FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It reveals a lot about where the Jets' transformation is right now that they aren't acting as if completing a sweep of their season series against the New England Patriots would signal some long-sought changing of the guard atop the AFC East.
Rex Ryan rolled into New York saying one of his goals was to make that happen on the way to winning the Super Bowl, and if you walked around the Jets' locker room Thursday, listening to players talk about Monday night's showdown against the Pats in Foxborough, it's as if a ground shift has already happened -- at least in the Jets' minds.
They're not talking about what a sweep would signify at all. Jets linebacker Bart Scott says that if anything, the buttoned-down Patriots and let-it-fly Jets are more similar than dissimilar nowadays -- a theory that might be a first.
But let Scott explain.
"I think they have the same cocky attitude that we have -- they just don't say it, because it's not allowed," Scott said Thursday. "They keep it internal, and we just let it open. But I mean, I think they have the same confidence and the same swagger that we have. With them, it's that arrogant smirk. They're saying the same things with their body language that we're saying with our mouths. They have the same dirty thoughts."
Scott, who is funny even on what he calls his "outta juice" days, was in rare form Thursday. A lot of Jets were. Monday is a big game, all right, a chance for the Jets to establish themselves, and not the Pats, as the best team in the AFC and keep making Ryan look like a prophet.
A few feet to Scott's right, wideout Santonio Holmes stood by his locker and snickered when asked if he thought he could exploit the Patriots' 32nd-ranked pass defense, especially if the Pats put a rookie defensive back on him. "I wouldn't recommend it," Holmes said, breaking into a grin. Earlier, out at the news conference podium, Ryan was asked about the Patriots' long winning streak in Foxborough and deadpanned, "I don't even know what you're talking about, that they've been 'exceptional' at home. What? They've only won, like, 25 in a row. I think that's OK, but I don't want to say it's grrrreat."
Then he burst out laughing.
Neither Scott nor Holmes nor Ryan was in New York all those years the Jets were always chasing, chasing, chasing the Patriots and the Jets' defense had no answer for Tom Brady or Randy Moss. Back then, New England tortured the Jets, and the Jets spent a lot of energy just trying not to have an inferiority complex.
The idea of the Jets playing the Pats in a December game like this, boasting identical 9-2 records and playing for a chance to hold on to their share of the best record in the entire NFL, not just the AFC East, seemed unlikely as long as Belichick and Brady were still in New England. A lot of the Same Old Jets laments that used to dog the Jets rose up because the Pats were the Pats. A juggernaut that just kept reloading.
But Ryan is 2-1 against Belichick since he arrived, even with his kid quarterback Mark Sanchez having to go against Brady. And if Ryan improves to 3-1 head to head by completing a season sweep against the Pats on Monday, what kind of statement would that make? Scott thinks the attitude that both teams drag into games is: We're just better than you. If we're not, we'll find a way to beat you anyway.
"Really, we've tried to make a statement every week ever since Rex has been here," defensive tackle Sione Pouha said. "It's not just against New England."
When the Jets talk like that, it's almost -- almost -- as if they lump New England in with all of the 31 other NFL teams. They have to beat them all to get what they want.
They respect the Pats, especially Brady and Belichick. But the Pats don't haunt the Jets like they used to.
In fact, when Scott was asked about Belichick on Thursday, he voiced another novel opinion: "People don't realize how funny this dude is.
"I remember when I was at the Pro Bowl and he was the coach," Scott continued. "He was [talking in his usual monotone], like, 'Guys, we have to do better. Tackle better.' Then one of his staff guys opened the door and he saw him and it was like, 'HEY! GET THAT ---- OUT OF HERE! Damn!' -- and then he went right back to talking to us in the same voice. I was like, 'Wait. Did anybody else see that? That ain't funny to nobody but me?' He just spazzed out and then went right back like nothing happened."
As Scott told his story, he didn't know that Belichick had actually cracked a joke -- on purpose, in public! -- during his own news conference Thursday when asked what the Patriots' coaches did Wednesday, an off day for the players.
"Oh, we played golf -- golf, bowling, a little badminton tournament, ate some watermelon, played cards," Belichick said. "[Wednesday was] totally about the Jets -- other than the pony rides and canoeing."
Suddenly Scott's theory about the Jets and Pats didn't sound so implausible. The gap between the Jets and Pats is closing, all right. Winning at the same clip is the reason.