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Upstart Jets are making Brandon Marshall 'eat his words'

A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. No chance, the yapper: Before training camp, Brandon Marshall did a radio interview in which he dumped on his former team, explaining why he requested his release from the Jets. (News flash: They would've cut him anyway.) The volatile Marshall said he "couldn't be in that environment. I think everyone knows the type of personality I am at this point in my career. I wouldn't have made it through an entire season knowing that we didn't have a chance."

Now look:

Marshall's new team, the New York Giants, are a winless, dysfunctional mess. His old team plays the New England Patriots on Sunday for sole possession of first place in the AFC East. Yes, the NFL is a fickle and humbling league.

"He's eating his words," nose tackle Steve McLendon told ESPN this week.

McLendon said he means no disrespect to Marshall, whom he admires on a personal level. He also wishes him well in his recovery from season-ending ankle surgery. But at the same time, McLendon is a prideful competitor and protective of his team. While Marshall may have simply articulated the perception of the Jets, who appeared to be a lost cause in July, it still didn't sit well among some former teammates.

To their credit, the Jets handled the criticism -- from Marshall and others -- in a mature fashion. They're entitled to an occasional "I-told-you-so" moment.

2. "Hit Man" returns: Jets coach Todd Bowles admitted this week that it "ended awkwardly" with David Harris, who was unceremoniously released during the latter stage of the offseason program. Harris returns to MetLife Stadium on Sunday with the Patriots, but this isn't the homecoming he envisioned.

The Jets' second all-time leading tackler is a bit player for the defending Super Bowl champions. He was a healthy scratch in one game and has played only seven defensive snaps, and that's too bad because he deserves a better finish to his career. True to his character, Harris has been working behind the scenes with the linebackers, earning praise from coaches and teammates.

"I think that says a lot about him, not just as a football player, but as a person as well," Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "You take it as younger guys trying to take food out of his kid's mouth or whatever, but David doesn't see it as that. He's taking it as a Patriot."

A pregame video tribute to Harris would be a classy and appropriate gesture by the Jets.

3. New man in the middle: The Jets were criticized for dumping Harris (full disclosure: I was one of the critics), but they found a suitable replacement in Demario Davis. This isn't the same Davis who played with the Jets from 2012 to 2015.

Not only is he in better shape than in 2015 (he credits a diet and nine-and-a-half hours of sleep per night), but Davis is much sharper from a mental standpoint. "Night and day," Bowles said.

Davis rededicated himself after suffering through a 1-15 season with the Cleveland Browns, which he called "the hardest thing [he'd] ever had to go through." Happy to be back, he leads the Jets with 58 tackles. He also has improved as a blitzer (1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits). The only negative -- and it can't be swept under the rug -- is the Jets are ranked 30th in run defense.

All things considered, the Jets are happy with their middle-linebacker position. It's funny how things work out. Remember, they visited with Hightower in free agency before trading for Davis in June, unloading draft bust Calvin Pryor. In making the Davis-for-Harris swap, they got rid of a headache (Pryor) and saved $4.25 million on the cap after Davis agreed to a pay cut. Chalk one up for general manager Mike Maccagnan.

4. Ready, set ... snooze: The Jets aren't a fast-starting team. In fact, they've scored only seven points in the first quarter, averaging only 49.8 total yards (29th). In an attempt to improve, offensive coordinator John Morton tweaked the practice routine this week. Instead of individual position work after stretching, they conducted a full-speed walk-through. He called it a "team takeoff" period, designed to create a sense of urgency. Let's see if it helps.

5. Doing the Hustle: During the run-up to the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick made several references to the Jets' overall competitiveness. He mentioned one play in particular, when quarterback Josh McCown recovered his own fumble in the Week 3 win over the Miami Dolphins. Belichick noted that four Jets and only one Miami player ran after the loose ball, which was recovered by McCown ... about 25 yards from where the fumble occurred.

"I think that's a good example of their competitiveness as a team," Belichick said.

It's a far cry from last Christmas Eve, when the demoralized Jets showed no fight in a 41-3 loss at New England.

6. Did you know? If the Jets win, they'd have a better record than the Patriots for the first time this late in the season since Week 6 of 2010. Back then, the Jets were 5-1, the Patriots 4-1.

7. What a win would do: Bowles spent the week downplaying the significance of the game, but the reality is this is a very big game for the upstart Jets. Any victory over the Patriots is huge, but this would change the complexion of the season. It would serve notice to the rest of the league that they must be taken seriously.

8. Return of the tight end: What a difference a new coordinator makes. The Jets are getting production out of not one, but both veteran tight ends. Since Week 3, when he returned from a two-game suspension, Austin Seferian-Jenkins ranks fourth in the NFL in tight-end receptions (15), behind Zach Ertz (19), Jimmy Graham (17) and Travis Kelce (16).

Let's not forget about Eric Tomlinson, whose versatility was on display during last week's 97-yard drive against the Cleveland Browns. He made a third-down catch for 34 yards and, a few plays later, he stoned rookie passer Myles Garrett in pass protection to give McCown time on a key third-down pass. It's amazing what can happen when you give players a chance to perform.

9. J.K. x 2: There were a lot of questions in training camp about the receivers, especially when Quincy Enunwa went down for the season with a neck injury, but Jermaine Kearse and Jeremy Kerley have stabilized the position. Chew on this: They've combined for 39 catches on 45 targets, an unheard-of catch percentage of 86.7. Yowza.

10. Somber anniversary: One year ago -- Oct. 15, 2016 -- the inspirational Dennis Byrd, 50, was killed in a car accident near his home in Oklahoma. Frankly, it's still hard to fathom. Perhaps appropriately, one of his last moments in the spotlight was a Jets-Patriots game, the 2010 divisional playoff in Foxborough. The Jets will need that kind of spirit and singular focus to pull another upset over their No. 1 nemesis.