FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets linebacker Calvin Pace looks at the New England Patriots the way the Boston Red Sox look at the New York Yankees.
“This is us versus the ‘Evil Empire,’ I like to call them,” Pace said.
Surprisingly, that’s been the extent of the trash-talking this week between the bitter rivals leading up to their pivotal AFC East clash on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
But why? Where has all the trash-talk gone?
“I think the time for trash-talking kind of snuck up on us, we didn’t really have time to get our material together,” Pace said Friday. “We didn’t have any clever, witty stuff to say to them this time around, but they’re not really a talkative bunch like that.”
The Jets are, though, right? They’ve rediscovered their identity as a Ground & Pound offense during their current three-game winning streak, but have they lost their bravado in the process?
“Maybe [we've] got the muzzle on Bart [Scott] this year,” Pace joked. “‘Can’t Wait!’ and the airplanes flying around [we] did last year was so classic. Hopefully we can play it on the jumbotron or something. Seriously, I just think it’s a significant game, and I just think it’s time to play. Enough goes in to trying to prepare for them and and trying to scheme them that trash-talking just wasn’t of that much importance this week.”
Even for coach Rex Ryan. No shots fired at Tom Brady or Bill Belichick. Nothing.
“I don’t know. We’re relaxed, focused, loose. But we know what’s at stake,” Ryan said. “We know how big this game is. We’re excited about it. We’re ready for it. And we know they’re gonna be ready for it. It ought to be a great game, almost like Ali-Frazier. We’re excited that it’s in our building. We’re not banking on that being the difference, but it may very well be the difference.”
Both teams are tied with Buffalo for the division lead at 5-3. The Jets are soaring, while the Patriots are in a rut. New England has lost two straight, and is in danger of dropping three in a row for the first time since 2002.
Perhaps the Jets just don’t want to add any unnecessary fuel to the Patriots’ fire. After all, they’d rather not be part of another “Monday Night Massacre.”
There are already one too many game balls buried under the team’s practice field, and the Jets don’t feel like holding another funeral.
“We’ve been in that situation this year, we’ve lost three in a row. And when you get to that situation in your season, you kind of got to look at yourself and say I’m not doing this right,” Pace said. “I’m pretty sure we’re gonna get their best effort.”
Pace said he actually wanted the Patriots to beat the Giants so that they’d look past the Jets.
“You look at some of the best rivalries in football. You look at Baltimore-Steelers. That’s like Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti. Somebody’s gonna come out bloody, and they’re gonna beat themselves to a pulp,” Pace said. “I think our games are a bit more a chess match. In terms of flipping field position and forcing turnovers. And then it comes down to the last drive, and somebody’s gotta make a play.”
Ryan sees it differently. He sees Muhammad Ali in one corner and Joe Frazier in the other. Two heavyweights slugging it out in the ring.
“Those were great fights,” Ryan said of why he made the comparison, picking out the “Thrilla in Manila” and their classic bout at Madison Square Garden. “I remember them growing up and things. Hopefully, this can be that kind of game, and hopefully we’ll end up on top. Whether we’re Ali-Frazier, I don’t know.”
As for New England being the Evil Empire, Ryan said, “Yeah. Why not.”
Guess the Jets just want their play to do the talking this week. Boring? Or smart?
“We stay true to who we are,” defensive end Sione Pouha said. “I’m not sure what kind of talking you guys are expecting. We’re still the same Jets, yesterday, today and forever. Whether we talk or we don’t talk, we’re still the same guys. We talk when we need to talk and that’s how we feel, so that’s it.”