The last time the Jets beat the Patriots in regulation, Ke$ha topped the charts.
President Obama was midway through his first term. The Social Network rolled in theaters. And former Jets linebacker Bart Scott famously celebrated the win, a 28-21 divisional-round playoff stunner in Jan. 2011, by giving ESPN a soundbite that lives loudly to this day.
“Can’t wait!” he shouted.
Well since then, the Jets have done a lot of waiting, and even more losing, topping the Patriots just twice in 20 ensuing meetings. Heading into Sunday’s showdown at MetLife Stadium, a suddenly critical game for the 0-1 Pats, this rivalry needs a clear and obvious reboot.
The head coaches fueled the Pats-Jets rivalry as it was once known.
Bill Parcells sparked the feud by switching sides in 1997. Bill Belichick flipped back in 2000. Then Eric Mangini was lured south in 2006. Lastly, Rex Ryan burst through the door in 2009, bombast and all, refusing to kiss rings, pulling off upsets and putting his foot in his mouth.
But eventually, Ryan’s act wore out. His failures ushered in a more mild-mannered era of losing led by Todd Bowles and Adam Gase. Belichick bulldozed them both. Gase’s floundering steered the Jets back to a fiery defensive coach in Robert Saleh, their new headman.
This week, Belichick said he knows Saleh “a little bit.” Saleh said it would be an honor to share the same field with Belichick, hardly the type of venom their teams used to trade publicly; let alone what Belichick said about leaving the Jets last November: “Not only one of the most defining, but one of the great moments of my career,” he told WEEI.
So if not the coaches, maybe the rookie quarterbacks can jumpstart the rivalry’s next evolution. The Patriots’ hopes rest with Mac Jones, and the Jets’ with Zach Wilson. Jones and Wilson are diametrically opposed passers bound only by draft class and right-handedness.
In the pocket, Wilson is daring, part magician and backyard baller who embodies the league’s newfound fascination with off-platform throws and playing outside of structure. Meanwhile, Jones is a technician, ruthlessly dissecting and dicing defenses in the same way the game’s greats have for decades. Like their head coaches, Wilson and Jones are unfamiliar to one another, but friendly.
“Mac’s a cool dude. We ran into each other at the combine stuff and the draft night,” Wilson said Thursday. “I was excited for him and his opportunity. Super cool.”
“We talked for a little bit, and he’s a great player,” Jones said of Wilson. “Makes a lot of really cool and different plays. He’s a really good quarterback.”
For now, both sound too cool for conflict. And barring a brawl on Sunday, there’s little hope for bad blood further down the Pats roster.
Former Jets defensive lineman Henry Anderson, now in New England, bears no ill will toward his old team.
“That’s just part of the business. It happens all the time,” Anderson said of being released last offseason. “I still keep in touch with those guys. A couple of them live down in Atlanta, and we see each other in the offseason and stuff like that, so still, even though we’re on different sides of the ball, you still have relationships with dudes around the league.”
Pats wide receiver Kendrick Bourne should have garnered interest from New York in free agency. The Jets needed wideouts, and Bourne knew their coaching staff well, having played for Saleh and Co. over four years in San Francisco. In fact, Bourne credits new Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFluer for molding him into the player he is today.
But the phone never rang in March, with New York instead opting for former Titans receiver Corey Davis. And somehow, at least publicly, that’s OK by Bourne.
“Nah, not a bummer for me,” he said Friday. “I had to go to the best opportunity, so it was really about what was best for me and my future, and here was just the best opportunity for me to grow and expand my career. That was just how it worked out.”
Like any rivalry, restoking the fires of Pats-Jets must happen organically. New York will need to win more consistently. And healthy hate has to flow sometime.
But if not Sunday, or Oct. 24 when the Patriots will host the Jets, when? On Friday, Belichick, who famously hates the franchise and left it at the altar when he resigned as the “HC of the NYJ,” likened the Pats-Jets rivalry to any other divisional series in football.
“You prod and poke and look for areas to attack and exploit based on almost an intimate knowledge of your opponent,” he said. “And they do the same.”
At this rate, Pats-Jets may not feel like Pats-Jets for another 10 years. And in the words of Bart Scott, the rest of the NFL “can’t wait.”