- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets have been chasing the New England Patriots for nearly a decade and, quite frankly, they're tired of it. Tired of being also-rans in the AFC East. Tired of getting their lunch money stolen by the neighborhood bully.
They're ready to change that, and it starts next Monday night in Foxborough.
"Yeah, it's time," right tackle Damien Woody said Monday. "It's well overdue. I'd love to tilt [the rivalry] back our way and sweep them. If we can do that, that's so huge, going forward, as far as our goal of winning the division. We're definitely looking forward to that."
The Jets haven't swept the Patriots since 2000, Al Groh's first and only season with the Jets and Bill Belichick's first season in New England. Only one player remains from that Jets team -- defensive end Shaun Ellis. He believes this is the best team he's played on, good enough to end the Patriots' reign of supremacy.
"It's about time," Ellis said. "They've been dominant for so long."
Actually, Ellis was involved in the play that helped turn the rivalry in the Patriots' favor -- Mo Lewis' devastating hit on Drew Bledsoe in September, 2001. On that play, Ellis stripped the ball as Bledsoe was blasted by Lewis. Bledsoe was replaced by an unheralded Tom Brady, and the rest of that story is widely known.
"He owes me money," Ellis said of Brady, joking that he helped launch Brady's career.
Since that fateful day, the Patriots have captured 14 of the 19 meetings (including one postseason game), along with seven AFC East crowns. The Jets? They haven't won the division since 2002 -- a sore subject around the team.
"They've been the standard bearer in our division," said right guard Brandon Moore, one of the longest-tenured Jets. "They've owned it. They've won the titles, division titles and championships. We've been sitting at home or fighting to get a wild card.
"You want to own your division, you want to win your division. It goes through them. Since I've been here, we've been trying to do that. This might be our best shot to attain that goal, this upcoming game."
Both teams are 9-2, atop the division. The Jets won the Week 2 meeting, 28-14, meaning they'd be in terrific shape if they can pull off the sweep. They'd be looking at a likely division title, barring a late-season collapse, and perhaps the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
More than that, it would help change the perception that the Jets are the working-class stiffs compared to the elite Patriots.
"For us to talk about dominating the division," outside linebacker Calvin Pace said, "we need this win."
Because the Jets won the first meeting, it could be argued that the pressure is on the Patriots, but the Jets still see themselves as the perceived underdog -- a role they relish.
"I think in the general court of public opinion, absolutely we're the underdogs," coach Rex Ryan said. "Do I view us as the underdogs? No, I think we're going to win. I always think we're going to win."
This isn't the first time the Jets have engaged in tough talk with regard to the Patriots. Back in 2002, when they won the division after a late-season win over the Patriots, the Jets felt they had turned the corner. What happened? They dropped the next seven meetings as the Patriots became a dynasty.
The frustration showed after an early-season loss in 2008. In the closing seconds of a fourth straight loss to New England, Ellis ripped off his helmet and flung it on the field. That display of raw emotion made an impression on then-quarterback Brett Favre, who later remarked that Ellis' action illustrated the deep wounds inflicted by the Patriots.
Once again, the Jets believe this is their time. They have their best record since 1986, and they feel they still haven't played their best.
"The ultimate goal is to win the division," Moore said. "That's something we haven't been close to, like we've been this year. It's all in our hands, which is what you want."
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