The Patriots are there for the taking.
These are not the Patriots of old, the feared New England team that has been the division’s dominant side and even the best team in the AFC since 2001. However, the Patriots still have the most talent in the AFC East and the Jets are in a rebuilding year.
Since winning the Super Bowl in 2001, the Patriots have won the division an astounding nine times and the Jets have not done well against New England in recent stretches. In their last six meetings with the Patriots, the Jets have only won once — in the playoffs in 2010.
“Anytime you play New England, yeah, it is special there’s no question because that is the one you’re gunning for,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “You’re not gunning for second place, you’re gunning for first place and that team has won our division the four years I’ve been here. That clearly would make it a special game and a big game.”
But even though the Patriots are 1-0 this season and still the defending division champions, there isn’t the air of invincibility there once was. The once-vaunted wide receiver corps is without Pro Bowler Wes Welker and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have been cut and injured, respectively. It took a last-gasp field goal Sunday for the Patriots to beat the Bills, a team with a rookie starting at quarterback.
Wide receiver Stephen Hill said, “we still respect them for being the New England Patriots,” but drew the line at that.
“No intimidation. I hope no guys are intimidated by another man,” Hill said. “Other than that, most of us can’t answer what has happened in other years.”
Hill has only played the Patriots twice and has never won. Last year’s two losses were tough, especially the home blowout on Thanksgiving Day.
“That came with certain things that happened last year but this year, we’re definitely going to make sure we change things up a little bit,” Hill told Metro. “Make sure we get this win, starting this Thursday, and hopefully we’ll get better with not having the losses.”
But the Patriots’ name means something to young players like Hill and the rookies, such as first-round pick Sheldon Richardson. The young defensive lineman out of Missouri is part of the Jets’ youth movement — a movement the organization hopes will topple the Patriots’ historic run.
That makes Thursday night a measuring stick for the young Jets.
“We’re going up there to make a name for ourselves and shape some things up,” Richardson told Metro. “We like being the underdog. You keep going off history and we’re trying to make history; it’s as simple as that.”
He acknowledges the Patriots as a “great team” and refused to call the injured team vulnerable, even if there are questions with their playmakers being healthy for this game. Receiver Danny Amendola is unlikely to play after injuring himself in the opener. The same goes for running back Shane Vereen, who is out after he underwent surgery this week.
“Those are names to y’all. We respect them, but they have to come out and play like they’re Tom Brady and they got to coach like they’re Bill Belichick,” Richardson said. “Just like we have to come out and play like we’re the New York Jets.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.