The 12–5 New York Jets and the 14–2 New England Patriots renew their fierce rivalry this Sunday in Foxboro, as they play for the right to advance to the AFC title game.
This will be the third time these two differently coached teams have met this year. The Jets won 28–14 at home way back in September and then were famously stomped by the Patriots in December 45–3 in a game so bad that second-year coach Rex Ryan actually buried the game ball afterwards.
“I was outcoached in that game,” Ryan said Monday. Ryan, never at a loss for words, elaborated “I did not have my team prepared the way it should have been prepared. I recognized that this week is about Bill Belichick against Rex Ryan—it’s personal. It’s about him against me and that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
Clearly, the Jets looked awful the last time they played the Pats. New England scored early and often. And it was after they scored each time that Ryan noticed something about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
“He took a shot at me by his antics on the field. He always points [to the Jets sideline] after he scores, to everybody. I don’t like seeing that. Nobody does.”
Ryan wasn’t the only Jet who noticed Brady’s “antics” as evidenced by cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s interview with The Daily News in which he reportedly said, among other things, he hates Tom Brady.
Meanwhile, the Patriots were their usual non-controversial selves when asked about the whole thing, “I think I’ve been called worse,” said the sure-to-be-named MVP Tom Brady, referring to Cromartie’s comments.
“I don’t remember that [pointing towards the sidelines]. I don’t think I’ve ever pointed at anybody, that’s definitely not my style.”
Patriots coach, and three-time Super Bowl winner, Bill Belichick was his usual don’t-give-the-opponent-any-incentive self when asked about Cromartie’s comments Wednesday. “I’m really trying to focus on getting our team ready to play on Sunday,” Belichick said.
He used the same diplomacy when asked if the game was personal to him. “We’re going to do our best to win on Sunday.” He then continued his mastery of the not-answering-your-question answers when asked if he was going to have a pregame race with Ryan saying, “I think we’ll do our best to win on Sunday.”
[b]Replacement for Woody[/b]
Lost in all the controversial comments this week was the news that Jets right tackle Damien Woody has an Achilles’ injury in his left leg and will be placed on injured reserve, effectively ending his season.
“It’s unfortunate. He played great and played the whole game against [Indianapolis’s] Robert Mathis, who is a great player. We’re fortunate. I’ve always said that we have the best backup tackle in the league in Wayne Hunter,” said Ryan.
The Jets also have league-leading kickoff return man Brad Smith’s groin injury to deal with as he didn’t practice Wednesday.
“We expect Brad to play. If Brad can go, he leads the league in kickoff returns, I would keep Brad in that role if he’s 100 percent,” said Ryan when asked if Cromartie would possibly return kicks even if Smith’s available. The Jets will need every possible field position yard from whoever is returning kicks.
The Patriots defense actually ranks 25th in the NFL in yards given up, but are eighth in defensive points allowed. The secret may be that their defense led the league with 36 takeaways. As a team the Patriots were an astonishing +27 (secnd best was +14) in turnover margin.
“That’s an incredible stat,” said Ryan, referring to the Patriots turnover margin. “I think it’s the second-best in NFL history or close to it. Their formula is simple. They get ahead of you, you have to try to catch up, and when you do, you make mistakes.”
Clearly, the Jets have little margin for error. Any mistakes on Sunday will result in another burial on Monday.