FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It is hard not to love the Jets during Patriots week. Something inevitably just comes over them.
This time, the twist is the 5-1 Patriots coming to town Sunday riding a five-game winning streak against the Jets. And yet, the Jets' defense began the work week by trotting out the most dog-eared trick in the playbook when asked about the Pats: New York defenders groused about feeling disrespected, overlooked, even a little irritated. They cited the grudge within this grudge match.
Did they not hold Tom Brady to 19 completions in their first showdown, in Week 2? Did not the Patriots barely escape with a 13-10 win?
"It had nothing to do with us, I understand -- we were just out there," Jets coach Rex Ryan sarcastically said Wednesday.
Then, Jets' rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson picked up where Ryan left off the past two days.
Richardson is a big, strong, friendly kid with mischief in his eye. He is having a terrific season. Until this year, the biggest rivalry game he ever played in was Missouri versus Kansas, with the winner earning the glorious right to keep something called the .. um ... "Indian War Drum" traveling trophy. But when asked about Brady, Richardson poked the All-Pro quarterback in the ribs with a string of remarks and critiques that included:
"The only thing I'm thinking about right now is beating Tom Brady. The way you do that is pretty much the way you do all quarterbacks. You hit him. Put pressure in his face. No quarterback likes pressure. ... He gets less accurate. ... He had a few rough spots the first time we played.
"I'm not treating him like Superman. ... No one really treats him like [Superman] around here."
Well, check that.
Some of the Jets kinda, sorta are.
The Jets' defenders know they have to approximate the results against Brady from four weeks ago for the Jets to win this division game and pull within a loss behind the Patriots in the AFC East standings. And so, as refreshing as Richardson's honesty and ambition are, he also hasn't been in New York long enough to experience the trail of tears that New England has caused for the Jets since the Gang's "Can't Wait!" victory in the 2010 playoffs.
Richardson doesn't carry the psychic scars that older Jets, like Calvin Pace and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, acknowledged a little Thursday as they smirked and brushed off questions about whom Brady won't have to throw to Sunday.
Yes, Wes Welker is gone, but "they have a Welker-like guy" in Julian Edelman, Pace said. Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola are both hurt and seemingly unlikely to play again Sunday. But as Pace pointed out, though "the pieces change" for the Pats year after year, their grip on the division title hasn't loosened a bit.
Smiling a little forlornly now, Pace reminded everyone of 2008, the year Brady had season-ending ACL surgery and the Pats beat the Jets with unproven Matt Cassel, who hadn't started a game since high school.
"Different pieces, same philosophies," Pace said. "I respect what they do. They have a system, and they do a lot of things well. You look out there and they have a bunch of guys you don't know. But they find a way. They always do."
And the Jets? They want to find a way to avoid putting rookie quarterback Geno Smith in the position of having to win the sort of 30-27 shootout that Brady and Drew Brees got into last Sunday, before Brady stunned the Saints with a touchdown pass on the next-to-last play of the game. With New England missing nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, the Jets may try to run the ball and burn the clock more than they have in other games.
Cromartie's insistence that he feels healthier than he has all year should improve New York's spotty secondary play, too. Cromartie says if he had to grade his play this season, he'd give himself just a C so far.
The Jets know the Pats are better than they were earlier this season. And that's a concern, too. They've heard the stories of how Kenbrell Thompkins the receiver Brady hit for the game-winner against New Orleans, may notice his cell phone buzzing around 10:30 p.m. with text messages from Brady. The quarterback will ask him if he's noticed this detail or that as he's studying game film -- the presumption being that Thompkins couldn't possibly be doing anything else that late at night but working as feverishly on the next game plan as Brady.
"You can see they're all getting more comfortable with each other," Richardson allows.
So how do the Jets find a way to beat the Pats again, at last? That is, beside the "Green Out" plea Ryan sent out to Jets fans Thursday, or inventing examples of how the world is against them, or insisting their five-game losing streak against New England hasn't crawled into their heads?
"I think the challenge is not beating ourselves, as we often find a way to do," Pace said.
Then he called out the Jets defense.
"You've got to affect Tom Brady," he said. "If that doesn't happen, you don't have a chance."