Ryan wasn’t all talk in end
FOXBOROUGH — For a week he had been a voice crying in the Jersey wilderness. His team respected the Patriots, but did not fear them, the HC of the NYJ kept saying. This was going to be the second most important game in the history of the franchise and his team was going to win it. The rest of the world might have thought that Rex Ryan’s mouth was as big as the Holland Tunnel but the torrent of brash words that came pouring out of it turned out to be prophetic.
“Everybody else never believed us or whatever but we believed,’’ football’s Falstaff declared last night after the Jets had expunged the Patriots, 28-21, at Gillette Stadium to advance to the AFC Championship game at Pittsburgh Sunday. We worked too hard to get back here. We came here for a reason. We thought we were the better team.’’
Nobody outside of the New York locker room believed that, not after watching the 45-3 beatdown New England delivered in their Monday night meeting here last month. “They were head and shoulders better than we were,’’ Ryan acknowledged. “But I knew if we applied ourselves and we played the way we’re capable of playing we could beat them. And that’s exactly what happened.’’
This meeting was personal between himself and Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Ryan had declared, like a beaten heavyweight who wanted a final showdown for the title. The Jets had won the first bout in the Meadowlands in September, but they were so overmatched in the Route 1 rematch that Ryan had insisted on shouldering the blame. “The plan may have looked good on paper, but it wasn’t realistic,’’ he’d conceded last week. “When we had to make the adjustments, we couldn’t execute them.’’
This time, the Jets coach predicted, it would be a contest between coaches. Or would it? “I was dead wrong,’’ Ryan confessed yesterday. “I thought it would come down to me and Belichick. Thank goodness it never did because he won that battle like he always does. It came down to our players and it came down to the assistant coaches and we won that battle.’’
Yet Ryan clearly won the clipboard duel with a realistic game plan based on what Ryan always says his team does best— run the football and play assertive defense. That was how New York had taken down the Colts in Indianapolis a week earlier and that was the idea yesterday. Use Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson as a 1-2 punch out of the backfield to ease the production burden on quarterback Mark Sanchez and put enough pressure on Tom Brady to make him uncomfortable.
“They’re going to make plays on you,’’ Ryan acknowledged. “We felt we had a good plan but plans are useless without great play from your players. Our guys bought in. They did a great job.’’
The Jets had chuckled when they’d heard Ryan talking about going mano a mano with the Hoodied One. “Commanders-in-chief, that’s what it is,’’ safety Dwight Lowery had said. “They’re both the face of the franchise. Yeah, it is them two against each other, but it’s also matchups in the game that are just as important as that matchup.’’
Though Ryan thought he’d been outcoached by Belichick again this time, his players gave a unanimous decision to their man. “His team won the game today and he called a heck of a ballgame for us and the numbers proved it,’’ Tomlinson proclaimed. “He was better.’’
Ryan was decidedly more animated, jogging-jiggling down the sideline to embrace Greene after he’d scored the killer touchdown with 1:41 to play. Then Belichick embraced Ryan heartily after the clock ran out, one commander-in-chief to another. “I’m not going to share that,’’ said Ryan, when asked what Belichick had said to him, but said that it was “very complimentary.’’
Did he feel vindicated, as Joe Namath had upon beating the Colts in Super Bowl III after bragging that he would? “We talked because we believe in ourselves,’’ said Ryan, who observed that “maybe I’m not wrong about everything I say.
“That was where the talk came from. There’s a huge amount of respect that our team has for New England. That’s a great football team, but we’re not afraid of anybody. Maybe people take it the wrong way but we don’t try to badmouth an opponent. We respect every opponent. We especially respect these guys. We came here on a mission. We’re trying to win a Super Bowl. We’ve still got a long way to go.’’
But the Jets are still airborne and headed for Pittsburgh. They were in a tailspin in December, dropping three of four games. They were beaten so badly here that they buried a game ball on their premises to put it behind them. Now, after the greatest reversal in NFL playoff history, they’re one victory awayfrom playing in the Super Bowl. “We’re moving on,’’ Ryan declared. “Same old Jets. Going to the AFC Championship game two years in a row. Only difference is, we’re planning on winning this one.’’
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.