FOXBORO, Mass. -- For 11 seasons, defensive end Shaun Ellis bled Jets green, and shed an inordinate amount of his vital competitive fluids battling the hated AFC East rival Patriots. In fact, no one on the Jets' defense played with more passion or had a greater impact than Ellis did last January when the Jets triumphed, 28-21, at New England in the divisional playoffs to reach their second straight AFC title game.
Imagine, then, how Ellis is going to feel Sunday at Gillette Stadium wearing the Patriots' throwback uniforms while going after his former comrades in green. It will be a shock to his 34-year-old system for sure, but he said there won't be any confusion about which sideline he's on.
Ellis will head for the side that wanted him the most when the NFL lockout ended and he was a free agent. He wanted to finish his career as a Jet, but even though they wound up more than $9 million under the salary cap, they let him walk only to see him scooped up by Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "This game is a highly emotional game, and I can't wait," Ellis said Wednesday. "It's a big game, a rivalry game. It's one of the biggest rivalries I've been a part of since I've been in the league. But if you make it too personal, you start messing up."
The circumstances of Ellis' departure certainly could fuel his fire. Jets coach Rex Ryan said he didn't wish Ellis well because he joined an archrival, and Ellis still seems uncertain what to make of the remark.
"You know, Rex is Rex," Ellis said. "He's going to voice his opinion whether he's joking or being serious. I don't pay any attention to it. It was a business decision. So, I'm here, I'm happy to be here, and I'm ready to play."
When he arrived in the Patriots' training camp, Ellis admitted he was a "little fuzzy" or uneasy about what kind of reception he might receive, but that quickly dissipated. "It's been a wonderful experience so far, just seeing how they think and how they go about their business, just fitting in line with whatever scheme or adjustments mentally they have for you to do," Ellis said. "You just fall in line with the rest of the guys."
The Patriots' culture under the buttoned-up Belichick, Ellis said, is "totally different" than the way the freewheeling Ryan runs things with the Jets. Ryan has a 3-2 edge over Belichick in their head-to-head competition, but the Patriots' 3-1 start has given them an early edge over the Jets (2-2). Their offense has struggled while relying more on the passing of quarterback Mark Sanchez than the running game that served them so well the past two seasons.
Ellis has a suspicion the Jets will have to revert to form if they hope to compete with the Pats. "If they feel they can throw it, they can throw," Ellis said. "But obviously, it hasn't been working too well. I'm pretty sure Rex is going to say, 'We're going to run the ball.' "
They'll have to go through Ellis if they expect to go anywhere.