FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick question: Who are these New England Patriots and New York Jets?

The teams, who at 9-2 are tied for the best record in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, once despised each other. They not only stole players from each other, but also coaches. They spied on each other. (OK, maybe that was just the Patriots spying on the Jets.)

Now, with this week’s Game of the Century between the Pats and Jets just a day away, they’re acting like long-lost buddies.

The weeklong buildup to Monday night’s showdown at Gillette Stadium for first place in the AFC East hasn’t included any trash-talking — unless you consider Jets offensive tackle (and former Patriots center) Damian Woody’s remark about Tom Brady’s shaggy hair (“That long stuff Tom’s got? That ain’t happening.”) Pretty weak, huh?

Instead, all we hear is how Rex Ryan, the Jets’ coach who never met a microphone he didn’t talk to, thinks Bill Belichick of the Patriots is the greatest coach ever, that he’s one of the two coaches — the other being Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau — from whom he steals ideas.

We get Brady, who before this season’s first game between the two (won by the Jets 28-14 in Week 2) said he hated the Jets, now backtracking.

“Do I still hate them?” he said, when asked if he still felt that way. “Well, I promised Coach Belichick that I wouldn’t say anything derogatory, so I have no comment.”

And then we have Ryan talking all sugary about Brady.

“Clearly you knew there are two quarterbacks in this league that when you look on a schedule if you’re a defensive coordinator, you’re like, ‘Oh gosh, we’ve got to play him?’ ” said Ryan. “Brady and Peyton Manning, those are the two guys. There are a lot of good quarterbacks in this league, but for my money those are the two best guys. Shoot, now in this division, you have to play him twice a year.

“But again, it’s not that we’re scared of him or something like that. We look at it as an opportunity. You’ve got to match yourself up against the best and that’s where I put Tom Brady.”

Strange days indeed for such a volatile rivalry. Or maybe not.

The Patriots, at least under Belichick, have seldom tried to incite opponents. They’ve always been careful with what they say leading up to the game, preferring instead to respond to trash talking on the field.

As much as the media tried to find something nasty to write about this week, it wasn’t happening.

Belichick deftly sidestepped one potential bomb when he was asked to respond to a comment by the outspoken Ryan, who once said he didn’t come to New York to kiss Belichick’s Super Bowl rings (among other things). “There’s no love lost between those two teams,” he said. “We both want to win. That’s what we’re here for, Jets and Patriots. I mean, both teams are walking out onto the field to come out victorious.

“Is that a big news story? That’s something we didn’t know? (That) the Jets want to win the game? (That) the Patriots want to win the game?”

And that’s what both teams have done this year, using similar styles to arrive at this point in the season with the same record.

“We like to think of ourselves as very tough, physical, smart, resilient,” said Brady. “And that’s what they are, too. As much as it pains me to say, that’s kind of what it’s been with the Jets this year.”

The Jets have shown that resiliency in wins over Detroit (23-20, overtime), Cleveland (26-20, overtime) and Houston (30-27). They became the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back overtime games on the road, then returned home to beat Houston on a final possession.

“We just found ways to win. I think that’s what good teams do,” said Ryan. “They find ways to win. When you have bad years, you find ways to lose.”

The Patriots have shown their resiliency by making plays. Looking at their roster and defensive statistics, there is no way anyone would expect them to be 9-2. But they have made plays at the end of each game to win.

Besides playing nice, the teams are also downplaying the significance of this game.

“There’s a third of the season to go,” said Belichick. “There’s a lot of football left. It will be a different story every week: This happens, that happens, something else happens. It will be this, and next week it will be another one, and the next week there will be another one.

“There will be five different scenarios in the next five weeks. I’m not worried about that.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]