Try to forget, for a moment, the human drama that will occur immediately after Sunday's game when former friends Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini meet for another frosty dead-fish handshake.
While that is an entertaining sideshow, the main event will be even more compelling. The Jets had lost six consecutive games to the Patriots before Mangini defected from New England to New York.
After a 24-17 loss in Week Two, the Jets finally beat New England, 17-14, on Nov. 12. It doesn't take a Man-genius to figure out why.
Having Mangini on the sidelines has made a huge difference for the Jets this season, particularly in these matchups. Not only has his experience with New England's personnel on the field been important, so has his insight into Belichick's defensive mind.
"You expect the unexpected," Chad Pennington said of facing a Patriots' defensive game plan. "You expect something a little different. You expect a twist here and there. One thing you expect them to do is be very physical and be very tough. They finish. They play for four quarters. Another characteristic of their team and their defense (is) they capitalize on their opponent's mistakes. They're probably the best in the league at making you pay for a mistake. They don't let those mistakes slip by and give you a second chance."
Pennington, who threw five interceptions in a loss to New England in 2003, has had two solid games against the Pats this season. He went 22-for-37 for 306 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the loss and 22-for-33 for 168 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the win, which was played in a driving rain. The Pats were without safety Rodney Harrison in the second game, and he will miss this one, too, with a knee injury.
"Any time you play a team twice a year, then you have to play them for the third time in the playoffs, it gets pretty interesting," said Pennington. "There's going to be some times during the game where there is going to be a chess match. Every game, no matter who your opponent is, comes down to the fundamentals of the game -- who protects the ball, who is able to run the ball effectively, who is able to capitalize upon the opponent's mistakes.
"That's what I've said about New England -- they just do such a great job of capitalizing on your mistakes," Pennington added. "They don't let a mistake pass by without you paying for it. That's what we have to make sure we don't do, is give them easy ones."
Left guard Pete Kendall admitted that the chess match is especially interesting because the participants know each other so well.
"I think they understand that Eric hasn't suffered amnesia, so I think they understand on the other side what Eric might know," he said, but added, "sometimes, if you think you know too much, you really don't know enough. We've installed the preliminary part of the game plan, we'll go out and practice it today and whoever plays better on Sunday will win."
Kendall, Pennington and the rest of the Jets realize their win in November means nothing.
"I don't know if the last game means anything," Kendall said. "When we lost to them in Week Two, I didn't think that meant anything. Again, the team that plays the best on Sunday will win the game. Whether that's us or them, I don't think the first two games have any bearing on that."
"This is a new season," Pennington said. "It's a one-game season. We understand that. We understand that we're playing a veteran playoff team, a successful championship team that knows how to win these types of games. We have our work cut out for us. We have a big challenge ahead of us."
Mangini Takes Off "New England" Filter
--Coach Eric Mangini broke one of his usual commandments Wednesday, actually calling New England by its name. He had referred to New England as the "other place" for most of the season.
"When I was at New England with Bill (Belichick), I thought he made outstanding adjustments," Mangini said. "That's a very good staff. He's an excellent evaluator of talent in terms of players and coaches. It is real."
When reporters chided him for saying New England, a smiling Mangini said, "We all evolve and change. I had a lot of great experiences at New England. We can say 'playoffs' now, too. There are a lot of words we can talk about now. It's just part of the progress. I'm developing."
However, when he was asked if he could say "Super Bowl," Mangini smiled and replied, "No."
Coles Glad To Be Back
--WR Laveranues Coles has enjoyed his second tour of duty in New York, especially the fact that he's been able to play with Chad Pennington again.
"The fun we have playing the game together and the friendship that we have is the most important thing," Coles said. "There is a lot of emphasis in this business to win, but the performance part and the guys knowing each other and the relationships that you develop has been the most important part of our relationship.
"It's just one of those things where we have a lot of things in common," Coles added. "We both like to win, we're both very competitive and we always strive to be good at what we're doing. I think that has also helped our relationship. We both understand, we have both been through quite a bit. He's dealt with it on another level, he's faced a lot of obstacles on this level that I haven't faced, but there are some things in my past that I've had to deal with. We're both people that had to be the underdog and fight our way through it."
Kendall Return Home
--LG Pete Kendall is a Massachusetts native and resident and a Boston College grad, but he knows not many people from his home state will be rooting for him this week.
"Unfortunately," he said, "I've been wished good health more times than I want this week."
As for his background, he said, "There's not much debate in my house that's where I'll settle after this whole run is done. I'm hoping to get back there on a permanent basis either after this or a few more seasons, but not any time soon."
Growing up, he recalled, "There were some years the Patriots didn't give you many reasons to cheer. (But) I do remember getting caught up in the '85 season in the run to the Super Bowl, the game against the Bears. Of course, it's always more fun living in an area when the home team does well."
Another OL Promoted
--The Jets promoted OL Ed Blanton from their practice squad, most likely as a precautionary measure. Both C Nick Mangold (thigh) and RG Brandon Moore (ankle) were banged up against Oakland, but both finished the game.
By The Numbers: 5-0 -- New England's record in home playoff games in Bill Belichick's tenure as head coach. Of course, all of those victories came with Eric Mangini on the Patriots' coaching staff, including a 28-3 win over Jacksonville last year with Mangini as defensive coordinator.
They Said It: "This is what we play this game for." --- QB Chad Pennington on the playoffs