After a week of billing this game as “Bill Belichick against Rex Ryan,” the Jets head coach finally had the last laugh, putting a collective foot down in what proved to be a somewhat emphatic performance in a 28-21 win over New England. The Jets now head to Pittsburgh for the AFC championship game, once again defying the odds on the road in a frothy and hostile Gillette Stadium.
Last Monday, Ryan shouldered the responsibility for the 45-3 shellacking at Foxborough in Week 13, taking the full burden for the stinging defeat. And now Ryan finally had checkmate against Belichick. Only this time he isn't taking any credit.
“I was dead wrong. I thought it’d come down to me and Bill Belichick,” Ryan said. “I’m glad it didn’t.”
Despite the modesty of Ryan, the game in fact did come down to coaching.
Ryan’s Jets came out with a physical brand of football which bore no resemblance to the team that limped out of Foxborough in early December. It was Jets way of backing up his words after a week of taking the questions and criticisms for his remarks. When Ryan uttered the only difference between the two teams in their last trip to Foxborough was the coaching, he drew plenty of jeers.
Now, it appears Ryan was actually the 42-point difference this team was looking for, and for he who bore the criticism and mocking all week should also garner the attention.
“When I heard that, when I heard what Rex said, I knew he was taking one for us,” linebacker Bryan Thomas said. “All year long, he’s had our back. No matter what, he’s had out back. We wanted to have his back for once and I think we did that today. He’s had our back, we should have his.”
It was the statement game that the Jets were looking for last time when they last visited Foxborough but this time it meant so much more. The Jets played loose and free, a team devoid of expectations and pressure going against a Patriots team that expected to win another Super Bowl. While Ryan boldly talked in the preseason of aspirations of lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy this season, the Week 13 loss quickly squelched that talk. But through it all, Ryan repeatedly declared his unwavering confidence in his team.
And everyone, even the most rabid of Jets fans, rolled their eyes and laughed it off. It was merely Rex being Rex.
After all, this was a team that entered the year without much in the way of accomplishments. Yes, there was the playoff run and a trip to the AFC championship last January, but the Jets were still a very ordinary 9-7 bunch in the regular season who needed to win five of their last six games to just make the playoffs. All the Super Bowl talk spearheaded by Ryan throughout the offseason seemed laughable in light of his just one year with the team.
Ryan, though, is getting the last laugh on his critics now.
Amid signs dotting the stands of Gillette Stadium mocking their coach for the recent scandal where he allegedly appeared in a home foot fetish video, the Jets socked it to the home team.
“It was about us stepping up, stepping up as a team because we believed in what Rex was saying about us,” cornerback Dwight Lowery. “We knew he never doubted us for a moment and we didn’t doubt ourselves our him.”
The Jets backed up all of Ryan's words with Sunday’s dominating performance. When he said the two teams were on “level ground,” his audience wasn’t the media or the team’s fan base – he was targeting a group of 53 men located down the hall at the other end of the team’s practice facility. Ryan’s remarks, his unwavering confidence in his team, resonated on Sunday and produced one of the most significant wins in franchise history.
The Jets made the Patriots, the crème de la crème of the AFC the past decade, look very ordinary and out of sync. The defensive backs outmuscled every Patriots receiver, the average pass rush produced five sacks and Mark Sanchez played mistake-free football to build a late 14-point lead that not even the 'Same Old Jets' could give away.
Rex mixed up blitzes, stunts and coverages to keep Tom Brady uncomfortable all game long. The front-runner for the NFL MVP threw his first interception in nearly 400 pass attempts and produced just one touchdown in the first 58 minutes.
When the Jets needed a score, it was Ryan who raised his fist in glory, watching Sanchez find his playmakers in open space and placing a perfect ball to Santonio Holmes to cap off a clutch drive to give his team more breathing room in the final quarter. When the Patriots needed a score, it was Belichick who hung his head, watching Brady chew up eight minutes of clock in the fourth quarter only to turn the ball over on downs.
“We are Rex’s team, he’s the man who believes and trusts in us the most,” said nose tackle Sione Pouha. “He never stopped believing in us and he will keep on believing us all the way.”
And while Ryan’s words are the stuff of hyperbole, all of a sudden his bravado and jawing has some stiff backbone to it. Now, Ryan isn’t just a mad man chasing windmills. Now, he is a man with a dream whose words carry weight.
“We talk because we believe in ourselves. I think that’s where the talk comes from,” Ryan said.
And as he clutched the podium during his post-game press conference, Ryan basked in the lights from the dozens of cameras waiting to catch his every word. This time, though, they weren’t filming to catch a slip of his tongue or another outlandish statement which would be scribbled on headlines to sell newspapers. Every statement Ryan made on Sunday is now backed up not only by a believing team but now a track record of success.
“We’re moving on, ‘Same Old Jets’,” Ryan said, smiling wryly. “We’re going back to the AFC championship game – two years in a row.”
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