Boy, that Bill Belichick. He's such a kidder.
Did you hear his latest yarn? Brace yourself, it's a good one. The New England Patriots coach was talking about the upcoming game about the New York Jets—remember 28-21 in January? Yep, those Jets—and he said that Gang Green's upcoming visit to Gillette Stadium was important because "it's a division game."
"All division games are," he said.
Yeah, sure. This isn't just a division game, these are the Jets. And this game isn't important because it's a division game, it's important because these are the Jets.
It's important because ever since Rex Ryan took over as head coach in New York in 2009, the Jets have had the upper hand. They've won three out of the five meetings. They've flummoxed Tom Brady the way no team has during that time. They've gone further in the playoffs each year.
It looked like New England had figured out the new regime from the Meadowlands with a 45-3 win in Foxboro last December, but Rex's crew had an answer for that one too. They dressed their wounds and came back fighting, and out-coached and outplayed the Patriots in a 28-21 win in the playoffs.
The Patriots were rolling last year in a way that meant Super Bowls before. Thanks to these Jets, it came to a crashing halt. And the Jets are just a division team?
Sorry, Bill. The Jets are the team. They're what the Colts were from 2003-07. There's no way around it.
Belichick has had this game circled on the calendar since the schedules came out, and if he hasn't, he should have. After all, it doesn't matter what the Patriots do this season. As we saw last year, if they can't beat New York in the big games, does it really matter?
This should also have a personal significance for Belichick. He got embarrassed in January, thoroughly out-schemed and out-maneuvered by the big man in the sweater vest. Belichick's been known to do a little scheming of his own. Think he's been eager to show off a few wrinkles to Ryan and Co.?
There's also franchise ethos at stake here. The Jets stand for everything the Patriots don't. They provide verbal barbs in the media. They talk themselves up. They draft high. They hand out big, lucrative extensions.
And as they've shown so far, it works. The obnoxious, boastful Jets have been to two straight AFC Championship games. The businesslike, close-to-the-vest Patriots have been busy getting ousted. In their first games. At home.
The latest loss was to these Jets, while the Patriots had the better team. And the Jets are just a division team?
We'd better hope not. We'd better hope that when the lockout ended and players were smacking each other in drills, they were thinking about October 9. Jets at Patriots. The day to get those SOBs.
This isn't just a divisional game. It's the game. And this time, it's been months in the making.