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BOB RYAN

He's really shaking this time

FOXBOROUGH -- This just in: Big game coming up on Sunday.

This also in: The J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets are a serious foe.

So sayeth Coach Bill.

The odds are that unless you have accidentally wandered in from the food pages, you are fully aware of the first fact. But the second? The likelihood is too many fans in these here parts think the Patriots have the equivalent of a bye into the second round. Perhaps they need to spend a day or two locked in the tape room with the mentor. Whatever he really thinks about Eric Mangini as a person, let there be no doubt that Coach Bill thinks his fellow Wesleyan alum and his staff are coaching up a pretty darn good football squad. This is one time Coach Bill isn't hyping the foe out of a can't-help-myself coaching habit.

The Jets will arrive here on a reasonable roll (5 of 6, 6 of 8, 8 of 11) and thus feeling quite good about themselves. You can certainly understand any feeling of unit confidence they might have, given the pleasant nature of their last visit to Gillette Stadium. The final offensive statistics favored the Patriots, but anyone who saw the game knows the final score (17-14) was not reflective of the Jets' domination. Tom Brady was harassed and embarrassed. Chad Pennington, his lowly numbers aside (22 of 33 for a minuscule 168 yards, one TD, one interception), was Brady-like in his game management. He did what he needed to do for his team to win (or prevent defeat), and that is the most important thing any NFL quarterback can do.

The normal working assumption among Patriots fans is that, come playoff time, Coach Bill is going to be smarter, better prepared, and more innovative than the Other Guy, whoever that might be. The only exception is when the Patriots are playing Denver, and isn't everyone immensely pleased to know Mike Shanahan isn't going to be a problem for the Patriots this year, unless he quits as coach of the Broncos and hires on as a consultant for the Jets sometime between now and 1 p.m. Sunday? My educated guess is this will not happen.

(Wouldn't you like to sit down with Coach Bill over a cold one and say, "Bill, how happy are you that Denver blew that game to the 49ers last Sunday?")

Now, even allowing for the expected coachspeak verbal inflation factor (last year's pregame depiction of the 2-7 Saints as a threat to the '85 Bears was a Belichick classic), I think we can safely say Coach Bill is deeply concerned about the Jets.

"They have a lot of things to get ready for," he declared.

Prior to the first meeting back on Sept. 17, Coach Bill expressed concern about the Jets' big-play capability. And damned if they didn't spring two biggies: a 71-yard collaboration between Pennington and Jerricho Cotchery in which the latter, having shaken off an authoritative blow from Chad Scott, picked himself off the back of Eugene Wilson to scamper untouched into the end zone; and a 46-yard TD aerial from Pennington to Laveranues Coles, which mostly consisted of a whole lotta artful Yards After Catch (YAC). In both instances, the Jet receiver in question demonstrated rather forcefully that he does not like the idea of being tackled after catching the ball.

A second area that has Coach Bill worried is special teams. It is no stretch to say that the Jets' special teams are, like the youthful inhabitants of Lake Wobegon, significantly above average. The marquee unit is the kickoff return team, which yielded the Jets' only Pro Bowl selection. Justin Miller will be going to Honolulu, and why not? He leads the NFL with an average of 28.3 yards per kickoff return and he has taken two to the house, a 103-yard jaunt against Indianapolis and a 99-yard jaunt against Cleveland.

But the flip side is equally impressive. "They haven't given up a long return all year," Belichick pointed out.

There is no reason for anyone to be surprised. Mike Westhoff is one of the most acclaimed special teams coaches in the NFL.

According to Coach Bill, the problems posed by the Jets go far deeper than worrying about their special teams. He maintains they are creative on both sides of the ball, that your defense will have a difficult time "finding" the offensive weapons once New York breaks the huddle, and that Tom Brady will have an equally difficult time deciding the proper course of action when he prepares to take the snap from Dan Koppen.

So credit is due to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, and, of course, to the man who coordinates it all and who has the final say. You know, the head coach, the chunky guy, the one enamored of fight films, the one who used to work here. Evan, no, Earl, no, Eric -- that's it, Eric. Eric Mangini.

It's a name Coach Bill had a hard time pronouncing out loud for a long time. We know not exactly what happened between the two, but we do know that it sufficiently aggravated Coach Bill to send him into depths of public pettiness that will permanently stain him in the eyes of many. Not until this week has Bill Belichick chosen to take a higher road by acknowledging his old assistant by name for the truly outstanding work he has done with the Jets in a very short period. But say this: Once he decided to be civil, he really laid it on.

And I really think he means it, too.

Will Coach Bill ever break bread with his fellow Wesleyan alumnus again? We don't know the answer to that. But is he respectful of what his fellow Wesleyan alum has between the ears? Coach Bill won't be sleeping much this week. That's all you need to know.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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