their first training camp practice on Thursday.
"Obviously, I've seen it in the news, but we don't play New England in those first four games," Jets wide receiver Eric Decker said. "We get the championship Brady every game, so we're not that worried about it. We're focused on ourselves and putting together a good team."
Newly reacquired cornerback Darrelle Revis, who won his first Super Bowl ring with the Patriots last season and then came back home to the Jets after a two-year hiatus, isn't surprised at how big the story has gotten.
"It's Tom Brady. What do you expect?" Revis said. "He's one of the best to probably ever [play]. It's a big, hot topic. It has been getting a little crazy with it, but at the same time, it's Tom Brady."
Revis wouldn't get into any specifics about the case; when I asked him if he believed Brady when the quarterback insisted he did nothing wrong, the cornerback replied: "I have no comment on that. The league handled it how they handled it. I'm not on that stand, I'm not the jury, I'm not the judge. I don't know anything about the information the NFL got."
Revis is a big reason why the Jets can feel a lot better about themselves entering this season. He makes the Jets better, and his absence makes the Patriots weaker, so his move to New York can't be underestimated.
"All the pieces that we have, what you see on paper, it looks really appealing," he said.
"At the same time we got to really put the work in. We've got a lot of talent on this team. We have a lot of young talent and a lot of guys who are going to make this team better just by impacting the team. We got to gel as a whole team and be very excited for this year. At this point it is really to go out and compete and be excited."
Center Nick Mangold has been around long enough to know that you can't count out the Patriots, no matter the situation. Remember, they finished 11-5 and just missed the playoffs the year Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008. They went to the Super Bowl when they were caught illegally videotaping the Jets in Week 1 of the 2007 season. And they won their fourth Super Bowl title last year after a 2-2 start made some wonder whether Brady was slipping.
"New England is a heck of a team," Mangold said. "I'm sure they will work around it."
Even if Brady misses the first four games, look for Bill Belichick to coach up second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to at least be serviceable against the Steelers, Jaguars, Bills and Cowboys. It's not unreasonable to think the Patriots can be 2-2 in that stretch.
But this will be one of Belichick's biggest challenges, adding to the already difficult prospect of defending a championship -- something no team has done since the 2003-04 Patriots.
Revis earned a nice hunk of jewelry from last year's championship run. "Awesome," he said of the diamond-studded Super Bowl ring. "A lot of bling."
Will we see it in the Jets' locker room?
"No, you won't see it," Revis said. He then added, setting the tone for his current team: "You will see the New York Jets ring when we get it."