Belichick baited but he isn’t biting
FOXBOROUGH — In one sentence, Rex Ryan managed to compliment and challenge Bill Belichick at the same time.
The achievement is no surprise, considering the New York Jets coach can create headlines just by speaking. While his most recent comments about Belichick may have raised some eyebrows, they didn’t shock the Patriots coach.
Last year, Ryan said he didn’t plan to kiss Belichick’s rings, and Newsday’s Bob Glauber asked Ryan Monday if he had backed off since making the statement last year. Ryan gave an honest response.
“I just told the truth,’’ Ryan said. “I came here to win. As much as I respect and admire Bill Belichick, I came here to kick his ass, and that’s the truth. That’s just the way it is.’’
Yesterday, the quote was relayed to Belichick, who didn’t start a colorful exchange. Instead, he agreed.
“Sure, that’s understandable,’’ said Belichick. “There’s no love lost out there between these two teams. We both want to win. That’s what we’re here for. I mean, both teams are walking out onto the field to come out victorious. Is that a big news story? That something we didn’t know?’’
And so Jets-Patriots week begins. Ryan livens up this AFC East rivalry, but the players don’t need much more than the facts to get them focused for the Monday night game. Both teams are 9-2. The Jets won the first time around. And Monday’s result will play into the postseason picture.
“It’s a big game,’’ said Patriots tight end Alge Crumpler. “There’s no need to downplay it. It’s a big game. Everybody understands what’s at stake, you know. It counts as one, though.’’
The Patriots returned to practice yesterday for the first time since beating the Lions on Thanksgiving. Belichick gave his team another day off today but they will return tomorrow to resume preparation for the Jets.
The rivalry had a bite to it when Deion Branch played in these games in his first stop with the Patriots. But it has a different feel this time around.
“It was a long time ago, but back then I think we kind of ruled those guys back then,’’ Branch said. “I think now it’s been a little different. Those guys are totally different. It’s a totally different team.’’
Branch wasn’t with the Patriots when they suffered a 28-14 loss to the Jets in Week 2.
“It’s always a big game when we play those guys,’’ Branch said. “Who’s to say what can happen after this game? With four games left, the best thing for us is to take advantage of what’s in front of us.’’
In the meantime, whatever comments come out of the Jets locker room in the next few days are not of interest to the Patriots. If it is trash talking or challenges, don’t expect the Patriots to get involved.
“That’s the nature of the Jets,’’ Crumpler said. “They’re going to do what they do. They take after their coach, they play well. We take after our coach and we play well.’’
When asked if the Patriots were told not to respond to any comments from the Jets, Crumpler said, “We’ve been told to play football.’’
The coaches may have different approaches, but they continue to publicly praise each other. While Ryan is focused on beating Belichick, he went on to talk about his respect for Belichick.
“I came here to beat him, and I’m never going to backtrack on that,’’ Ryan said. “I do respect him and all that, absolutely. But he’s the one to beat.
“I recognize that he’s the best coach in football, and he still is. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to go beat him, because you’re darn right I’m trying to beat him, without question. He’s going to get my best.’’
Belichick also had praise for what Ryan has accomplished.
“I think he’s an excellent coach,’’ Belichick said. “He did a great job at Baltimore, whether it says defensive line coach or defensive coordinator down there.
“He’s doing the same thing with the Jets. Took them to the AFC Championship game last year. Got a great record this year.
“So he’s a good football coach. His teams play hard. They’re obviously well-coached. They handle pressure. They play with a lot of confidence. He’s done an excellent job.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com.