There are many juicy subplots for the Jets' home opener at the Meadowlands today against New England. One of them involves the return to action of the only player on the Jets roster who has ever tasted home victory against the Patriots.
"It gets up under my skin," defensive end Shaun Ellis said about the eight-game home losing streak to the Pats ever since that 20-19 Monday night victory in his rookie season of 2000. "But every year's a new year. We're going in with a new regime and we want to just go out there and win the game. We have a new coach, a different outlook on everything, so to me it really doesn't matter. As long as we take care of business right now, we can put a stop to it and just keep it moving."
Ellis stepped to the stage this week because he had to sit out the season opener at Houston due to his league-mandated one-game suspension. He's ready to be shot out of one of the pyro cannons that will be fired at the Meadowlands before today's opening kickoff.
"It feels good being able to come back and play a team like New England," he said. "For me it'll be my first game of the season. I have a lot of energy. I've been bouncing around at practice just trying to get my work in. Looking for a great game, looking for a great game."
Head coach Rex Ryan noticed the Big Katt acting like he was on a hot tin roof this week.
"Sometimes I think it is good from the standpoint that when something is taken away from you, you realize what you missed," Ryan said. "When Shaun came back, he was the first guy on the practice field. I think he realized how much he misses it. You're sitting back there and watching your teammates. Obviously, he has been a part of the New York Jets for a long time."
Over the last decade, Ellis has in fact been among the staunchest of Jets. Ryan calls him "one of the elite 3-4 ends in this game," and his eight sacks last season, predominantly out of the 3-4, were his most in five seasons and gave him 61.5 sacks for his first nine Jets seasons. He'll go down as one of the top DEs in franchise history, one of the most underrated in the NFL of the new millennium.
But he also knows he's got to help get the Green & White off their New England schneid. In his rookie year, he no doubt thought the Patriots would be regularly beatable after he and John Abraham, the first two first-rounders from the "Four Aces" drawn in the 2000 draft, combined for three fourth-quarter sacks of Drew Bledsoe to help the Jets secure that comeback squeaker win.
Then came a big victory at New England and the next year, the first game after 9/11, a narrow 10-3 verdict. That game was also significant in Jets-Pats history because it was when Mo Lewis' violent hit knocked Drew Bledsoe out of most of that season and ultimately all the way to Buffalo.
What many don't recall is that Ellis had a hand in that play — a big paw, in fact.
"I made him fumble," the Big Katt recalled of swiping at the ball on Bledsoe's hip from behind as the QB eyed Lewis' approach along the sideline. "He was trying to hold onto the ball when Mo hit him."
But that play had a downside for the Jets. As Ellis said: "I started the Tom Brady era. He should send me a check, by the way."
Brady replaced Bledsoe late in that game, almost forcing a late tie, then came to North Jersey 10 weeks later and led a 17-16 win over the Jets. That was the first of eight Meadowlands triumphs for Brady, a streak suspended in last year's home opener when he was out with his knee injury and Matt Cassel was at QB instead.
Brady looked like his old self as Monday night's comeback began to unfold. He's still got Randy Moss, Wes Welker and TE Benjamin Watson to throw to, and a seeming cast of thousands to hand off to, such as Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney and the ageless Kevin Faulk, the 11th-year back who's been a part of this rivalry even longer than Ellis.
Rookie QB Mark Sanchez and the Jets' offense, powered by backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington and receivers Dustin Keller, Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey, hope to be one answer to ending the drought.
And Ellis, whose last-play sack of Brady sealed the 17-14 triumph at Gillette Stadium in 2006, would love nothing more than to contribute similar plays to the Ryan/Mike Pettine defense that will also help bring this streak to an end.
"I still feel young. You think young, you play young," said No. 92, now 32 years old. "I wake up sometimes a little achy, but I get through it, get in the hot tub and just get loose. I feel good. I feel like my quickness is back. Training camp was not as brutal as it has been in the past and I think that really helped, us coming into the season fresh."
Another element of this game that he's looking forward to is the reaction of the crowd, whom Ryan has challenged all week to make the Meadowlands a painful place for the Pats to play.
"It's a good thing. We need that," Ellis said. "I just ask for the fans to be patient. If things don't go well, don't start booing. That's just feeding them, in my mind. Just give 'em hell. In the course of the game, for those 60 minutes, let's all just rally as one. That's the way I see it. Everything will take care of itself in the end and hopefully we'll be doing the victory knee."