Better get used to this.

Yes, the New England Patriots own three Super Bowl championships. Nothing can take that away. All 23 people within the sound of my keyboard who have access to NFL Network may watch the highlights and reinforce the memories ’til death do us part.

It’s all wonderful. And in a world where Bill Cowher is officially a has-been, less than a year after being fitted for his championship ring, it’s all so meaningless and so yesterday.

The only road that matters is the highway to championships four, five and six. And the guy standing in the middle of the road is a shabbily dressed fat dude with a NESCAC education named Eric Mangini.

You can take these two stone-cold locks to the bank, or at least to your bookie. One, New England’s domination of this decade in the National Football League is not nearly over. And two, if the Patriots are to finish the work they started and trump the accomplishments of the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys before them, they shall be forced to deal repeatedly with the New York Jets.

Those excessively worshipful types who cover the NFL for a living call it a copycat league, and they’re right. With all the coaching staff inbreeding that reigns in the modern game, it took about two days for every team to pirate Buddy Ryan’s ’46’ defense or Bill Walsh’s west coast offense.

But how do you mimic the New England Patriots?

Every pre-game studio pundit in America continues to scrub the makeup off his chin trying to make sense of how the Patriots won three titles in the first place. It defies logic. What Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli and the Patriots’ brass have accomplished is more of a social experiment and a way of life than a philosophy quantifiable in X’s and O’s.

Flattering this franchise via imitation is next to impossible. And Little Bill, um, I mean Mangini has cloned a reasonable facsimile of the league’s great blue-collar monolith in a matter of six months. It’s mind-boggling. It’s disgusting. I want to follow Belichick’s lead and hate the guy, but I can’t help but admire him.

The reason this was the worst possible wild card pairing for the Patriots and the reason the two regular-season games with the Jets were a nightmare has nothing to do with injuries, rain, mud, FieldTurf, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Deion Branch, Adam Vinatieri or Bridget Moynahan. The Jets pose a potentially season-ending problem simply because they are the Patriots’ evil twin.

Let’s start at quarterback. Now please put down your weapons. There is no head-to-head comparison to be made here. I’ve watched Tom Brady. Tom Brady is a hero of mine. And you, Chad Pennington, are no Tom Brady. The best big-game quarterback in the NFL plays his home games at Gillette Stadium, even as Philip Freaking Rivers prepares to steal his rightful trip to the Pro Bowl.

As a poor man’s substitute, however, Pennington is peerless. To pilfer a phrase I hear too many times a day on talk radio, he handles his business. And basks in Brady-esque disrespect. At least Brady only got screwed out of a trip to Honolulu. Pennington has to put up with ESPN blowhard Tony Kornheiser comparing his arm strength to that of a puppy.

Maybe he meant underdog. The Jets wear that label as well as the Patriots ever did.

Other than Pennington and maybe Laveranues Coles and Jonathan Vilma, there isn’t a Jets starter whom a non-fantasy geek outside the Eastern time zone can name. Talent-wise, the Jets cannot compete with the Chargers, Ravens, Colts or Bears. Heck, they don’t even match up with the Lions or Cardinals.

They’re here, though. Lightweight schedule or not, they’ve won 10 games — one on the road against the model franchise, you might recall — in a fashion that ought to make fans of a team that rolls out Tully Banta-Cain and Reche Caldwell on a weekly basis stand and applaud.

Haven’t heard a lot of applause or even lukewarm props this week, though. Just a lot of excuse-making about the nearly disastrous September second half and the November loss, and a hundred different explanations why today will be different.

My friendly advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid. And expect to be here again next year and the year after that.

Deep breath.

Patriots 20, Jets 10.

We’ll have the last laugh, but it shouldn’t be a loud one.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His can be reached by e-mail [email protected]

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