Shaun Ellis and the Jets will find themselves in a familiar role Monday night at Gillette Stadium. Even though both the Jets and the Patriots share identical 9-2 records, most people outside Jets Nation believe the Pats will hold serve at home and take a one-game division lead heading into the final quarter of the 2010 season.
"That's not going to change. We're always the underdog," said Ellis. "When the day comes that we'll be favored to win, I'll be like, 'What's going on?' Since I've been here, we've always been the underdog."
No current Jets player has experienced this rivalry more than "The Big Katt." Now in his 11th season, the longest tenured roster member has played the Pats 21 times and collected a stat line of 12 sacks, 86 tackles and three forced fumbles. The Jets haven't swept the Patriots since 2000 — his rookie year, when he picked up two sacks in a Sept. 11 win and then one more in a return engagement the next month at the old Foxboro/Schaefer/Sullivan Stadium.
"For us, our main goal is to win all our games in the division," said Ellis of a Jets club that last claimed the AFCE in 2002. "We said that from day one and the Patriots are right there with us. We have to go out there and prove ourselves and take it away from them."
And New York's AFC representative, a wild-card postseason entry in 2009 that came within 30 minutes of a Super Bowl appearance, wants the top overall seed in the conference. A win Monday would push the Jets closer to a division title with a 4-0 mark in the East and a clean sweep over the Patriots by virtue of their 28-14 victory in Week 2. This is another road test for the 5-0 visitors and they need to pass it in order to remain home in January.
"We were thinking that ever since training camp. We got a taste of how hard it is to go through the playoffs on the road every game," said Ellis. "Going through that last year, it was like, 'Look, man, we can make it a lot easier on ourselves if we can create a home-field advantage.' That's been our main goal — to lead the league in wins and win our division. So far we're on track to do that."
Who else other than Tom Brady stands in the way? The Patriots have won their last 25 home regular-season games that Brady has started (Matt Cassel was the starter when the Jets topped the Pats, 34-31, in overtime back on Nov. 13, 2008) and they've taken five of the past six at Gillette over the Green & White when Brady has played.
"It all starts with Brady. It's been that way for years," said Ellis. "He's a guy who's going to the Hall of Fame, a guy who has all the numbers, he has the rings. It all starts with him. If we can make his job a lot harder, it would be more to our advantage."
Even to this day, every time Ellis sees Brady, he thinks of his famous pressure on Drew Bledsoe and subsequent forced fumble that distracted the Pats QB right before Mo Lewis lowered the boom on Sept. 23, 2001.
"He owes me some money," Ellis remembered, "because if Mo didn't hit the quarterback … I didn't hit him — I caused the fumble. He was running out of bounds and I dove and hit the ball, so he was trying to grab the ball. When he turned around …"
But the NFL's third-ranked "D" doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting against these Brady-led Patriots. The Jets average 24 points a game and the Patriots surrender 24 points a contest. Statistically New England owns the league's worst pass defense (288.5 yards allowed per game) and the Jets seem well-equipped to take advantage with Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, Jerricho Cotchery, LaDainian Tomlinson and company. Tomlinson (11-76) averaged 6.9 yards a carry in the teams' September meeting as he and Shonn Green (15-52) combined to run for 128 yards on 26 carries.
"We feel like our offense can move and can score points. Before, our offense didn't have as many weapons as we have now, so there's definitely a lot of pressure on their defense," Ellis said. "With them being so loaded on offense in the past, it's like the tide's kind of turned. They still have some weapons — don't get me wrong."
It's Ellis who coined the phrase "Same New Jets" after the comeback win over the Texans and this could be another wonderful step on an amazing journey. After reaching the conference championship last January, the Jets look to complete a season shutout of the Patriots in front of the nation and proclaim themselves Beasts of the East.
"It's up to us to prove them wrong and get ourselves out of it and change the culture," Ellis said. "I think we have been doing a great job these last two years of making it happen."