Though they're reluctant to admit it publicly, you can tell the Patriots understand how big this next game is.
If you read between the lines of their quotes, or watch the way they practiced today, the intensity level is higher than normal. But ask them about it, and you'll get varying reactions.
For instance, the downplay.
"It's a game. It's a regular-season game against a division opponent that's 9-2, and I think we treat it just like that. This is not the Super Bowl," quarterback Tom Bradydeclared, adding, "there are games after this game that are very important as well."
"It's a regular season game. I don't want to get into the hype, but it's a game against a divisional opponent. It's a game like all of them are," echoed running back Fred Taylor.
"It just so happens both teams are 9-2 and it's a divisional game. I think when you dwell on it and put too much pressure on it, you try a little harder than you normally would and in turn, you could lose focus at the same time. So, I don't want to put that much pressure on myself or my teammates."
"There's a lot of football left," head coach Bill Belichickpointed out. "It will be a different story every week. This happens, that happens, something else happens, it will be this, and next week it will be another one, and next week there will be another one. There will be five different scenarios in the next five weeks. I'm not worried about that."
Then there's the tacit acknowledgement.
"The one thing I know is football starts now. We have to be able to play good football in December and January," co-captain Vince Wilforksaid. "That's one thing we want to do – come out and match their intensity. If we can't do that, it's going to be a long day for us."
And finally, if you keep asking, you get the all-out admission.
"This is a big game," safety Patrick Chungtold reporters …
"Yeah, it's a big game. We know there's a lot at stake," safety James Sandersreiterated.
"This game, for what we're trying to accomplish and winning the division – which is always our first goal of this team – it's a big game," Brady conceded. "You can't expect to win the division and lose to the same team twice. We have to really go out and execute at a much higher level than we did the first time we played them because they don't leave much room for error, this team."
The Jets certainly didn't leave room in Week 2, when they limited the Patriots offense to just 14 points, while doubling that amount on their side of the ball. But much has changed since then, for both teams.
The Patriots ways with wide receiver Randy Mossand brought in Deion Branchand running back Danny Woodhead. The Jets, meanwhile, added to their offense as well, with wide receiver Santonio Holmesjoining them after serving a suspension to start the year. New England's defense is also still young, but maturing, as evidenced by the big plays they made against quality opponents in recent weeks.
"We have a lot more chemistry as a team," Sanders observed. "We've installed a lot more on offense, defense, and special teams. So, we're going to give each other our best shot."
"I think there is probably better communication [in New England]," Jets head coach Rex Ryansaid via conference call. "They seem to be making a lot more plays, on the back end in particular. [Rookie cornerback Devin] McCourty's made a lot of plays for them. They're just a sound defense. You got the big guys up front – obviously Vince Wilfork's doing a great job in there and [Jerod] Mayo's a good football player. They're doing a good job.
"Yeah, it's a different offense a little bit," Ryan added. "Branch can still go deep. It is a little different. He runs more over routes and drive routes and all that stuff than Moss did. But Randy Moss is a game-changer in my opinion, so I'm happy Randy Moss is gone."
With both teams having played on Thanksgiving, they'll each have an 11-day layoff before taking the field again on Monday night in Foxborough. Historically, with that kind of advance planning, Belichick's teams have been successful.
"I think it's been good having the extra few days to prepare," Brady remarked. "I think we've all used it well. We've just got to have a good few days of practice here leading up to the game."
The Patriots treated today liked a Wednesday, so tomorrow (Friday) will be like a Thursday, and they'll work out on Saturday to end their work week.
Thu 12/2 Practice Notebook
For news and notes from Thursday's practice, including an update on Brady and G Stephen Neal, please visit the PFW Blog.