FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Despite his laid-back demeanor, there was a fire in Jeremy Kerley's eyes. His tone was edgy and his sentences were clipped as he spoke about the challenge ahead: facing the Patriots. And the Jets slot receiver made his feelings known.
"This game is personal,'' Kerley told Newsday on Thursday as he stood in the hallway outside the locker room. "It's as big as people want it to be, or it's as small as people want it to be. But for us, it's personal.
"You can't give respect to someone who doesn't respect you. If you don't give me any respect, I don't care what you've got. I'm coming for you.''
Sunday's grudge match at MetLife Stadium may not seem like a fair fight. The Patriots are 11-3 and coming off a blowout of the Dolphins that clinched their sixth straight AFC East title. The Jets are 3-11 and barely hung on against the lowly Titans.
The bad blood between the Jets and Patriots is evident in the way they go at it on game day. But unlike other rivalries, the lack of mutual respect is what makes this one so bitter.
"They don't honestly respect us as a franchise,'' Willie Colon said. "It just doesn't seem like we get any respect. And maybe it needs to be earned. Respect is earned, it's not given.''
Few could fault the Patriots for not giving it away freely. New England has won at least 10 games the past 12 seasons. The Patriots have reached the postseason 22 times in their 55-season history, including 16 of the last 21 years. Their franchise, which drafted future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and hired Bill Belichick as coach in 2000, has been the model of consistency in the NFL.
Rex Ryan is 4-8 against New England, including the Jets' playoff win after the 2010 season. He'd love nothing more than to defeat the genius Belichick in what might be his final home game with the Jets.
"Is it special to beat the Patriots? They're the ones that you try to beat,'' Ryan said. "Even though the year hasn't gone the way we wanted it to, sure you want to beat them, without question.''
Ryan is always fiery during team meetings, but Percy Harvin said Wednesday that Ryan's message got him particularly pumped up for his first taste of the rivalry. "He's amped, the rest of the players are amped. So it'll definitely be a good one,'' Harvin said. "We'll be ready to play.''
Colon was extremely complimentary of the Patriots, whom he called "the top dog every year.'' But he also made it clear that he can't stand them.
"I don't like 'em and it is what it is,'' Colon said. "Listen, I don't take anything from New England. They win with whatever they have. So you've got to be able to respect them.''
Kerley disagreed, saying: "I was taught that you've got to give respect to get respect.''