FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In training camp, they talked about dethroning the New England Patriots, marching up to Gillette Stadium in October and taking down the bully of the AFC East. There was this memorable quote from Willie Colon: "They've won their Super Bowls, they've earned their stripes and they're respected, but we're not going to bow down to them."
The New York Jets might as well start genuflecting (again) if they lose Thursday night.
If they drop their sixth straight, the Jets' season will be over and the Rex Ryan watch will become the daily headline. And you know the Patriots would love to inflict that kind of misery.
The Jets have done just about everything wrong in this rotten season of theirs, but they can maintain a glimmer of hope by upsetting the Patriots (4-2). We're not talking playoff run here, folks -- since the 1990 division realignment, no 1-5 team has reached the postseason -- but a 1-0 division record, with a win over their top rival, would be something to build on. A two-game deficit with nine remaining wouldn't be hopeless.
"This team is built on confidence and swagger," David Nelson said. "Right now, we don't have that. We have to find a way to get it back, quickly."
Kickoff is 8:25 p.m. The top storylines.
1. Hate is good: The Jets are relying on their disdain for the Patriots to stir their passion, hoping it leads to an inspired performance. Behind closed doors, Ryan has been selling that to his players: the rivalry. The rivalry. The rivalry. But can the rivalry make Geno Smith avoid interceptions? Can it make the offensive line block better? Can it help the defense on third down? Obviously, Ryan is reaching. If the Jets get off to a bad start, their fragile psyche will be shattered and this could devolve into a Butt Fumble-type debacle.
2. Revis' revenge: When Darrelle Revis was a free agent, for about five minutes, he sent word to the Jets, via his agents, that he was interested in a reunion. Their text messages went unanswered. Make no mistake, he was happy to take $12 million from the Patriots, but there probably was a part of him that felt shunned. Now, on a prime-time stage, the star cornerback gets a chance to make general manager John Idzik and owner Woody Johnson look like fools for ignoring him. Bill Belichick is deploying Revis the way he was used with the Jets, matching him against the opponents' top receiver. If Revis covers Eric Decker, the Jets will need Nelson, Jeremy Kerley and Jace Amaro to step up. Former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner could make his debut, giving the Patriots two aggressive, press-man corners. Just what the Jets don't need.
3. Missiles of October, cont.: The Jets are almost through the six-game gauntlet of top quarterbacks -- Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and, finally, Tom Brady. Considering the problems at cornerback, they've done a decent job of limiting big plays (277 yards per game), but their red zone defense stinks and they can't make plays on the ball. In this stretch, they've allowed 13 touchdown passes, with only one interception. Brady, deemed over the hill only a few weeks ago, is on a two-game tear, but he's had problems against Ryan-coached defenses. His QBR against the Jets the last two season is 27.3, compared to 66.3 for all other teams. Muhammad Wilkerson: "We can beat them. We've done it before. It just takes the right mindset."
4. Running into a brick wall: It was so bad last week that the Jets' running backs gained less than 2 yards on seven of their 13 carries. Linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Brian Winters, Willie Colon and Breno Giacomini all struggled at various times in the running game, and now the group has to break in a new left guard, Oday Aboushi, who replaces the injured Winters. The Patriots will be without middle linebacker Jerod Mayo, a big blow, but they can make it miserable for the Jets by putting big Vince Wilfork over Aboushi. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has to scheme up a way to get the running game untracked or else Smith will be under pressure, and we know he doesn't handle pressure well. Don't be surprised if Michael Vick has a small role.
5. 'So easy' for tight ends: The Jets don't need a repeat of last week, Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas screaming after his second touchdown, "It's so f---ing easy!" The Jets have allowed seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends in the last four games. Now here comes Rob Gronkowski, Brady's favorite target. The Jets don't fear him as much as Thomas, but they'd still be advised to have a good plan. Antonio Allen did a decent job against Gronkowski in last year's win at MetLife Stadium, so he'll probably get most of the assignments, especially in the sub packages.