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Steely resolve wins it

It's already personal, as Jets and Patriots will meet up close

January 16, 2011|SAM FARMER

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — Their jerseys are green, their language is blue and their coach could scarcely get more colorful.

They are the New York Jets, and they play at New England on Sunday for the right to advance to the AFC championship game. Even though the Patriots beat them by six touchdowns here in early December -- "The biggest butt-whipping I've ever taken as a coach," the Jets' Rex Ryan said after the 45-3 thrashing -- the Jets spent the week leading up to this playoff game talking smack.

"This is about Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan," Ryan said, referring to the Patriots coach. "There's no question. It's personal."

If that's the case, this game is a showdown between the coach who says nothing (and has three Super Bowl rings) and the one who says everything (and is working on earning his first as a head coach.)

In the days leading up to this game, it was Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie who created the biggest stir by using an expletive to describe Tom Brady, then challenging the Patriots quarterback and likely MVP to throw in his direction.

Ryan, in a conference call with New England reporters, had a chance to chastise his player but instead said: "We're not apologizing for anything. We have a right to our opinion, and a comment like that, it's no big deal."

Through it all, the Patriots have been largely mum, with their only jabs bundled in effusive compliments. Brady didn't flinch at the Cromartie put-down.

"I've been called worse," the quarterback said with a smile. "We're spending our time getting ready to play. I don't think we're spending our time figuring out what we can do to combat what people say about us.

"Not everybody has great things to say about our team or organization or certain players, and that's the way it's always been. We're just going to do our talking on the field. I think that's what we've always chosen to do."

Asked if words can impact what happens on the field, Brady was a bit more ominous, saying, "I don't know. We'll see. We'll see Sunday night at 7:30. That's when everybody will be able to tell whether it played a role or not."

Don't be fooled, warned former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, the Patriots are biting their tongues ... but biding their time.

"I'll say this about the New England Patriots: They'll say all the right things, and they'll say, 'It's just talk,' " said Cowher, a CBS analyst. "But back in that locker room when Bill Belichick's talking to his team, some of those quotes will come back.

"Bill Belichick will make this personal, and he'll make his players take it personal. I think I wouldn't wake a sleeping giant. I think Rex may have done that."

Trent Dilfer thinks there's a shrewd strategy to it all. He was quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2000-01, when Ryan was their defensive line coach. The way Dilfer sees it, Ryan's just doing what Coach Brian Billick did then -- acting as a lightning rod, in hopes of putting the spotlight on himself and taking it off his players.

Dilfer recalls Billick addressing the team at the start of the postseason and explaining his plan.

"He said, 'I'm going to go to the media and be brash and bold, and take all the heat off you guys,' " said Dilfer, now an ESPN analyst. "That's like Rex is doing now. He's coming out and saying, 'I'm going to take it all. You guys won't have to deal with it.' He's going to deflect a lot of the stress of having to deal with the national media."

Not everyone sees it that way. To many, this is simply Rex being Rex -- and following in the footsteps of his brash, plain-speaking, feather-ruffling father, Buddy Ryan, the defensive guru-turned-head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.

Reached last week at his horse farm in Kentucky, Buddy took no issue with his son saying what he feels like saying.

"Guys get themselves ready to play all kinds of different ways," the elder Ryan told Jim Litke of the Associated Press. "And the way I see it, talking is a hell of a lot better than puking."

Exactly what that means isn't entirely clear. But Buddy has long been known to speak his mind, even if it leaves people raising their eyebrows and scratching their heads. Back when he coached the Eagles, there was similar speculation that he made bombastic comments to take pressure off his players.

"I always liked Buddy, I really did," Bill Parcells, a longtime NFC East coaching rival, said by phone. "I think he was a straightforward, no-BS kind of guy. That's the kind of neighborhood I grew up in."

Unvarnished as he might be, Buddy acknowledged there is a price that comes with all the tough talk.

"The only drawback," he said, "is you better be able to back it up."

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