Back on Dec. 19 the New York Jets found themselves at a bit of a crossroads in their season. After a 9–2 start was followed by back-to-back losses that more or less prevented them from winning the division, the “same old Jets” were rumored to be back.
A loss to the mighty Steelers, in Pittsburgh, was expected, as was a loss in Chicago the following week. But something unexpected happened that day—the Jets won.
And with the win came a change to the definition of “same old Jets.”
“Same old Jets. Came down to Pittsburgh and got a win,” said an ecstatic Jets head coach Rex Ryan back then. “Like I told our guys…put your little mark here, we may be back.”
They are back, as the now 13–5 Jets revisit Pittsburgh to face the 13–4 Steelers for the right to go to the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Historically speaking, the two franchises are almost at polar ends of the spectrum when talking about playoff success as the Steelers have won six Super Bowls in seven appearances and have made it to the AFC Championship game 14 previous times.
Meanwhile, the Jets won their only Super Bowl appearance back when “Broadway Joe” Namath was under center. They have lost each of their three appearances in the AFC Championship games since that time, hence the phrase “same old Jets.”
But, however disappointing the past has been for the Jets, Ryan is focused on the present. “That’s why this week is about winning the AFC Championship game. It’s not about winning the Super Bowl or going to the Super Bowl,” he said in his Monday press conference.
“For myself, I’ve been three years in a row [including with Baltimore two years ago] and I don’t know if I can handle not winning it.”
The task will be difficult this week though. The centerpiece of the Steelers team is 6-foot-5-inch 241-pound impossible-to-tackle All-Pro quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
While Manning and Brady are pocket passers, Roethlisberger brings a different element. “He keeps plays alive,” said Ryan. “If he [Manning] doesn’t like what he sees [from the pocket], even though he’s the hardest guy in the league to sack, eventually he’ll get down with the ball. He won’t take the hit.
“Whereas, Roethlisberger, will beat you up. I’ve never seen a guy take the hits he can take and also make people miss the way he does, and be as accurate on the run,” said Ryan.
Notice there’s nothing “personal” here between Ryan and the Steelers—quite the contrast to his approach against Indianapolis and New England. Rather an element of respect permeates Ryan’s commentary.
Was it planned this way? Why deviate from what’s worked in the past?
“Every game’s different,” said Ryan. “I don’t have a plan on what to say or whatever. I just tell it the way it is. If you can’t get motivated to win an AFC Championship game, then I don’t know what else you need.”
All he needs is the same old Jets.