FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It would be hard to tell that the New York Jets host the New England Patriots on Sunday night in a crucial divisional battle. Unlike years past, there was no "I hate the Jets" proclamation from Tom Brady, no foot references from Wes Welker and not a single anatomical reference about Brady from Antonio Cromartie. The headlines don't scream out rivalry -- in fact, there has been all the trash talk one would expect at a nursing home over a game of bridge.
Handbags at ten paces, ladies.
But it is indeed Week 10 and the game Sunday night is the latest chapter in one of the NFL's most bitter rivalries, although you'd be hard pressed to tell it from the sound bites. Perhaps though, the fact that neither team is talking much is a sign that the Jets are now in the upper echelon and that New England, perennially among the top teams in the league, doesn't view them as their "little brothers" anymore.
The silence is a sign that the Jets have arrived. Both teams enter the game at 5-3, with identical 2-1 divisional records.
"I think we feel we're equals, I don't know how they feel. They're an extremely confident team, that's one thing our guys have talked about in the past. They have that confidence bordering on cockiness and they never really got called out for it," safety Jim Leonhard told Yahoo!Sports. "You don't like that when you're playing against them. I like to think we got some respect from them, the way we play them. We respect them for what they've done and we just want to go out there now and play our best."
Over the past two years, the Jets have gone 2-2 against the Patriots in the regular season and beat them in Foxboro this past January in the playoffs. The Jets have also made consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances in head coach Rex Ryan's first two years with the team, advancing further than the Patriots both those seasons. It may just be that the Jets don't need to jaw quite as much as they did in years past.
The play of New York is speaking plenty loudly right now and the Patriots, who have lost two straight games, have bigger things to worry about than trash talk. The Jets, winners of their last three games, are soaring while the Patriots are hoping to salvage their season. Both teams seem to be focusing on themselves and not so much on each other.
"I've always wondered how they think over there. I don't know if they look at us as a bunch of clowns or not. They've always been really good at focusing on themselves. Like the thing Welker said, I think that was in fun. What they're doing now, they're trying to right their wrongs, not focus on us as much," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "I think since Rex has gotten here, he's talked about us building that brand. You can't bow down to them, or their three Super Bowls. They can't take their rings out there, and we can't take our two AFC Championship Games out there."
Pace called this the quietest Patriots week over the past two years and can't think of one this tepid since Eric Mangini's last year with the Jets in 2008 — "Probably since when Mangini was here, because we couldn't talk really." But the fact of the matter is that the Jets are now a team that doesn't need to talk to get an advantage, their playoff win last season underscored that they have enough talent to beat the Patriots, even on their turf.
It's a shame that a rivalry which has produced so many great moments, from Bart Scott's "Can't wait" to the Jets burying a game ball last year following their humiliating Monday night road loss has gone, well, dull.
But there just may not be anything left to be said between these two equal sides. Little brother has grown up and there's nothing left to do then strap 'em up and settle things on the field.
"There hasn't been a whole lot of talk the past week, and I don't think it's necessarily a good or bad thing. The media has had lots of quotes the past few years, can use those," Leonhard said. "Guys have done lots of talking the past few years, what more is there to say? It is what it is."
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer