Game day: This is the biggest

Sunday notes, thoughts and observations:

Rex Ryan compared it to Ali-Frazier. I'm calling Sunday night's showdown against the Patriots the biggest regular-season game of the Ryan era.

It's not a do-or-die game (like the '09 season finale against the Bengals), and it doesn't have December drama (last season against the Steelers), but this is bigger than the rest because of all it represents -- not to mention its impact on the AFC East standings.

The Jets have been talking for two-plus years about overtaking the Patriots. Well, now is their chance. Yes, they had a shot last Dec. 6, when both teams entered 9-2. The difference between then and now is, the Jets knew even if they lost last December, they'd still have a great shot to make the playoffs as a wild card.

The Patriots clobbered the Jets, 45-3, a loss that still haunts/drives them. (A player, unsolicited, mentioned it to me the other day, saying it still serves as a source of motivation.)

This time, with a 5-3 record, the Jets might not have that luxury of falling back on the wild card. They might have to win the division, and that's probably not going to happen if they lose. The Patriots are 5-3, but they've dropped two straight, showing signs of vulnerability.

The Jets fought their way back from a three-game losing streak for a night like this, a night that didn't seem possible a month ago. If they want to realize their goal of securing a home playoff game, this is a must.

My three biggest regular-season games of the Ryan era (40 games):

1. Jan. 3, 2010: In a win-and-they're-in game, the Jets crushed the Bengals, 37-0. Virtual playoff games are always big, but this was a honeymoon season for the Jets and, after the Curtis Painter gift from the previous week, was there any doubt they'd beat a Cincinnati team that rested many players?

2. Dec. 6, 2010: There was tremendous hype for what would become known as the Boston Massacre. The Jets were non-competitive and lost, 45-3, falling a game behind the Patriots in the standings.

3. Dec. 19, 2010: The Jets went to Pittsburgh with a two-game losing streak and QB Mark Sanchez was close to getting benched -- and the Jets responded with an impressive 22-17 win that all but sealed a wild-card berth.

BELICHICK LOOKS BACK ON JETS DEPARTURE: On Friday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about his stunning resignation as HC of the NYJ, back in January, 2000. That subject doesn't come up too often in Belichick's presence -- he'd rather talk about Eric Mangini than that chapter in his life -- so I thought you might appreciate the Q & A with a reporter.

Q: Was that the strangest press conference you've ever done?

BB: I don’t really rank them, but it wasn’t a great situation all the way around, with Bill [Parcells] resigning the day before and me resigning the day after that and all that. That’s all water under the bridge.

Q: Do you ever look back on that?

BB: No. Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time looking back on that, no.

Q: It was good TV.

BB: At that point in time, that situation, I did what I felt like I needed to do and I don’t have any regrets about that. Certainly a lot of things could have been handled differently or whatever, but anyway. It doesn’t matter now.

Imagine how history would be different if Belichick had remained with the Jets.

CUTTING BAIT: GM Mike Tannenbaum took a lot of criticism for parting ways with several popular players before the season, but in case you haven't noticed, not one of them is making him look bad. One thing about Tannenbaum: He usually knows when to say when.

How ex-Jets are faring with their new teams (stats from NFL.com):

DE Shaun Ellis (Patriots) -- No sacks, no forced fumbles, seven tackles.

S James Ihedigbo (Patriots) -- No interceptions, no sacks, 30 tackles.

WR Jerricho Cotchery (Steelers) -- Four catches for 54 yards.

WR Braylon Edwards (49ers) -- Ten catches for 120 yards.

DE Jason Taylor (Dolphins) -- Two sacks, eight tackles.

CB Drew Coleman (Jaguars) -- One interception, one sack, 24 tackles.

S Dwight Lowery (Jaguars) -- Two interceptions, one sack, 22 tackles.

RT Damien Woody -- Retired.

NT Kris Jenkins -- Retired.

THE MASON FIASCO: Looks like the Jets aren't going to get that conditional seventh-round pick for WR Derrick Mason. The deal with the Texans was this: He needed to catch at least 33 passes over their final 11 games for the Jets to get the pick. So far, he has only five catches in four games. In other words, they traded him for the proverbial bag of balls. But it was a classic example of addition by subtraction, as the Jets are 3-0 since the trade.

THE CUT MAN: On Saturday, the Patriots announced the signing of S Ross Ventrone to their 53-man roster from the practice squad. This seemingly is worthy of just a line on the transactions wire, but take a closer look: Ventrone is a boomerang. Since January, he has been cut five times by the Patriots, but he keeps coming back. In what other profession could you get fired five times in less than a year, and re-hired each time by the same employer?