FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Brett Favre made his 255th consecutive start the last time the Jets played the Patriots. Matt Cassel made his first.
Both quarterbacks were trying to fit in despite that huge difference in experience - Favre with his new team, Cassel in his new starting role - on teams with uncertain prospects after major changes at that position.
Both have done quite well since that second game of the season.
Favre and Cassel meet again Thursday night with first place in the AFC East on the line. New York and New England go into the next installment of one of the NFL's fiercest and closest rivalries with 6-3 records.
That success is what Favre hoped for when he was traded to the Jets after 16 seasons with Green Bay.
``No one likes losing. I came in here to do one thing, to help this team win. I've said that from Day 1,'' he said. ``I hoped we would be in this position, and we are.''
backing up Tom Brady, who began this season with 127 regular-season starts. But the reigning NFL MVP lasted less than eight minutes in his 128th before a knee injury ended his season.
The Patriots won that game 17-10 over Kansas City, but Cassel was still nervous before the next game - a 19-10 win over the Jets on Sept. 14. After all, he hadn't started since high school more than seven years earlier.
``This (quarterback) position is a lonely position and it's a tough position, especially going into your first game,'' Cassel said. ``As you go in the season, it starts to calm down a little bit, but there's obviously an adrenaline pump and there's a little bit of nervousness of the unexpected.
``Eventually, it starts to all settle down and you say, 'I'm ready.' ``
The Patriots had better be.
New York is the AFC's highest-scoring team after a 47-3 rout of the St. Louis Rams, a team New England beat by seven points. The Jets scored their fourth defensive touchdown of the season in that game.
New England outgained Buffalo by more than 2-to-1 in its 20-10 win last Sunday in which the Bills' only touchdown came with 1:42 left.
``Throughout the year (the Jets) have been getting better and better, just like us,'' Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said, ``but they have to come here.''
th in stopping it.
The Jets' Thomas Jones leads the AFC with 750 yards rushing after running for 149 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday. Patriots undrafted rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 105 yards and a touchdown for his fourth straight game against the Bills as the replacement for three injured backs.
New England's blockers, though, must contend with massive nose tackle Kris Jenkins and the league's No. 5 run defense.
``We've been going through our bumps and every team, every season, has some of those bumps,'' he said. ``I think the only thing that's changed out here is the mind-set. We've got the same players, the same talent. We have a lot of guys that are working smarter now.''
The Jets have made many more big offensive plays than the methodical Patriots, who have changed to a ball-control offense without Brady.
``The things that New England has shown against other teams are not necessarily going to be what we get,'' Jets coach Eric Mangini said. ``I think that we have made some progress both offensively and defensively and I think New England has done the same thing.''
With Favre settled into his new offense and leading the AFC in completion percentage, the Jets have won their last three games and five of six. With Cassel improving weekly and ranked third in AFC accuracy, the Patriots have won three of their last four.
a minimum in the recently turbulent rivalry - except for cornerback Ty Law, a Patriot from 1995-2004, signing with the Jets this week.
In 2006, Mangini's first season as Jets coach after leaving as Patriots coach Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator, much attention was paid to their post-game handshakes. Last season, the Patriots taped the Jets' defensive signals in the season opener and were punished by the NFL.
``That never bothered any of the players,'' New England running back Kevin Faulk said. ``That wasn't us. We were just playing on the field.''
On Thursday night, the rivalry resumes.
The Patriots lead by the slimmest of margins, 49-48-1, but have won 11 of the last 12 matchups.
The Jets are rolling with a 44-point win over the Rams that was their biggest in franchise history.
The quarterbacks are ready - more prepared than they were two months ago.
``Both teams are 6 3 and a lot has happened since then for both sides,'' Favre said. ``There's still a lot of football left after this game. You can't, for both teams, put all your eggs in one basket. It's an important game.''
For Cassel, it's an important chance to add a win - and experience.
``I've continued to grow, continued to mature within the offense,'' he said. ``I feel like I'm a different player from what I was then, but not an overall reconstruction of who I was. You just continue to grow.''

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