Why this is on the list:
If there is any rivalry where the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” is most applicable, it’s this one. Bill Belichick hastily scribbling his resignation as Jets head coach on a cocktail napkin, and then proceeding to become one of the best coaches in NFL history in New England. Eric Mangini turning the Jets into “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Patriots!”, and then proceeding to lose to his mentor in five out of his seven meetings. Ty Law anchoring the Patriots secondary and playing a starring role in all three of their Super Bowls, and then turning in a Pro Bowl year with the Jets in 2005, and another year with them in 2008. Curtis Martin being named to the Patriots all 1990’s team, and then becoming the Jets all time leading rusher. Intermingling between the teams has proved to be just another spark in what has been an escalating feud since 2001.
The rivalry in the 2000s started on September 23, 2001, a day that created a seismic shift in the AFC East and football as a whole. The Jets had thoroughly dominated the Patriots recently, winning 6 of the previous 7. They would even win on that day, 10-3, but the score of that game was secondary to one play on a QB roll out. Early in the fourth quarter of the game, Drew Bledsoe dragged his heavy immobile feet of the pocket and rolled right in an attempt to pick up a first down and keep the Patriots hopes alive. Mo Lewis had other ideas, and laid a crushing hit to Bledsoe’s sternum, which caused internal bleeding in Bledsoe’s lungs.
The hit appeared to put the kibosh on the Patriots season hopes. Bledsoe was their three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who they had just locked up for the next ten years at roughly the cost of two arms and a leg ($103 million). However many caveats there may be, one thing is definitely for sure. That hit greatly hastened the arrival of this guy. With every touchdown pass he throws, Tom Brady continues to make his ascension to being the greatest QB of all time (if he hasn’t already reached to the mountain top). He’s capable of making every throw on the field with pinpoint accuracy, and when he has protection, there’s no better QB inside the pocket. He’s made Deion Branch and Troy Brown look very good, and has given Randy Moss and Wes Welker (the poor man’s Wayne Chrebet to fans of my persuasion) solid hall of fame arguments.
But that is just what makes him very good. By the standards that measure greatness, Brady is unmatched. In the 4th quarter, if he has the ball with two minutes left and a chance to win, the opposition might as well cue up “Taps” on the sideline. His accuracy and touch go from All-Pro to All-Midas at the pivotal moments, and when the calendars switch, he IS the reason the Patriots win games. His emergence under center coincided with a period of Patriots dominance where they won 12 of the next 14 matchups in the series. And to think, it all could have been avoided if Mo Lewis (an outstanding linebacker in his own right who was stuck on bad Jets teams for the majority of his career) had just applied the brakes before guiding Drew Bledsoe to the sideline.
Despite all of the team switching, icy handshakes, and probing video cameras, this rivalry would not be on the list without one man: Rex Ryan. Before he held the press conference on his noted aversion to ring kissing, the series stood at 13-4 Patriots since 2001, including a 37-16 playoff beat down in 2006, and an 0-8 record for Gang Green at the Meadowlands. Since that day, Ryan has piloted the Jets to home wins in both years, and a shocking upset of the heavily favored Pats at Foxboro in the 2010 AFC Divisional Round.
The series has now been characterized by adjustments on both sides of the ball, instead of just the Jets trying to withstand beatings. After Ryan used his trademark heavy pressure, blitzing defense to earn the Jets a 28-14 win in Week 2, Belichick adjusted. In a heavily anticipated Week 13 matchup between two 9-2 teams, he drew up some flawless schematics (plenty of max protect, and short quick routes), and the Patriots executed them to perfection in a 45-3 embarrassment of the Jets in what was probably the most proficient game of football played by any team in 2010.
When the playoffs rolled around, Ryan dialed back his “cut the head off the snake strategy”, and opted to prepare for Brady’s rain of passes by opening up the umbrella. With 7 defensive backs dressing, including the very abstract tactic of Marquice Cole playing defensive end, Brady and the Pats offense were thoroughly flummoxed for the first time since their Week 2 matchup, and the Jets shocked the world (most of all Las Vegas) by pulling off the huge upset.
This rivalry simmered through most of the decade, heated up briefly with the Mangini hiring, and has now definitely reached a boiling point since 2009. The assumption can be made that, if both teams can keep their star players out of the infirmary, they will be two of the top 4 teams in the AFC this coming year.
Why this Isn’t Higher:
I’m very aware that I’m going to catch a lot of flak for this. Although I am a rabid follower of Gang Green, I would be remiss not to mention that from 2003-2007, the Jets provided occasionally stiff competition, but only one win. In order for a rivalry to exist, there needs to be a give and take on both sides. New England sees the Bills twice a year, but they have been the main culprit in the extinction of Buffalo for many years now.
The Patriots have been a model franchise since the turn of the century, and quite honestly very few teams have been able to provide legitimate competition for them in a lot of the years since then (including only one in the 2007 season as my dad, uncles, and cousins regularly remind me). Plenty of people can make the argument that the Colts – Patriots matchup has provided some of the most compelling football of not just the past 10 years, but possibly the past 25. I can’t argue there. The teams both possess exceptional talents on either side of the ball, and might as well start the year with a January bye. But just as I’ve stated before, it’s simply too sanitized for me. Just take quick look; better A or B? Better 1 or 2? It’s football at its highest level, but I can almost guarantee you that in the mind of Patriots fans, that loss to the Jets in this year’s playoffs supersedes any loss they’ve had to the Colts in recent memory. Just the same as the 45-3 debacle ate at me for weeks until that very game.
In conclusion, this is a potentially great burgeoning rivalry that, despite brief lapses in competitiveness from one team, maintained its steam throughout the decade. Along with the blowout losses, there have been epic battles (the playoffs this year, the Favre vs. Cassel game) and outstanding rivalries (Ryan vs. Belichick, Revis vs. Moss). To those who say that this doesn’t qualify in your top 10, I have more than considered your point of view.
However, the case for the Jets is that they were a very good team in their own right, going up against a squad that dominated professional football for almost the entire 10-year span. Since 2001, The Jets have participated in postseason football six times, tied with the Ravens for 4th most in the AFC (the top 3 teams are exactly who you think they are). I’ll be the first to admit that the Jets have had their down years (happens sometimes when you’re down to your third string quarterback by the second half of your first game), but they maintained a surprising level of consistency during the 2000’s.
When the two teams have played games, it has mattered not because of the proximity of the cities, but because of the success both teams have enjoyed. 13-2 Patriots vs. 10-5 Jets in 2004, 6-3 Jets vs. 5-4 Patriots in 2008, 9-2 vs. 9-2 last year. They have split two playoff matchups, the most recent of which was the highest rated divisional playoff game since 1997.
Lastly, take into consideration that another rivalry on this list was extremely one sided (in terms of championship and postseason success) for a much longer period of time, and yet it has been widely considered the pre-eminent sports rivalry of the past 100 years. To say that the Yankees and the Red Sox would not have made a top 10 rivalries list in every decade before this one would be ludicrous. And as the Sox can tell you, all it takes is one.