FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Bitterness and nastiness have been replaced by praise and compliments.
The New York Jets are done with the New England Patriots. Bring on Big Ben and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s a different feel,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
Sounds different, too.
Last week was all about Ryan vs. Bill Belichick, Antonio Cromartie vs. Tom Brady, and Bart Scott vs. Wes Welker. Sensational back-page headlines in New York and Boston added to all the hype until the Jets took care of business by beating the Patriots 28-21 on Sunday.
“We’ve moved on,” Cromartie said. “We’re getting ready for Pittsburgh now.”
Just don’t expect a bunch of expletives and trash talk to overshadow their AFC championship. This time, it’s not personal for Ryan. Not against Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“You look at our backgrounds, we’re similar,” Ryan said Monday, adding that Tomlin is one of his favorite coaches. “We’re defensive guys. We both have incredible opportunities, we know that. I just want to win a Super Bowl like he has.”
Ryan was motivated last week by the Jets’ 45-3 drubbing at the hands of Belichick’s Patriots last month, an embarrassing performance that New York’s coach was determined to make up for.
“Bill Belichick had dominated me the time before,” Ryan said. “He did. I was just like, ‘Man, that’s not going to happen. No way is that going to happen to me again.’ I’m not in his class, not even close, but I knew one thing: He was going to get my best shot. There was no question, and at the end of the day, it never mattered because of our players.”
He needs them to step up one more time against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to reach their second Super Bowl, and first since Joe Namath backed up his big guarantee 42 years ago.
“For myself, I’ve been here three years in a row,” said Ryan, whose defense helped lead Baltimore to the AFC championship in 2008. “I don’t know if I can handle not winning it. I need to win this game.”
Going into the playoff opener against Indianapolis, Ryan said he badly wanted to beat Peyton Manning, but would be even more motivated against Pittsburgh because the Steelers have caused him more grief than any other team. He beat them just a few weeks ago 22-17, but now the stakes are much higher this time around.
Not enough to take any cheap shots at Tomlin or any of his players, though.
“Give me someone you want me to call out,” Ryan jokingly said, when asked why he wouldn’t use his past failures against Pittsburgh as motivation. “I guess Hines Ward and Casey Hampton. Those would be the two early targets.”
Seriously, though, Ryan seems to really like the Steelers, especially Roethlisberger.
“He’ll just stand there and then make plays down the field,” Ryan said. “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.”
Plus he’s big — 6-foot-5, 240 pounds — and Ryan’s type of player.
“No question,” Ryan said. “I would’ve made him a defensive end when he came out, but obviously, he has the heart. He’s tough, everything you look for, a competitor. He’s anybody’s kind of quarterback.”
Even the Jets players have tossed around the compliments.
“I love Ben, man,” said Cromartie, the same guy who called Brady an expletive last week. “Ben’s a competitor.”
One of the worst losses Ryan was a part of actually helped build his respect for Tomlin and the Steelers. It was Nov. 5, 2007, and Ryan was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator and Tomlin in his first season as Pittsburgh’s coach. The Steelers raced out to a 35-7 halftime lead against the Ravens in a 38-7 rout at Heinz Field.
“They ran the ball every single snap in the second half,” Ryan said, embellishing a bit. “The one thing was, we can stop the run.They got like, a yard a carry. It was just like batting practice, but he wasn’t trying to rub our nose in it. He said, ‘We’re just going to try to run the ball every snap.’ I think he had respect for us.”
In that game, a Steelers fullback — Ryan couldn’t remember who — was jawing at Scott, then with the Ravens, and telling him to look at the scoreboard.
“Bart came over and said, ‘Come on back in because we don’t play to the scoreboard,” Ryan recalled. “We’re going to play as hard as we can, anyway.’ Tomlin looks over and goes, ‘Bart, you want him? You want a piece of him?’ (Bart) goes, ‘Yeah, I want a piece of him.”‘
So, Tomlin sent him out and Scott popped him, separating the Steelers player’s shoulder.
“That’s one of my favorite stories, and it told me a lot about Mike Tomlin,” Ryan said. “He said, ‘Hey, all right, you’re running your mouth. Go get him then. Let’s see what happens.’ Then, he was like, ‘Oh, I probably shouldn’t have done that.’
“He’s that kind of guy. He’s a man’s man and his team plays like that.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)