The swagger and bluster is gone from the New York Jets and with it so is the luster from a once-intriguing rivalry. The Border War between the Patriots and the Jets is now the boring war.
This rivalry used to be fun. You could rub your hands together in anticipation. Now, you can use them to cover your mouth and stifle a yawn. Getting fired up to see the Patriots face the Jets feels tedious and obligatory, like sending out the family Christmas card.
The hatred is still intense, but the competition is not. Sure, both games between the teams last season were decided by 3 points and the teams split. But the Jets aren’t in a real position to challenge the Patriots’ death grip on the AFC East, and they haven’t been for a while now.
This rivalry has been reduced to what it was traditionally about, antipathy by geography, not dueling football philosophies and personalities.
Team Hard Knocks has fallen on hard times. Vociferous Rex Ryan and the Jets stagger into Gillette Stadium for Thursday Night Football” as losers of five straight games. Their only victory is over the winless Oakland Raiders. They’re tied for last in the NFL in turnover differential at minus-9 and rank 30th in the NFL in points per game.
A subdued Ryan couldn’t muster any trash talk this week. On a conference call with the New England media, Rex was reverential, referring to Tom Brady as a Hall of Fame quarterback, calling former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis a great player, and lauding Bill Belichick. Yawn.
Ryan rode into New York in 2009 saying he wasn’t there to kiss Belichick’s rings. Now, Ryan might be on the verge of kissing his job goodbye, as the gap between the Patriots and Jets has only widened since New York knocked off the Patriots in the 2010 AFC Divisional playoffs at Gillette Stadium.
Since that time, the Patriots have won five of the six meetings, averaging 30.8 points per game and winning by an average of 13.2 points.
The most memorable moment in the rivalry since that playoff game has the Jets as the butt of a football joke. Who can forget former Jets quarterback (Off the) Mark Sanchez sliding face-first into the backside of guard Brandon Moore and fumbling the ball, which was returned by the Patriots for a touchdown in a 49-19 trouncing on Thanksgiving Day 2012? The jersey Sanchez wore in that game sold at auction for $820 in May.
Bringing up the rear of the AFC East, the 2014 J-E-T-S are a mess, mess, mess. In today’s NFL, arguably the two most important positions on the field are quarterback and cornerback. The Jets are woefully inadequate at both, thanks to the awkward marriage of general manager John Idzik and Ryan.
In his second season, Geno Smith looks like another in a long line of Jets’ busts at quarterback. Some of his decisions and throws make the erratic Sanchez look like Brady.
In 22 career games, Smith has just three in which he has thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions. One of those games was last Sunday’s loss to the Broncos, in which Smith threw a game-sealing interception that former Patriot Aqib Talib returned for a touchdown.
Smith missed a team meeting in San Diego, and on Monday in a conference call with the New England media said that the New York media has miscommunicated, misprinted, and misunderstood things about him. Maybe so, but Smith, not the media, is the one misfiring on passes, leaving the Jets with the worst-ranked passing offense in the league.
After the Jets — much to Ryan’s chagrin — decided to pass on a reunion with Revis, who signed with the Patriots, they left themselves thin at cornerback. Now, they’re threadbare after losing top corner Dee Milliner to a torn Achilles’ tendon last Sunday. The Jets have one interception this season and it belongs to former Patriots castoff Phillip Adams.
That lack of depth is one reason that Ryan said seeing Revis in a Patriots uniform had him reaching for Pepto-Bismol. Ryan said the sight makes him “a little sick to my stomach.”
The Jets will never get any sympathy from Belichick. The Jets are Belichick’s bête noire. He has immutable contempt for the Jets stemming from a prior regime’s attempt to portray him as mentally unhinged after he resigned as the HC of the NYJ and reneged on succeeding Bill Parcells to become coach of the Patriots in 2000.
As Brady said earlier this season, losing games in New England is a quality of life issue, regardless of the opponent. But losing to the Jets is particularly bilious for Belichick, given the history.
That has not happened often of late, though. The Patriots went 2-3 against the Jets in the first five meetings with Ryan, including the playoffs. Their one loss since that time in six games came last season in overtime, when defensive tackle Chris Jones was called for an obscure pushing penalty on a missed 56-yard field goal by Jets kicker Nick Folk.
The 15-yard penalty gave Folk another chance and the Jets a win.
The Jets will give the Patriots their best shot, but that doesn’t make them any different from any other team that takes on the Patriots.
The Jets were different because they wanted to beat the Patriots by being the antithesis of the Patriots.
Unafraid to open their mouths for trash talk or snacking, the Jets were the anti-Patriots. The games were not just a clash of teams, but a class of cultures.
The Patriots’ button-down brilliance has won out over the Jets’ cocky mien, however. It’s substance over style.
Ryan can brag about winning a few battles against Brady and Belichick. Maybe he’ll win another one on Thursday night.
But the Patriots have won the Border War.