With a three-game lead on everybody else in the AFC East, the Patriots have an opportunity to deliver what might be a knockout blow to the Jets Thursday night at MetLife Stadium.
If the Patriots (7-3) can beat the Jets (4-6), it would put them four games up with five to play, and they’d own the head-to-head tiebreaker, with victories in both regular-season games. Miami and Buffalo are also 4-6. The Patriots are 3-0 in the division so far.
“You look at this as a chance to separate yourself from the rest of the pack,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo. “We handled the Bills, now this is a big game for us to kind of distance ourselves from the rest.”
The Patriots have won the division eight of the past nine seasons, so it’s not a novelty to be chasing another title by the time the turkeys are being carved. But it’s always the first goal, and a road win against the Jets could go a long way in securing it, sooner rather than later.
“Division games are always big, and especially with the Jets and how good a team they are,” said receiver Wes Welker. “Anytime you’ve got division games, you want to make sure you’re taking care of business.”
Jones, Mankins out
It was made official Wednesday, the Patriots declaring tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm), defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle), and guard Logan Mankins (ankle/calf) out for Thursday’s game. Thirteen players, including tight end Aaron Hernandez, are listed as questionable . . . The Patriots aren’t alone this week. Five other teams are dealing with a quick turnaround, playing four days after their last game. It’s a physical challenge, to be sure. But there’s also a mental strain, getting ready for an opponent in about half the normal time. “It’s as tough as you let it be,” said cornerback Kyle Arrington. “Short turnaround. I mean, shoot, I’d like to play football every day if my body would let me. But you’ve got to rest and cram a lot in, whether it’s meetings or film, massages, things like that. Once the ball is kicked off, your body will be readjusted to what’s going on.” . . . On the Jets side, backup quarterback Tim Tebow (rib) and the team’s leading receiver, Jeremy Kerley (heel, hamstring) were among several listed as questionable. Defensive linemen Sione Po'uha (lower back) and Kenrick Ellis (knee), and running back-kick returner Joe McKnight (sprained right ankle) are also questionable.
College affiliations run deep in the Patriots locker room, with trash-talking and guarantees of victory commonplace, especially when one player’s alma mater faces a teammate’s. Rivalry games are especially passionate, so this week serves up a double shot for Tom Brady, Nate Ebner, Jake Ballard, and Zoltan Mesko: Patriots-Jets Thursday night, then Ohio State-Michigan on Saturday. “Obviously, I want my team to win, but I’m focused on what I’ve got to take care of here,” said Ebner, a rookie defensive back from Ohio State. For four years, Ebner lived Buckeyes-Wolverines. He’s about to play his second game in the Patriots-Jets rivalry, and sees some similarities. “It’s a great rivalry,” he said. “I’ve known about it before I even came here, so to be part of it is awesome. It’s like anything else, you want your team to win.” Ex-player Felt diesThe Patriots announced that Dick Felt, who played defensive back for the team from 1962-66, died Saturday in Provo, Utah. Felt, a two-time All-Star who helped the Patriots reach the 1963 AFL Championship game, was 79 . . . Mayo was asked about the “rookie wall” that first-year players sometimes hit. Counting preseason games, the Patriots have played 14, the maximum number of games colleges can play, including a bowl game. “These guys have old souls,” said Mayo. “Like Chandler, he looks like an old man. He does a lot of ice tubs and things like that. We don’t really believe in the rookie wall everyone talks about.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.