THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Stunning reverse in rivalry’s playbook

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / September 19, 2010

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — What would be sweeter than beating the Jets today?

The Jets have it coming. They’ve been talking trash for months, and now the larger forces are coming back to bite them in the glutes.

It’s about “Hard Knocks.’’ It’s about bragging when you can’t back it up. It’s about Darrelle Revis calling Randy Moss a “slouch.’’ It’s about Rex Ryan saying he didn’t come here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. It’s about the Jets acting like frat boys when a female reporter in skin-tight clothes tries to cover practice.

It’s about bad karma. Folks are now rooting against the Jets the way they root against Alex Rodriguez, the way they’ll root against the self-absorbed Miami Heat when they take to the court in October. You can be a fool when you win — ask Joe Namath. But when you brag, then don’t win, you are just . . . a loser and a fool.

Events of this past week have made the once-hated Patriots national darlings going into this afternoon’s game in $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium. Suddenly, the Jets are the ones with the targets on their backs. It’s a reversal of perceptions.

In 2007, NFL America was down on the Patriots because of Spygate, perfection, running up the score, and institutional arrogance on the part of the owner, coach, and a chest-pounding fandom.

Nicholas Dawidoff explained it beautifully in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover piece on Ryan: “The insular Patriot Way seemed dehumanizing, an obscuration of character and narrative. It was sports, after all, not national security, and the implication — that not even football was allowed to be pleasure — made Sunday afternoon seem a little too much like Monday morning.’’

Those Patriots were painted as joyless, cheating bullies, which is why a nation rejoiced when New England was stunned by the underdog Giants in one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time.

It’s different now. In 2010, the Patriots are the hungry young team that hasn’t won a playoff game since that ’07 season. With few exceptions, the Patriots say little during the week and wait to do their talking on Sunday.

Tom Brady is still their star and Bill Belichick is still the genius, but the poster boy for this team is Wes Welker: the overachieving little guy who says nothing, then beats you with old-timey preparation, brains, and toughness. Anybody remember that Welker caught 15 passes for 192 yards when the Patriots beat the Jets in Foxborough last year?

The Jets, meanwhile, are the blowhards. The Jets are the bullies who cower when the going gets tough. The Jets eat cheeseburgers at practice and laugh about it. They swear on camera. They bask in their status as the It Team of 2010. They have a coach who says, “We know we’re better than you and we’re going to beat the [expletive] out of you.’’ And then they go out on Monday night against Baltimore, commit 14 penalties (125 yards), and produce one of the worst offensive performances (six first downs) anyone can remember.

Now they are staring at the possibility of an 0-2 start, with a game in Miami next week. You know that Belichick and friends would love nothing better than to sink New York’s season of expectation.

Tedy Bruschi’s characterization of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez summed it up pretty well. Bruschi, the former soul captain of the Patriots (now a commentator for ESPN), called Sanchez a “front-runner’’ and said he thinks Sanchez “tanks’’ when the going gets tough. Sanchez was awful in the opener against the Ravens and stands as the anti-Brady going into today’s game. How soon before he hears the boos in the Jets’ new crib?

Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is supposed to be one of the brilliant young minds in the game. Last Monday, he was just a dope with a clipboard and a puzzled look on his face. Fireman Ed and Friends were mortified. Miami media man Dan LeBatard ridiculed the Jets and their fans, saying, “Everyone in your stadium was afraid of Ray Lewis.’’

Piling on the Jets has been a parlor game since the Monday night debacle. Jets fans choose to remind you that the same Ravens stuffed the Patriots in the playoffs in January (24-0 in the first quarter, remember?) and Rex Ryan has two more playoff victories than Belichick since becoming a head coach in the NFL. It’s about all the Jets have right now. There is certainly no home-field advantage, not yet.

New England won eight of the last nine games it played against the Jets in Giants Stadium. Most of those games were played in the glare of massive media hype — back in the days when neutral fans rooted for the Jets to beat the blue meanies from New England.

Not now. Against the Jets today, the Patriots are America’s Team.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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