It's just as true now as when Tom Petty said it in 1981: The waiting is the hardest part.
Thankfully, we're almost done waiting and we'll soon find out if it feels like heaven or something from a dream for the Jets. There's probably not much need to go over just what's at stake against the Patriots on Monday because there's barely been a waking moment since Thanksgiving when this game hasn't been on everybody's mind.
For starters, it's for first place in the AFC East and sole position in the race for home field in the AFC playoffs. For the Jets it is about much more. It's about slaying the dragon that keeps them from scaling the castle wall, rescuing the princess and bathing in the public's adulation. It's about beating the Pats twice in a season, something no one else has been able to do in the Belichick era, and legitimizing the Jets way of doing things against the established gold standard in the NFL.
Flip all of those things around and you have how much this game means for the Patriots. They are holding the line against the upstarts, something that's happening a lot more for them in recent years. They've got to prove that they are still at the top and the best way to do that is to defend their house and force the Jets back to searching for answers about whether they belong among the league's elite.
That's all the background, but what about the game itself? You can break down Tom Brady against Mark Sanchez, if you like, or argue the relative merits of the team's defensive lines, but it is hard to find any spot that will do more to decide the outcome of this contest than the secondaries.
Both teams have a plethora of offensive weapons to deploy in the passing game which means that the defensive backs will be on the spot. Both teams have reason to worry about that state of affairs. The Jets abused the Patriots through the air in the first meeting of the season and that was without Santonio Holmes being part of the attack. The Pats will rely on the impressive rookie Devin McCourty against Holmes, but that will leave some mismatches elsewhere and McCourty will have to play really well to keep Holmes from winning that matchup.
On the other side, the Jets are really going to miss Jim Leonhard. The safety broke his leg in practice on Friday, leaving the Jets even shorter at what was already their weakest position. There's no doubt that Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are ready and able to shut down their men, but the Patriots come in waves offensively. Eric Smith and Brodney Pool will have to be better than they've been all year, while extra corners Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery will need to be better than they've been in past matchups with the Pats.
It's fitting that a game that means so much should come down to the last line of defense.