Updated, 5:10 p.m. ET
Some this week were debunking the continuing existence of the Jets-Patriots rivalry from back in the old days of the mid-Nineties and the new millennium. But we know it's still special and what it means. So do the coaches. As Rex Ryan said this week: "I think anytime you play New England, it's special, there's no question, because that's the one you're gunning for. " And as the always respectful Bill Belichick assessed: "Absolutely, it's a division game so it's always tough."
As we get ready to rumble at Gillette Stadium, here are 10 things to look for in the first Jets-Pats meeting this season:
Geno vs. Patricia — That's Geno as in Smith, getting his second start as Jets QB, and Patricia as in Matt, New England's D-coordinator. You just know Bill Belichick and Patricia will be trying to confuse the rookie for 60 minutes. If Smith stumbles, can he regain his passing touch as he did Sunday vs. the Bucs? Through the first 28 minutes, he was 7-for-16 with a 35.4 rating and had lost a fumble, thrown an interception, and taken an 18-yard sack. Over the last 32 minutes he was 17-for-22 with a 113.4 rating and led the offense on his first TD drive as a pro and two late FG drives.
TE Balance of Power — Has it flipped, even if just for a game? We have Kellen Winslow, who was Smith's ol' reliable Sunday, and Jeff Cumberland, who took a shot to the chin vs. the Bucs but has bounced back for more. The Patriots parted ways with Aaron Hernandez this offseason, and Rob Gronkowski may need more time to rehab his back and forearm (he was listed as limited at practice this week and doubtful for the game). The other TEs on NE's roster: Michael Hoomanawanui, first-year man Zach Sudfeld and former Jet Matt Mulligan.
Perfect 10? — Santonio Holmes got his feet wet again Sunday with 44 offensive plays and his first catch in game conditions — a 13-yarder on third-and-11 — in almost a year. Is it possible for Tone to jazz things up, especially since Jeremy Kerley (concussion) has been ruled out? "We won't know until gameday how much I will play," Holmes said of an increase in reps. "With Kerley being injured right now, that may be expected."
Getting Off the Ground — Our running attack scuffled vs. the Bucs with RBs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory averaging 2.0 yards per carry. But Smith made it work with his 47 rushing yards, most by a Jets QB in six seasons (Kellen Clemens, 48 yards, vs. Washington in '07) and eighth-most in franchise history. The QB will again have to be selective in taking off to run against the Patriots' disciplined defenders.
Big Play Rob — As Ryan reminded, New England still has "Big Vince" Wilfork in the middle of its defense to occupy C Nick Mangold and others. But someone that RT Austin Howard and friends need to locate before each snap is No. 50. LDE Rob Ninkovich has been a thorn in our sides the past four games: two interceptions, one for a TD, the strip sack and recovery to seal last year's win at Gillette, another half-sack in '11 and another fumble recover in '12.
Little Big Man — Last year at Gillette, 5'8" Isaiah Trufant loomed large in the defensive game plan, helping to hold Wes Welker to six catches for 66 yards and no TDs. Welker's moved on to a Rocky Mountain high, with Danny Amendola stepping into that role for Tom Brady. "They have some of the same characteristics," Trufant said of the two wideouts. "At the end of the day it comes down to we've got to execute on defense." Amendola (groin) was declared "doubtful" for this game by the Pats.
Hurry, hurry — Jets designated pass rusher Antwan Barnes said of Monday night's early game, "I got tired just watching the Eagles. Fifty-eight plays in the first half? Count me out of that." AB was just kidding, because as Rex said of the Patriots, "It's hard to fathom a team being faster than them." Brady and New England's recent up-tempo emphasis resulted in an average of 74 plays a game last year, and Sunday at Buffalo they logged 89 plays. Will the Pats out-hurry the Jets? As Barnes reasoned: "We try to stop all that. It's just a matter of who's going to get tired first."
Unstoppable, That's What You Are — Among the many reasons to keep watch on Brady, always check No. 12 on third-and-1 and -2 and fourth-and-1 and -2. In his career, when Brady keeps the ball in those situations against the Jets, he's never been stopped. He's now 21-for-21 in personal conversion runs.
Thursday Night Kick-Off — Nick Folk, named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week today for his game-winning 48-yard field goal vs. Tampa, was 4-for-4 in Foxboro last year, including a pair of 43-yarders in the final 2:11 of regulation. Stephen Gostkowski hit from 43 to send that game to OT, then from 48 for the deciding points. Folk and Gostkowski are the NFL's two most accurate fourth-quarter kickers since 1991. Another kick-off may be in the offing.
FieldTurf Footing — The Gillette turf field (in place since the Jets' muddy win in '06) drains well, but still look for possible slippage if thunderstorms pass over Foxboro as predicted from 6-8 p.m. Also anticipate a possible delayed kickoff from the 8:25 p.m. ET start time as this NFL game could become the second in eight days to be delayed by lightning.