Patriots-Jets: More than a rivalry

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Patriots-Jets: More than a rivalry

Its been a slow year for rivalries in Boston. The classics, at least. In hockey, the Bruins were focused on defending the Cup, while the Canadiens zambonied the Eastern Conference basement. In baseball, the Sox were more wrapped up in hating each other than hating the Yankees. In basketball, the Celtics and Lakers played two very competitive regular season games, but the Cs lost both, and came into each contest barely on the right side of .500. And this week, were face-to-face with the reality of the Patriots' No. 1 rivalry. Its Jets Week!

But something isnt right.

Its not the stakes. After all, first place is on the line. Not to mention, if the Pats lose on Sunday, theyll have their first 3-4 start since 2002, and New England will reach core meltdown. Do you realize how horrendous it will be around here if Brady and Belichick dont come through? Like Owen Wilson said in Armageddon: The scariest environment imaginable. That's all you gotta say, scariest environment imaginable.

And maybe thats it. That while the Pats bi-annual meetings with the Jets are typically about flexing muscles and reiterating AFC East supremacy, this year, the Pats have much more to lose than they have to gain. A win puts them at 4-3 a disappointing mark regardless of how they get there. If they win a close one, then its another example of them playing down to their competition. If they blow out the Jets, theyve blown out a team playing on the road without their best player, their No. 1 receiver and without a legitimate quarterback. Theyve done what theyre supposed to do, and theres not much excitement in that. Especially coming of a week in which they did the exact opposite.

As I type, the Pats are 10.5-point favorites in Vegas. This marks only the fourth time in the Belichick era that theyve been favored by double digits against the Jets. Thats pretty crazy when you think about some of the teams the Pats have had over that time and the fact that the Jets (much like this year) havent always been at the top of their game. So, why arent we more excited? Wheres the fire? Why dont Rex Ryan's pseudo-guarantees leave us with that same infuriating after taste? Why isnt Tom Brady begging for fans to bring out the lube?

It really comes down to this: As much as the Pats hate the Jets, right now theyre more worried about the Pats. As much as Rex Ryan wants guarantee a victory and blow smoke up Bill Belichicks butt, he's far more worried about the Jets. "I think we're going to beat them," Ryan said earlier in the week. But he was quick to qualify the statement: "Are they more vulnerable? I don't know. They've lost three games, that's probably more than they normally lose in a season. We need to worry about ourselves . . . We always get their best, and they always get ours. We'll see if our best is better than their best on that particular day."

But no matter how you look at it, neither team has been at it's best this season. And while it's too early to panic, it's certainly put the rivalry on the back burner. For both teams, this Sunday isn't as much about beating the Jets or beating the Patriots. It's about beating anyone, and getting an ugly season back on the right track.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.