FOXBORO - Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, to the latest resumption of one of professional football's greatest rivalries.
It's front-and-center tonight at Gillette Stadium (8:25 p.m.; NFL Network, Ch. 5), the New England Patriots playing host to the New York Jets. Both teams earned late-game victories on Sunday and both have had to rush into preparation for a game with half the lag time between outings, with the added benefit that there has been 50 percent less hype than there usually is.
"We play them on a short week, and there's a lot to prepare for," Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady said. "I think they present a lot of challenges, defensively especially; a lot of alignments, looks, coverages. They're a very smart team, very disciplined, they don't make a lot of mental mistakes, so we're going to need to be on our game.
"We're going to need to be better than we were last week," Brady added, referring to the Patriots' mistake-filled 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills. "There's a lot to prepare for in a very short amount of time, so we're trying to get everyone to understand that. Part of the veteran responsibility is that we have to convey that message to everybody. So we're cramming a lot in, but that's what we have to do. That's what they're doing too."
Even for a rookie quarterback like the Jets' Geno Smith, there's a tangible difference in preparation when the league puts you in the Thursday spotlight.
"That little bit of extra film study that you can get in to know your opponent a little bit more, a few more things that you could put in with the game plan, all of those things that you get the luxury of doing in a full week you don't get to do with a short week," he said. "It also can be an advantage because also we get more time to prepare for our third game. So we just have to buckle down, we've got to stay focused and put in the extra work in the short week.
"It's never an excuse," he said. "Both teams have the same amount of time, so you just have to find the time. There is plenty of time in the day to get all your work done and to put in the extra work."
Neither the Jets nor the Patriots are likely to be assured of bringing their "A" game to Gillette tonight.
For the Patriots, the issue is injuries. Running back Shane Vereen is already out for this game and the seven that follow, having been placed on injured reserve-designated for return with a broken wrist. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (back, forearm) were both listed as "doubtful" on the Wednesday injury report.
"When people are injured, that's why you have a deep roster guys that you have confidence in, that you've gained trust in, and I certainly have that at the skill position," Brady said. "We have a lot of good running backs, we have a lot of good receivers, we're trying to do the best we can this week to go out and win a very challenging game against a very good team."
But the truth is that Brady is trying to adapt to a new set of players (starters and depth alike) around him, and there were times in the Buffalo game when it appeared that the acclamation process was not complete and Brady was struggling to adapt to the new faces.
"Well, I don't know that I would classify Tom Brady as struggling," Jets' coach Rex Ryan said. "I'd have to see that to believe it. I don't think he has ever struggled. So, to me, what I saw was a team that could really run the football, and I think in the past they have run the ball, but not with the conviction that I saw in the first week against a pretty darn good front."
Ryan's problems are familiar ones - to jump-start the Jets out of their usual ineptitude, and an 18-17 win over the Buccaneers in the opener helped silence the naysayers for at least a little while.
"I think you're never going to win unless you believe you can," Ryan said. "And that's it. We'll have a team out there, and we've never gone into a game we didn't think we could win. Ever. I know I haven't. Now, do we recognize that it's a huge challenge? Yeah, I guess. We're going in on a short week playing against arguably one of the best teams in the National Football League with the best coach, and, if (Tom Brady is) not the best quarterback, he's right there with Peyton Manning.
"But, it's like, give me a break," Ryan continued. "We know what we're going up against, but I'll be danged if we're going out there to lose a game. We're coming up there to win the game. That's the way we always do. Now, it doesn't happen all the time, but we're certainly coming up there with that in mind."
Ryan was quick to dispute the notion that there is an undercurrent always swirling around the Jets over his own failure to provide the greater New York metropolitan region with another Super Bowl contender. Whether you choose to believe him is up to you.
"We have way more positive momentum than people give us credit for," he said. "We were 3-1 in the preseason. I think that's good. You know, it beats the alternative. Inside our building, it's been nothing but positive. We've had probably as good of an offseason as anybody in the league when it comes to our players coming in for voluntary work, the type of work they are doing, our minicamps and then training camp. We had great competition at several positions, and we have a close football team."
Brady, meanwhile, hopes his team can get by the Jets despite key personnel losses and then take the added time to rest up, heal up and prepare for the Buccaneers'' visit to Foxboro a week from Sunday.
He wasn't as quick to label the extra time following a Thursday game as beneficial.
"I think it's a big advantage if you win," he said. "If you win the game on Thursday night, you've got quite a bit of time to cover some things that maybe you couldn't have covered in previous weeks. Ours happens to be pretty early in the season, so I think hopefully we can go out and win.
"That's really when it becomes a big advantage," he said. "After that, this is our last one of the year, so hopefully we can take advantage of it."