When assessing the last six quarters of combat between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, it's fair to conclude the Green and White controlled the momentum throughout the combined 90 minutes of action due to stellar defensive play. But their past success has no bearing on the upcoming Wild Card playoff game.
"When you get into the playoffs its zero-zero, and everyone starts off with a blank slate. That's what we're going to go in there with," said safety Erik Coleman. "We feel confident in ourselves, and I'm sure they feel confident in their team."
The Jets trailed the Patriots 17-0 at halftime of their '06 home opener. Then head coach Eric Mangini and his staff made necessary adjustments in the locker room and stormed back onto the field looking like a brand-new team. Two second half turnovers and a blocked field goal later, the Jets found themselves just seven points shy of an unlikely comeback. But it was too little, too late, as the final whistle sounded on the Jets' first loss of the year.
However, the defense made a statement from the get-go on November 12 at Gillette Stadium as the Jets would bury the Patriots in their own mud. Four sacks of QB Tom Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, and two takeaways later, the Jets upended the first place Patriots, breaking a seven-game losing streak to their AFC East rivals.
"They've taken to the coaching throughout the process," Mangini said of his defense. "There has been significant progress. It just doesn't always show up dramatically. Things that you see where you're getting better may not be the flashy items."
Mangini brought a new culture to the Jets and his players caught on immediately, especially the Jets defenders.
"We bought into it from day one," defensive co-captain Shaun Ellis said of Mangini's attitude. "Mangini came in and just pretty much got the team rallied together, telling us 'This is what we are and before I got here - this is how the team was. But it's not going to be like that anymore.' It's part of who he is."
Now, heading into the playoffs, the defense is playing at a high level. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has led an extremely impressive string of performances since the bye week, and his unit has allowed less than 13 points per game since their loss to Cleveland in late October.
The Patriots offense fell victim to a resurgent Jets defense, while being limited to just 14 points in the Jets' Week Ten win at New England.
"A light came on," Ellis said. "It was a division rival and everybody was excited to play against a great team like the Patriots. I really can't say what was the light switch or what it was that turned on; all I can say is that we were hungry and we're the same way right now.
"If you look at our game," he added. "That's how we try to play. We play aggressive regardless of who we're facing."
Under Mangini and Sutton, the Jets have featured aggressive blitzing and multiple schemes while disguising fronts. Intensity rises in the postseason, so the Jets will have to remain mentally sound.
"We just can't make the game bigger than it is," said Ellis. "It's the playoffs; we know we're in. We just have to go and execute and do what we do and keep doing the things that got us there. It's all mental this week - of course the intensity will pick up a lot more. It is just who can limit the mental errors and who can create the big plays."
The experience of playing a game in front of a fired up New England crowd this season will only help. Winning that meeting in Foxborough was big at the time, but this is playoff football.
"It was a big confidence booster, but that was just one game. We split the season with them 1-1, so this is a totally different game with a lot more at stake," said Ellis. "The Patriots will be more prepared than last game, so we are going to have to adjust and try to take advantage of things that we know will work."
"It was a big game for us," added safety Erik Coleman, who had an interception in that 17-14 win. "We hadn't beaten them in the last couple of years and it was a big confidence builder for the team, but I don't know if it was a turning point. We were playing well all-around before that, but we definitely picked it up since then."
Ellis, who has played in five postseason games, has seen his team level the playing field with their division rivals from the north.
"Before Mangini got here we were always this way, but the Patriots were a step ahead of us for whatever reason," Ellis said. "Now it's kind of like we're just doing what we do, and we've become a smarter football team."
Wednesday Injury Report Jets Questionable: FB B.J. Askew (foot), RB Kevan Barlow (thigh), CB David Barrett (hip), WR Laveranues Coles (jaw), CB Andre Dyson (knee), FB James Hodgins (knee), C Nick Mangold (knee), OL Brandon Moore (ankle), S Kerry Rhodes (knee) & DL Dewayne Robertson (knee)
Probable: *LB Matt Chatham (personal), *RB Cedric Houston (calf), *QB Chad Pennington (calf), *DB Eric Smith (foot) & *DE Bryan Thomas (shoulder)
Patriots Out: S Rodney Harrison (knee)
Questionable: WR Bam Childress (ankle), RB Kevin Faulk (knee), CB/S Chad Scott (back), TE Benjamin Watson (knee) & NT Vince Wilfork (ankle)
Probable: *QB Tom Brady (r shoulder), *CB Ellis Hobbs (wrist), *DL Richard Seymour (elbow) & LB Mike Vrabel (back)
*Denotes players who participated in practice