The pre-Patriots rhetoric — or lack thereof — has changed in the Jets’ post-Rex Ryan era. So no, coach Todd Bowles did not bite on Thursday when someone posed a question that from Ryan surely would have yielded a headline or two.
The word “Patriots” was not uttered, but the implication was clear when Bowles was asked whether he buys into the notion there are “standard-bearers” in the division against which the Jets must prove themselves.
“You try to beat the teams in your division,” Mr. Pragmatic said. “If you can beat everybody in your division that gives you an upper hand. As far as trying to prove something, you don’t try to prove anything. You just try to win the division.”
Fair enough. But put another way, do the Patriots — whom the Jets host Sunday at MetLife Stadium remain the hump over which the Jets must climb if they ever are to become a consistent championship contender?
“We beat them what, five years ago, and we still didn’t get over the hump,” Antonio Cromartie said, referring to the Jets’ 28-21 upset of the Pats in a divisional round playoff game on Jan. 16, 2011. “It’s not about getting over the hump.” (Cromartie was quoted leading up to that game using an expletive to describe Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.)
Indeed, since that playoff shocker the Patriots are 8-1 against the Jets, with the five most recent matchups decided by seven points or fewer. That includes the Patriots’ 30-23 victory — behind two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Brady — on Oct. 25 at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots have won an astounding 12 AFC East championships in the past 13 seasons, and the one exception was 2008, when Brady was injured in the opener and Matt Cassel filled in. Even that year, they went 11-5.
There is nothing the Jets can do about the division title this season no matter how they fare Sunday. But what they do against their old nemeses Brady and Bill Belichick could go a long way toward determining their playoff status.
Win and they could be in. Lose and they almost certainly will be out.
The fact the Patriots are the opponent is not directly relevant to all that. But indirectly it is appropriate that the team’s new GM and new coach and new quarterback find themselves facing the same obstacle as their predecessors.
“I mean, they’ve been winning for years,” said Darrelle Revis, who was a Patriot last season. “I mean, they deserve it. They put the numbers up . . . We already know what’s at stake when we play this game every year.”
At least under Bowles the Jets have given the Patriots less reason to dislike them. Rather, the Pats have had nothing but praise for the overachievers beneath them in the standings.
“We view them as a big game,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “They’re a rival team. They’re in our division and they’re always tough to play, no matter what time of year it is – end of the year, beginning of the year, always a tough team and always a good battle.”
The Patriots do seem to bring out the best in the Jets, who will need all the bringing-out they can get Sunday.
“I think every week we want to play the best,” Revis said. “Does this add fuel to the fire because it’s a rivalry game or just the history of it? Yes, there’s a little bit more to it.”
WR Quincy Enunwa (neck), LB David Harris (back), LB Calvin Pace (abdomen) practiced on a limited basis Friday. Enunwa is listed as questionable and the others probable. CB Dee Milliner (hamstring) did not practice and is doubtful. For the Patriots, WRs Danny Amendola (knee) and Julian Edelman (foot) practiced on a limited basis. Amendola is questionable, Edelman doubtful . . . Gronkowski on whether it is advisable for opponents to try to slow him down with press coverage: “Obviously I have to go out there with confidence that I want to beat my guy across from me; that’s just being an athlete, that’s just being a professional athlete going out with the confidence you want to win every matchup. But at the same time it’s not that you just go out there and win the matchup. These players, especially these DBs from the Jets, safeties, linebackers, they can cover, press, off the ball, whatever it is. I just have to be prepared and focus on what I have to do in order to get open.” . . . Revis on what makes the Patriots offense difficult to prepare for: “They’re very savvy at dissecting your weaknesses on defense. They do a great job. It’s almost like a heavyweight bout: You throw a punch at them they might throw two back at you. You definitely have to be aware and cautious of some of the decisions they make offensively.” Added Cromartie, “Honestly I think the biggest thing you see is they continue to do their thing. They’re not going to change what they do. They execute very well and they look for defenses to make mistakes and when they make a mistake they capitalize on it.” . . . Cromartie on playing his best football in recent weeks: “I definitely do feel that way. I definitely feel like I’m healthy. I’ve never made excuses for my play. The first half of the season I was not all the way healthy just from the standpoint of dealing with certain minor stuff. But I feel healthy; I feel like I’m playing at a high level and that’s thanks to my teammates for trusting me and the coaching staff for keeping me on the field. I’m happy. Can’t get no interceptions, though. But I’m happy. I’m at peace with it and that’s all I can do is continue to play like Coach Bowles and this organization and my teammates need me to play.” . . . Bowles on the value of Marcus Gilchrist: “He’s meant a lot. Like I said, David (Harris) is the glue up front and overall. Gilchrist is the guy in the back end that makes everything work. He gets the calls out. He can yell out plays. He’s a film junkie. He helps the other guys with patterns and route recognition and he does a lot of the dirty work.” . . . Bowles on unsung success stories this season: “There’s a ton of them. Obviously Quincy Enunwa is one, Gilchrist we just mentioned, David (Harris) we talked about, ‘Snacks’ (Damon Harrison) would be another one, (Brian) Winters, (James) Carpenter, Breno (Giacomini). There’s a ton of guys that are in that category.” . . . Bowles on what James Carpenter has brought to the offensive line: “Well, it’s not a glamour position, but he does a lot of dirty work down in there with Brick (D’Brickashaw Ferguson) and (Nick) Mangold and Breno. They get a lot of credit, but Carpenter has been, you can ask one of those guys, he’s been a welcome addition. He’s not going to say too much one way or the other. He’s ‘yes,’ ‘’no,’ and ‘hi,’ and that’s what you get out of him. If you can get a smile out of him, that’s great. If I get a smile out of him, I’m OK. He’s just been a welcome addition. He just works hard.”