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Just another win for Pats? Yeah, right

FOXBOROUGH -- When the New York Jets come to town, the objective is fairly simple for the New England Patriots: Get out alive.

With a win strapped to their backs, of course.

This time around, that required a self-imposed blackout regarding rampant reports of New York's demise after the Jets dropped back-to-back games to Oakland and Baltimore, and arrived in Foxborough with the 30th ranked running game in the league. Like any compelling rivalry, the records and statistics of each team are irrelevant, along with who is missing who and what was said (precious little, as it turns out) in the days leading up to the most volatile game on the schedule.

We can surmise that the Jets' stunning 28-21 win over the Patriots in the playoffs in January in this very building might have come up this past week in Foxborough. You remember that one, right? The Jets sacked Tom Brady five times, forced him to throw an interception on the game's first series after going 335 consecutive pass attempts without a pick, and New York advanced to the AFC championship game with its bombastic coach earning the right to suggest he had the league MVP's number. That spirited upset was a mere six weeks after the Jets absorbed a 45-3 drubbing at the hands of those same Patriots.

Football is all about adjustments, and the Jets flooded the field with multiple defensive backs to confuse and confound Brady in the playoff loss.

It was against that backdrop that the newly cropped Patriots QB prepared to meet his football nemesis for the first time since they ruined his otherwise superlative 2010 season. A couple of years ago, in a rare moment of candor that we delight in regurgitating, Brady declared he "hated" the Jets.

He's not alone. There's a reason the Patriots last week engaged in what most everyone agreed was the best five days of practice all season. There's bad blood all around. After the Jets kicked them to the curb in January, New England receiver Deion Branch called them "classless."

Just another game? Don't be silly. We read into everything leading up to this intriguing division tilt.

Brady's hair, for instance, has become a local obsession, and it appeared he picked an optimal time to shed his metrosexual skin, losing his stringy European slicked-back hairdo for an old-fashioned short-cropped all-business football coif.

It was far less invasive than his long locks when he was trying to navigate a sea of New York blitzers. They hounded him into throwing harried passes, delighted in slamming him to the turf. Playing the Jets is dirty, sweaty, physical, painful and exhausting.

It's also a really, really big deal.

So nobody -- least of all Brady -- cared whether he threw for 400 yards or four touchdowns. Just give him the W and the day off on Monday for some quality time in the hot tub to ease his aching bones.

Brady gritted out this victory the old-fashioned way, by absorbing hits and changing calls on the fly and, yes, handing the ball off a season-high 35 times, mostly to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who churned out a career-high 136 yards.

Brady was sacked four times in the 30-21 win and was forced into -- are you ready for this? -- his first career interception in the red zone at Gillette Stadium.

Like always, the New York Jets bothered Brady. Their objective was to pressure him, disrupt his rhythm, eliminate his first read. Their statistics told them Brady was adept at exposing the blitz, but they kept coming at him again and again, and on certain possessions, they were wildly successful.

"We wanted to get him off his spots, and we did that sometimes," said Jets linebacker Jamaal Westerman, who sacked Brady twice. "But it's kind of bitter. We got bodies on him, pressured him. And we walk out of here without winning the game."

And therein lies the rub. Brady was under duress for most of the afternoon, but ultimately escaped unscathed. There's no better example than in the final minute of the second quarter when Brady, retreating from an onslaught of pass rushers, seemingly about to go down, delivered a 29-yard cross-field strike to Deion Branch off his back foot.

"That's what makes him so good," offered tight end Rob Gronkowski, limited to four catches and 41 yards. "Tom knows how to handle the pressure. He's always going to get the throw off."

Brady threw just one touchdown on Sunday. It was to Branch in the corner of the end zone, but, Branch revealed, he was the third option on the play.

"Tom did a really good job of hanging in there just long enough to make the play," he said.

So now the Patriots are 4-1 and the Jets are 2-3, and on the surface it might appear the two teams are pointed in different directions, but it would be a grave mistake to dismiss New York so early in the season.

True, their offense is anemic and limited, but their defense keeps them in games. It has been that way since Rex Ryan came to town, and it is that side of the ball that will continue to define the Jets.

"You know coming in what kind of game this is going to be," Branch said. "It's always the same. There's going to be some talk. It's a tough game, a physical battle, one that goes down to the end."

In the past, New England's running game has been a mirage, so the Jets determined if they stopped Brady, they'd stop the Patriots. While there is still a ring of truth to that, both the quarterback and his coach recognize establishing a running game is critical to their long-term goals.

"We have to run the ball," Brady said. "If they have a lot of defensive backs out there, then we have to run it. If they put big guys in, we still have to run it. You just can't throw the ball every single down against these guys. They make it too tough."

Even though New York has dropped three straight games and there are rumblings of dissension among the players, a number of Jets insisted they are about to turn the corner. One of them was their coach.

"You know," Ryan offered, "we are the only NFL team in history to go to the playoffs having overcome two three-game losing streaks."

The Patriots will see the Jets again, in Week 10 on Nov. 13 in the Meadowlands. It will have no bearing at all that this emotional series stands dead even, with an all-time ledger of 52-52-1.

Per usual, the records, the statistics and the hairstyles won't matter.

But bragging rights in this fascinating rivalry always will.

Jackie MacMullan is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.