There is a strange sense of deja-vu surrounding the buildup to the third round of this season's Patriots-Jets rivalry. Before the Week 13 blowout the Jets were riding high, and talking like it was New York, not New England that would be sitting on top of the AFC for the playoffs. Rex Ryan called the contest "the marquee game of the year," and promised "a heck of a game." Once the whistle blew, the Jets looked rusty and quickly falling behind en route to a 45-3 embarrassment.
The Jets recovered, and went on to secure the sixth seed in the AFC. They beat Indianapolis last week on the road and are coming back to Foxboro, this time with even more at stake. One might think they would learn their lesson, keep their mouths shut, and focus on playing the game. Not this Jets team. It’s just not their style.
Here is Rex Ryan during a November 29th press conference leading up to the Week 13 game, talking about matching wits with Bill Belichick: "You like to compete against the best and that’s why I like going against him. I know it’s a huge challenge, but it’s something (where) I try to give my best shot each time out and I know he gives us his best shot."
Immediately after the loss Ryan noted "there are a lot of things we would do differently." Clearly that does not apply to the pre-game talk.
During a press conference this week Ryan talked again about going up against Belichick: "I plan on being the best coach on Sunday. That’s what it is, I recognize that my level has to come up and he’s going to get my best shot. He’s going to get everything I have on Sunday. If he slips at all, we’re going to beat him."
So if I understand correctly, last time he was going to ‘try’ to give his best shot, but this time Bill is going to get Rex’s best shot and everything he has.
Before the December matchup, Ryan fielded a question on if he is ready to play after all the talk: "We are ready to play. There's no doubt. We know who New England is."
Ryan reiterated after the loss that he felt the Jets had prepared well: "I thought we were going to play a great game. I really did. We've had ... I thought we were having the best week of practice that we've had."
In his press conference this Monday, Ryan changed his tune: "For whatever reason, I did not have my team prepared the way it should have been prepared and that falls down on me."
Obviously we are not to take everything Rex Ryan says at face value. He went on to excuse his players of blame for their lackluster performance, claiming the gulf in coaching talent was what resulted in the 42-point loss. "They (New England) did a great job and were prepared. It really came down to coaching more than playing." When asked if this was a ploy to place the focus on him rather than his players, Ryan responded "I’m just saying that’s where it should be. Like I said, this would be a tie. If it were up to the players, their play on the field, this would be a tie, this game."
Really? Without Ryan's ineffective gameplan and his failure to prepare the team, this game would have ended 3-3? The players had nothing to do with the outcome? What about the incredible interception by Devin McCourty on an underthrown Mark Sanchez pass to Braylon Edwards? Edwards covered McCourty’s eyes with his hand, but Devin was still able to secure the pick. Did Rex plan for Sanchez to underthrow that ball? Did Belichick coach McCourty on how to catch the ball blind? What about the other two Sanchez interceptions where he seemed to simply ignore the fact that there was a defender between him and the receiver? Was he instructed to throw those passes no matter what?
Trying to deflect blame and pressure from your players is a classic coaching tactic. It can be useful, especially in big games as it helps players concentrate on playing, and not have to worry about the media. They can do their jobs, and the coach can take care of the rest.
I appreciate the uniqueness on Rex Ryan's coaching style. It works for him. Since he joined the Jets they have won three road playoff games in two years. He's a good coach, and entitled to run things as he sees fit. Bill Belichick's preference is to say very little to the press so as not to give away any useful information. He allows what happens on the field to speak for itself.
Despite their contrasting approaches, Ryan accomplishes more or less the same thing as Belichick. Repeating the same bold statements over and over and developing a reputation that your words are not to be taken seriously is basically equivalent to saying nothing. Plus it is entertaining. The problem for the Jets is that players take cues from their coach.
This explains why members of the Jets have been vigorously attempting to engage in a war of words, and why the Patriots have deflected these attempts. But when players also join in the discussion, calling out and insulting, or even threatening opponents, it becomes counterproductive. The Patriots have made it clear that they will not be baited into a response. By fueling the rivalry and adding to the hype, players like Antonio Cromartie and Bart Scott are only distracting themselves and putting even more pressure on the Jets.
In the Week 13 contest, Cromartie gave up a 25-yard touchdown to Deion Branch in the first quarter on a play where Branch got Cromartie to bite on an outside fake, then caught an inside slant, breaking a weak arm tackle from Antonio en route to the end zone. In the second quarter, Cromartie lost track of Brandon Tate in the end zone as Brady was scrambling, allowing Tate to make a toe-tapping 4-yard touchdown catch as he fell out of bounds.
Perhaps Cromartie plays better when he feels he has to back-up his trash talk, and that’s why he is making such strong statements. He did have an interception against Tom Brady on a deep bomb to Randy Moss in the Week 2 matchup that the Jets won 28-14, so he is certainly capable of backing up his comments with a strong performance. Unfortunately for Cromartie, Moss is no longer with the team, and he will be forced to cover less predictable receivers.
Insulting or threatening the safety of a fellow NFL player is unprofessional, but in the end these are just words. They merely provide something to discuss as the anticipation builds. For people like Cromartie and Rex Ryan, who don’t believe you have to earn the right to talk smack, it’s a win-win proposition. Since neither of them care that their most recent performance against the Patriots was poor, there is nothing for them to lose. If the Patriots win big and Antonio is burned for more touchdowns, nobody is going to blame the loss on his mouth. If Rex suffers another embarrassing defeat, it’s not going to keep him from saying the same things again next year. On the other hand, if Cromartie finishes with three interceptions, and the Jets blow the Patriots away, some might claim that he ‘psyched Brady out,’ building his trash-talking legend. With a big win, Ryan would claim the he is even closer to Belichick’s level, and that he finally landed his 'best shot.'
What it comes down to is the Jets love to talk, and the Patriots don’t care. It’s not about proving a point. Sure, sticking it to a rival is nice, but what motivates New England is the possibility of winning another Super Bowl. Neither team is fond of the other, but each wants desperately to advance to the AFC Championship game. Only one will have their wish granted Sunday night.