- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
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Good night, New England. It was a nice run while it lasted, right? Tom Brady likely got a Hall of Fame plaque and got Gisele Bundchen. Bill Belichick cemented his genius label and perfected the dead-fish handshake. The Patriots got a few championships. But it's over now. Done. Thanks for the memories. What the Giants started with their Super Bowl XLII upset of the Patriots' 18-0 team, another New York club -- the Jets -- is about to finish.
Whatever pretentions the Patriots have about even hanging on to their AFC East title ahead of the Jets, let alone contending for the AFC's Super Bowl berth this season, faded to black around midnight Sunday because of yet another offseason move the Jets made. And because of what the Patriots haven't done.
Jets coach Rex Ryan wasn't kidding when he hit New York promising he wasn't about to kiss Belichick's rings. The Jets' acquisition of Steelers wideout and former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes in the wee hours of Monday morning made the already eventful makeover the Jets have undertaken since Ryan came to town look even more breathtaking and edgy.
Has Ryan really been here only one season? Has it really taken less than a year for the Jets to roll out a new stadium, a new franchise quarterback and a swaggering, smashmouth, extravagantly talented team that will be a trendy pick to win it all in 2010?
The Jets aren't just stronger Super Bowl contenders now than they were when they and the Patriots went to sleep Sunday night.
With Ryan around, it's fair to ask whether anything scares the Jets.
The Jets now have taken on three stars -- wideout Braylon Edwards, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and Holmes -- despite the personal baggage that followed all three into town. The Jets invited HBO's "Hard Knocks" series into training camp this summer, unworried about what else might be revealed (one lock: more bulletin-board material from Ryan).
A few weeks ago, Jets owner Woody Johnson got into a public hissing match with the Giants and then NFL commissioner Roger Goodell over who would get the first regular-season game at the new stadium. And Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has continued to chug along as one of the shrewdest, most aggressive dealmakers in the NFL.
All of which New England answered over the winter with, well, what? A few updates on slot receiver Wes Welker's rehab on his ACL. Word that Randy Moss played a lot of this past season with a separated shoulder and that he doesn't expect to be re-signed after this season. A lot of reminders that Belichick has some extra second-round picks to play with in the draffffffffffft.
Fell asleep with my finger stuck on the "F" key.
Belichick will need those extra picks. Loathe as he or any of the Patriots is to say this, New England is rebuilding now.
Brady should be better in his second season back from his knee surgery. But the Patriots now are five long seasons removed from their last Super Bowl title, and their struggles to win on the road and beat good competition this past season were glaring. Despite the unsentimental purge of Super Bowl-era veterans like Richard Seymour that Belichick undertook last year (to the consternation of some remaining stars in his locker room), New England still needs help at receiver, linebacker, offensive line and defensive line, especially at pass-rusher.
Welker, the Pats' best offensive player in 2009, won't be back until well into the season.
Even worse for the Patriots, they don't have the sort of shutdown corners to play with the other top teams in the NFL. But the Jets now do with Cromartie and Darrelle Revis. That's critically important because -- as the Jets clearly recognize -- the NFL's best teams all have superior passing attacks.
What this means for Belichick? Just to win the AFC East, New England suddenly has to defeat a Jets team that features the best defense in football from this past season and an offense that should be among the top three or four in the league if second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez doesn't muck it up.
Belichick is good. But not that good.
Night already had begun to fall on the Pats' dynasty last season. This season, the Jets will make it complete.