Today Jets fans are bursting with green pride, while fans of the New England Patriots just might be green with envy, but no matter what the game last night settled – at least for this season – the score between the two teams in favor of the Jets. The Jets now head into their second AFC Championship Game in a row, and one has to give a great deal of credit to Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan as the man who has got them there.
Make no mistake, this was a battle of wits and wills between two tough competitors. You could say that Mark Sanchez beat Tom Brady, or you could say the Jets’ defense beat Tom Brady (sacking him five times in the process), and you could even say the Jets’ offense was just better than the Pats’ offense. While these things are all true in regard to last night’s game, the real battle – as stated during last week by Ryan – was between the head coaches Ryan and Bill Belichick.
Last week I referred to Ryan and Belichick as Luke Piewalker and Darth Bull respectively (alluding to the famous Star Wars characters), but as I watched the game last night, something made Belichick lose his imposing status. Wearing a frumpy Patriots’ hoody and his headphones, Belichick looked more like a worn-out Yoda who the force did not have with him. At times Belichick seemed lost, as if the proceedings could not be happening before his eyes as his padawans were getting clobbered.
What even seemed more impressive was that the Jets defense got to Brady. Besides sacking him five times, Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Drew Coleman, and company rattled Brady’s cage. During every possession he seemed rushed and even flustered, trying to find someone to throw the ball to but being dogged by that relentless Jets defense that had him flinching even when no one was close to him.
Sanchez was impressive going 16 – 25 for 194 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. While he no doubt had to be nervous going into this game at Foxborough, he showed the grit and determination of one more experienced on this night, and this ongoing maturation process has been happening though not always obvious in the later games of the season. Now it seems Sanchez has found himself, is comfortable with his receivers, and is playing the game smarter than he ever has before.
Last week Rex Ryan said that there was the only one bigger game in Jets team history than this one, and that was the victory of Joe Namath and his team in Super Bowl III. At this time I thought that was more typical Ryan bluster, but now I see the wisdom of this comment. Beating the Patriots—and especially beating Belichick—was indeed crucial and exorcises the haunting 45-3 loss to the Pats last month.
Now the Jets will turn their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Jets can indeed beat the Steelers next week and reach the Super Bowl, the achievement will be even more amazing because they will have won three playoff games in a row against the best teams around: the Colts, the Patriots, and the Steelers. Even more amazing is the fact that they will have done this on the road.
There will be lots of talk going on this week, and I am sure much of it will be coming from Ryan as per his usual routine. Still, despite all the talk and all the hype, Ryan and his men came out and walked the walked. In a few more weeks, they may even get to walk the walk of Super Bowl champions. If they do win it all, should we worry that Rex will finally run out of things to say? Not a chance.