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Jets week a departure

But players vow to just play ball

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 4, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - Rookie running back Stevan Ridley has only been in the Patriots locker room for two months and he has already gotten the obligatory Jets week warning from coach Bill Belichick.

Nothing’s off limits - wives and toes included - when it comes to the buildup for Sunday’s run-in at Gillette Stadium.

Ridley’s making sure to take the “do-as-told’’ approach.’’

“It’s big, man, I know it’s big,’’ Ridley said. “[But] Coach made it clear that we don’t want to get caught up in that. So I know as a rookie, that I’m not going to get caught up in that. I’m just going to go out there and play ball.’’

In all likelihood, they won’t be as loud or as cocky as they were the last time (back-to-back losses have a way of muzzling a team), but the Jets will return to Foxborough for the first time since January, when they walked into Gillette and kicked the Patriots out of the playoffs in the divisional round.

That all but erased the memory of the 45-3 beating the Jets took at Gillette a little more than a month before.

The Patriots are 3-1 after winning Sunday in Oakland, but their loss is in the division to Buffalo (3-1). The Jets are 2-2 after getting picked over by Baltimore Sunday night, but they’ve yet to play a division game.

“I’m more than sure it’s going to be a physical game,’’ said running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. “It always is when we play those guys. So we want to have our [hard] hats ready.’’

Since Rex Ryan took over as coach of the Jets in 2009, the regular-season series between the teams is split (2-2).

“It’s a big game for sure,’’ tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “It’s the Jets coming into town, so we’ve got to get prepared, practice like we’ve been practicing, and prepare like we’ve been preparing and get ready for game time.’’

Doing what it takes Linebacker Dane Fletcher remembers former Patriots backer Mike Vrabel lining up as a tight end. Now Belichick is asking Fletcher to play some fullback.

“I watched him as a kid,’’ Fletcher, 25, said with a grin. “If I could fit into the kind of guy he was, that’d be great.’’

Fletcher occasionally has run routes, but mostly he’s looking for bodies to crash into. He said he got the heads-up that he could see some action on offense when the Patriots, who were preparing for the season opener against Miami, released Sammy Morris.

“We wanted to try to have somebody who was active for the games that we actually use there,’’ Belichick said. “Dane kind of has a good feel for that.’’

“They tell me to go run my face into some people, I’ll do it,’’ Fletcher said.

Belichick said fullback is similar in some ways to linebacker.

“Linebackers, you kind of have to see the hole, like a back does,’’ he said. “When you get on the other side of the ball and you’re a running back, you’re sort of seeing that same space that you would see as a linebacker - that’s where you want to go.

“You don’t want to go in back of your guys; you want to go where they aren’t. That’s sort of the same thing a linebacker does, is to try to see those openings and know that’s where you fit into them because your linemen have the other areas occupied. It’s not the same, but there’s some carryover there.’’

Thomas Welch, promoted from the practice squad just before Sunday’s game, filled in on the banged-up offensive line but also lined up at tight end. It was the first time he had done it since he was at Vanderbilt.

Belichick knew the 24-year-old had some experience. Welch was a quarterback in high school but moved to tight end after hurting his shoulder. He was recruited as a tight end, but grew into a tackle.

A good read After snagging one of Jason Campbell’s passes Sunday, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork is second on the team in interceptions with two - one behind Kyle Arrington - and he leads the Patriots in interception return yards (47). Belichick isn’t shocked.

“It doesn’t surprise me if he gets his hands on it, no,’’ Belichick said. “He’s got really good hands. He’s very athletic; he has very good hand-eye coordination. He makes those plays in practice. I’m not saying every day, but we’ve seen him catch the ball out there.’’

Entering the season, Wilfork never had picked off a pass. The Patriots are plus-4 in giveaway/takeaway differential.

“He read Campbell’s eyes, kind of saw the ball come out and just stepped right into it,’’ Belichick said. “It’s tough for a quarterback to see that - you’re looking at the coverage downfield, you’re not really looking at the defensive line.’’

Starting to stop The Patriots, who were last in opponent’s third-down conversion percentage a year ago and next-to-last entering Sunday, stopped the Raiders on 8 of 13 third downs. “We had our moments,’’ Belichick said. “We had third-down stops in the red area which were big - kept the points off the board. We’re always looking to improve. Whatever it is, there’s still room for improvement.’’ . . . The Jets are a bit thin at linebacker. Bryan Thomas is out for the season with a torn left Achilles’ tendon suffered in a loss to the Ravens, and Garrett McIntyre is day-to-day with a concussion.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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