At the University of Florida, Aaron Hernandezloved road games.
"Yeah, I kind of like away games more, because the fans hate you and everything's against you," the rookie tight end explained. "So, you can go out there and prove people wrong and quiet the crowd. It's an intense environment. There's nothing like away games."
He's going to get his first taste of a well-established NFL rivalry this weekend when his Patriots travel to the New York metropolitan area to face their division rivals, the Jets, at New Meadowlands Stadium.
"I had rivalries in college," Hernandez added, "but, obviously, nothing like this. It's like a Georgia and a Florida State. It's a huge rivalry at this level. You can tell in practice, everyone's way more intense and ready to play. Coaches are way more focused in the past week. The way everyone was this week – looking at Tom [Brady],looking at [Randy] Moss– everyone's focused, you know it's a rivalry."
"When I was with the Jets," head coach Bill Belichickrecalled, "and we came up here and played the Patriots and [the fans] threw eggs and stuff at the bus coming into the stadium on Route 1 ... I think that was the tip-off right there. That's a rough trip there up Route 1 to the stadium."
"Obviously, division games are a little bit bigger because of the importance of the standings and what they mean to the division," Belichick continued. "Division rivals, those games are intense. Both teams know each other well. They know their schemes. They know the players. They've really played against each other, so there is a high level of competitiveness there.
"The Jets are tough. I'm sure they think we're tough. That's the way it is in this division. You play tough games in the division. It's highly competitive and the week leading up to it is an intense week. You want to try to get everything right. You know they've got all the tips on you. You think you've got all the tips on them. You want to try to balance those out and attack their weaknesses and exploit your strengths. That's the matchup every week there."
One factor the Patriots won't have to overcome is getting familiar with New Meadowlands Stadium. Having just played there two weeks ago in their final preseason game against the Giants, New England players and coaches already have a feel for the stadium's wind conditions, positioning of the game clock and play clock, where the visitors locker room is and how it's configured – elements that may seem trivial on the surface, but that can cause teams to expend valuable time and energy when they play in a venue for the first time.
"It may be a little bit of an advantage," linebacker and co-captain Jerod Mayoacknowledged. "It may help us a little bit to know the atmosphere, know your way around the field, where the scoreboard is, the clock."
"It's kind of like driving someplace you haven't been before," Belichick analogized. "If you've been there once, there's a little less chance you'll get lost the second time. I think that's about what it is. It's certainly nothing that's insurmountable, but certainly it's helpful."
With 80,000-plus seats and an enclosed bowl, the Jets' home field can be an advantage for them when the Patriots offense takes the field, since the crowd noise can be contained more in that confined space.
"It's pretty loud, but it won't be loud when we're on the field," Mayo reasoned, "because when we go away, they're quiet for their offense."
Two ways to neutralize the adverse conditions on the road, Mayo pointed out, are to put points on the board early and to rattle New York's second-year starting QB, Mark Sanchez.
"It's important to get after every team in the first quarter, like we did Cincinnati. Hopefully, we can do that this week and make them a one-dimensional team. It's tough going out there as a quarterback in your second year. We're going to try to do different looks and confuse him throughout."
"I hope we go down there and play well," Belichick concluded. "It's a tough place to play. It's always tough on the road. the league is so competitive, there's such a fine line between winning and losing throughout the league. You see it every Sunday. That little advantage of being at home, having the crowd, the familiarity of the stadium, the turf, the situation, whatever it is, maybe that is a little bit of a home field advantage there. It doesn't take much in this league – a couple plays. A lot of games, that's what it comes down to."
Fri 9/17 Practice Notebook
For news and notes from Friday's practice, please visit the PFW Blog.