FOXBORO — There are so many storylines, which has been the norm the last decade and a half when the New England Patriots and New York Jets face each other.
A few worth mentioning are the Pats defense vs. Mark Sanchez, Wes Welker possibly vs. Darrelle Revis, Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski vs. the Jets safeties, Rex Ryan's mouth, etc., etc.
But really there is one matchup that trumps them all. In the end, it will define today's winner and loser:
Tom Brady vs. the Jets defense.
Plain and simple, that's it.
Did you notice Brady's weekly press conference on Wednesday?
At first, Brady was remarkably subdued, almost looking half asleep, which is rare after a nice win. By the end of the Q&A session, Brady turned cranky when a questioner harped on Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie "challenging" the Pats quarterback to target him.
Brady said he didn't care what Cromartie said and then abruptly ended the press conference 10 minutes earlier than normal.
The Jets are, like it or lump it, in Brady's Hall of Fame head. And for good reason.
The Rex Ryan Jets have challenged Brady physically and mentally like no other franchise. Stats aside, the Jets hold a 3-2 edge over the Patriots since the swashbuckling Ryan took over.
The last game was the most troubling. Entering that playoff tilt, the Jets said some disparaging things about Brady, particularly his needling the Jets sidelines after big plays. Of course, the Jets forgot that those Brady digs originated from previous Jets rants.
That stunning 28-21 AFC semifinal loss was Brady's worst performance of the year. It started on the game's first drive when Brady, after driving the team down to the Jets' 28 yard line, threw a senseless interception on first down to linebacker David Harris, who returned it to the Patriots' 12. It set the tone for the game, which saw the Patriots fall behind 14-3 and Brady sacked five times.
The Jets confused Brady with fake blitzes and dropping back seven and eight defenders into a zone defense. Several times Brady threw passes away thinking defenders were closing on him, yet he was alone in the pocket.
Brady was so baffled by the Jets defense, particularly in the fourth quarter, that he kept going to clock-eating running plays with the Patriots trailing by two touchdowns.
It was weird.
Here's what outspoken Jets linebacker Bart Scott said after the game:
"He started looking for the rush when there was no rush. He thought after a certain amount of time somebody was coming, he was fidgeting ... Most quarterbacks don't like getting hit. They get hit and they turn into a totally different person."
The guess here is that the bevy of negative pregame comments at Brady, which had never really occurred over his career here, affected him.
Well, today Brady and the Jets meet again.
This time things may not be so rosy for the Jets. They come to Foxboro losers of two straight. Their offense is a colossal mess, ranking 30th in rushing yards per game (71.0) and not much better throwing the ball, ranking 25th in passing yards (308.0). Defensively, it's not much better as they have allowed 130.5 yards rushing per game, ranking 25th overall.
Basically, the Jets have a lot of problems outside of worrying about Brady.
But we all know where the Jets' focus will be this afternoon. And so does Brady.
Enjoy the game within the game.