The showdown is set, and Rex and the Jets are ready.
Immediately after New York topped Cincinnati 26-10 on Thursday night — with no overtime or last-minute heroics needed this time — the Jets turned their attention to their next opponent.
Yep, those pesky New England Patriots.
"It's the marquee game of the year," Jets coach Rex Ryan said Friday.
With both winning on Thanksgiving, they are tied for the NFL's best record at 9-2. That sets up a meaty Monday night matchup on Dec. 6 at New England.
"It's not going to get much bigger than that," Ryan said. "So, the fact that it's a divisional game, I guess the only way it would be better if it was the last game of the regular season. But this is pretty good right here."
No doubt about it. And, the hype should kick into high gear when both teams return to work Monday after a three-day weekend.
"Ridiculous," right tackle Damien Woody said. "I can't even put it into words."
The Patriots are coming off a convincing 45-24 victory at Detroit, and have won 25 straight at home with Tom Brady as the starting quarterback. The Jets beat them at Foxborough in 2008, when Matt Cassel filled in for an injured Brady. New York has won eight in a row on the road, including going 5-0 this season.
"We've got a good opportunity here ahead of us," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "So, we're going to relax here, kick back for a couple days, try to take this opportunity to rest and spend a little time with our families and be ready to roll here next week with the Jets."
New York holds the tiebreaker over New England in the AFC East because the Jets won the first meeting this season 28-14 in Week 2 at the Meadowlands. The Jets could make a major statement with another win over their rivals.
"I watched that game (Thursday)," Ryan said. "Obviously, they're playing great. They're making big plays on defense, but their offense, that's where you start with. They seemed at times, almost looked like they were unstoppable. I'm pretty confident where our team is right now. We've got the exact same record."
But maybe not the exact same respect.
While many media members and fans are calling the Patriots legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the Jets have some skeptics despite their record. The concern comes from the fact that they had to squeak by lesser teams in overtime in consecutive weeks in Detroit and Cleveland, and then needed a touchdown with 10 seconds left Sunday to beat Houston.
Their game Thursday night appeared headed for the same type of frenzied finish, but Brad Smith sparked New York in the second half with a 53-yard touchdown run and an 89-yard, one-shoed kickoff return for a score.
"We're enjoying this win, but they were in the back of our minds," Smith said of the Patriots. "Seeing how they played and the rivalry we have and just the great games that we have against them, we're excited."
For those who say the Jets have yet to put together a truly dominant performance, Ryan bluntly says, who cares?
"The truth of the matter is sometimes your offense needs to pick up your defense," he said. "Sometimes your defense needs to pick up your offense, and sometimes special teams got to pick up both. We've won that way. We've found different ways. That's the mark of an excellent football team."
But is that enough to beat a Patriots team that's cruising? And, will those flaws catch up to them in the postseason?
"I know we're confident going anywhere to play," Ryan said. "They're certainly confident playing at home in particular, but, hey, it's going to be, in my opinion, the best two teams in football squaring off against each other and we'll see what happens on the field."
Ryan was especially encouraged by the defense having what he thought was its best game. After struggling in the past several games to close out opponents, the Jets got the job done against the Bengals with three sacks, including a game-sealing safety.
"If this group communicates and we don't have mental mistakes, then we're going to be tough for anybody to move the ball against," Ryan said.
The performance by the defense and special teams made up for a lackluster game by Mark Sanchez, who had been terrific the previous three.
"I just took a step in the wrong direction," said Sanchez, who was 16 of 28 for 166 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"He knows that there's accountability to himself, his teammates, everybody," he said. "The defense responded and I expect Mark to respond."
Ryan said "it's a good possibility" wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (groin) and defensive backs Dwight Lowery (concussion) and Marquice Cole (hamstring) will all be recovered in time for the game. Good thing because the Jets will need everyone at their best, Ryan included, going up against a Belichick-led team that's been so impressive.
"I pride myself on being a good football coach," Ryan said. "With the guys that I have around us, I feel confident, but I'm still not in Bill Belichick's class, and I know that. But I know one thing: He's going to get my best shot."