There was nothing out of the ordinary Quinnen Williams noticed during the week of practice, nothing that told him this week was much different than any other.
“Just going day-by-day, week-by-week,” Williams said at his locker at the Jets’ training facility last Thursday.
Forgive Williams, for he is new to the Jets-Patriots rivalry, and he didn’t notice the tell-tale signs of an uptick in intensity. The Patriots may have dominated the AFC East for most of the last two decades, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t just a bit more focus than normal with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and their six Super Bowl championships coming to town.
Not that Williams isn’t familiar with rivalries of his own. As a defensive star at Alabama, there were plenty to go around in the SEC – Auburn, LSU and Tennessee, to name a few.
Welcome to Jets-Patriots, one of the most longstanding NFL rivalries that goes back to the days of Joe Namath vs. Babe Parilli, back when it was the Boston Patriots. The Jets hope Sam Darnold can one day help them supplant the Brady-Belichick alliance at the top of the division, and Williams undoubtedly would be a part of that as one of the Jets’ cornerstone players in their rebuilding process.
The rookie defensive tackle missed the first Jets-Patriots game in Foxborough because of an ankle injury, but he'll take the field Monday night at MetLife Stadium in the first of what he hopes will be many matchups in the years ahead. Williams doesn’t believe it will be long before the Jets can some day make it to the top.
“I think there’s more than enough talent on this defense and on the team,” he said when asked if the Jets can be a playoff contender. “Everybody has to be on the same page, everybody with the same goal, just like we were in the Dallas game.”
The Jets entered Monday night’s game off an impressive 24-22 win over the Cowboys, who were missing several key players to injury, including wide receiver Amari Cooper and starting tackles Tyron Williams and La’El Collins. It was Darnold’s first game back after missing the previous three with mononucleosis, and the outcome reinvigorated a team that started 0-4.
They understand there is still a long way to go but were anxious nonetheless to use the Patriots as another measuring stick. The defending champions are actually the ultimate measuring stick. New England entered 6-0, despite some issues on offense: Rob Gronkowski retired after last season, they’ve had to shuffle the offensive line because of injuries and the failed experiment with Antonio Brown, plus an injury to Josh Gordon, has left them weakened at wide receiver.
Still, it’s the Patriots.
“They’re a great team, no doubt,” Williams said. “We’ve got to be at our best.”
Williams knew he had a vital role to play, especially given his position. Despite Brady’s incredible ability to win games, there is a way to get to him that at least some teams have figured out. Namely the 2007 and 2011 Giants. One big reason for both of those Super Bowl upsets: the Giants’ ability to pressure Brady up the middle.
“Any team that has affected Brady in a huge way puts pressure on him, gets him off the spot and has a chance to win,” Williams said. “All we can do is go out there and execute the plays to the best of our ability.”
Until now, it has been a muted start for Williams, the No. 3 pick in this year's draft. He has 11 tackles in three games and has missed two games with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 1. He had his best game against the Cowboys, getting in on six tackles in his first NFL start.
“I think I’m doing good,” he said. “I really don’t look at the stats, but I think I execute very well in the defense. I do my job very well in the defense and I do what I’m supposed to do. Everybody trusts me and counts on me.”
Williams didn’t have any sacks in his first three games but hopes there will be impact plays in the days ahead. More than that, though, he’s hoping for overall team success.
“It’s everybody being on the same page, same communication,” he said. “We have to continue to do that, and we’ll be fine.”