EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., SEPT. 22 (TUESDAY) -- It is on.

The National Football League Players Association strike that began at 12:30 a.m. today, after the New York Jets' 43-24 victory over the New England Patriots, was the major source of discussion in both teams' locker rooms.

It was an especially prevalent topic in the Patriots' locker room. They have yet to vote formally to strike. Last night, NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw said assistant executive director Mark Murphy would meet with the Patriots later today.

Patriots' player representative Lin Dawson said he would not know the team's situation until morning.

Meanwhile, all-pro defensive end Mark Gastineau gave strong indications that he would play for the Jets' team of free agents and previously cut veterans. He did not take part in the pre-game "solidarity handshake" involving both teams.

"I want to play ball," he said. "That's why I was here in preseason and why I'll be here in the regular season. I think everybody respects my opinion. For me to walk out on somebody like that is against my judgment."

And safety Harry Hamilton said he would help coaches break down opposing team films and prepare the free agent players for competition, though he himself will not play.

The Patriots adamantly took exception to questions that attention to the strike took away from tonight's on-field performance, in which they could rush but 48 yards.

"I don't think it was a factor on either side," Patriots quarterback Tony Eason said. "People have other things on their mind, but, once you get out on the game field, you just go out and play."

"People are going to say we got distracted," said rookie lineman Bruce Armstrong. "Maybe we did. We're talking about something with has a major effect on people's lives -- our livelihood."

Jets player representative Kurt Sohn said he doesn't think the free agent idea will work.

"I don't think they can pull it off, to tell you the truth," he said. "If they do, more power to them. That's the only alternative they have."

He said he wonders if fans will support the "street games" of the free agent teams.

Asked if the Jets would be militant in stopping the players from crossing the picket lines, he said: "I think militant is a strong word. I don't think we'll be breaking people's arms and legs . . . But I'm telling you we're not going to be happy about that."

Before the game, the 70,847 in Giants Stadium booed the players when they came to midfield to shake hands.

"They boo every time," Sohn said, "because it {the handshakes} means the players are going on strike. All the fans want is football. All the players want is football. All the owners want is football."

In the game, Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien completed 19 of 26 passes for 313 yards and a 59-yard touchdown to Al Toon. At one point, O'Brien completed 13 straight passes.

Toon's touchdown ended a 71-yard drive in seven plays. Facing third and long early in the quarter, O'Brien found him in front of cornerback Ray Clayborn. Toon shook off Clayborn's tackle and raced in to put the Jets up by 13-3 at the 12:20 mark of the third quarter.

The Patriots' hole got deeper when Tony Collins fumbled a handoff at the Patriots' 30 on their next series. Cornerback Russell Carter recovered.

O'Brien passed to Toon on a slant for 16, then to Shuler for five down to the Patriots 9. Freeman McNeil carried to the 5. On third and one, Johnny Hector swept left and ran over Ronnie Lippett for the touchdown and a 20-3 Jets lead.

The Patriots went three and out again, so the Patriots' defense scored instead.

On second and two at the Jets' 32, fullback Roger Vick was tackled by linebacker Larry McGrew. The ball popped out, and Tippett picked it up and went 29 yards for the score, cutting the New York lead to 20-10 with 6:20 left in the quarter.

JoJo Townsell took the ensuing kickoff from his 8 and went along the left sideline, cutting back at midfield to avoid kicker Tony Franklin and finally being brought down at the New England 32.

O'Brien passed to Shuler for eight yards, Vick picked up one, then O'Brien completed his 12th straight pass, again to Shuler, over the middle for a first down at the Patriots 12.

New York's drive appeared to falter when O'Brien fumbled the snap on first down, but Steve Nelson was called for holding on third and six to give the Jets first and goal.

Two plays later, Hector, escorted by Shuler and tackle Jim Sweeney, scored from nine yards out to pad the Jets' advantage to 27-10.

It was all over but the picketing at that point.

The Jets lost their final five games last year after an NFL-best 10-1 start. During the losing stretch, O'Brien threw 12 interceptions and only two touchdowns.

But O'Brien has stormed to a strong start to help the Jets open 2-0, one of only four NFL teams to enter the strike with that mark.

"That weak finish was definitely hard to handle," Jets tight end Rocky Klever said. "But we've shown the character to come back and start 2-0. Yes, a strike is bad any time and this one really hurts."

"I just hope we can get it resolved so we can play next Sunday," Patriots guard Paul Fairchild said. "And shoot, we need work after this game. You know it as much as I do."