NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Confidence is contagious.
So is woofing.
After several seasons as the runaway leader of the Jets in both categories, it will be interesting to find out this week whether Rex Ryan knows the difference. He was determined to change the team’s culture only a few months into his first stint as a head coach in June 2009, when he called out his AFC East rival.
“I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings,” Ryan said at the time. “I came to win, let’s put it that way.”
His Jets have split four meetings against Belichick’s Patriots since, with the home team winning each time. That alone might explain why Ryan strategically held his tongue after New York beat Indianapolis to book a place next Sunday at New England. Then again, he might still be smarting from the 45-3 beating the Patriots administered the last time the teams met.
“Obviously, they didn’t have a good night that night,” Belichick said Sunday.
He droned on, very matter-of-factly, about the things that New York does well — run the football, push around opponents on both lines and cover man-to-man in the defensive secondary.
“I don’t think they’re a whole lot different than, really, what they’ve been all year,” Belichick said. “They do a lot of things well.”
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Belichick wasn’t willing to discuss any matters between the teams outside the lines of the field, though. Asked about any lingering effects from the Patriots’ dominating win, he suggested asking the Jets instead. Asked about Ryan’s dig that the Pats’ coaching staff was propping up quarterback Tom Brady, Belichick replied, “You have to ask Rex or somebody else about that.”
Contrast that with Ryan’s pronouncements since arriving in New York, a habit he reveled in and encouraged by giving the “Hard Knocks” cameras almost unfettered access to training camp this past summer. When the wince-worthy moments spilled over into the regular season — Braylon Edwards was arrested on a drunk-driving charge — the coach was somehow surprised.
“This team works too hard to be looked at in this light,” he said back then.
“I think our football team has learned our lessons,” Ryan added a moment later, noting that he and his coaches and players “have to be held accountable to each other.”
Ryan inherited more than a hearty appetite and a gift for drawing up defenses from his dad, Buddy, one of the league’s best defensive minds. He also learned to talk smack regularly, a characteristic that endeared Buddy to his players — up to a point.
As defensive coordinator in Chicago, then as head coach in Philadelphia and Arizona, Buddy gave his players a wide berth and a share of the spotlight, but left it to them to back up his boasts. At every stop, they eventually tired of the task, acted out more and won less and less.
His son is already well along the career arc his father traced, notably the quick success. Whether he learns to control his tongue and his team, starting this week, could decide whether he follows the blueprint on the way down, too.
Ryan did plenty of crowing after Saturday night’s win, but carefully sidestepped questions about the Pats. “I think we earned about 12 hours of enjoying this victory,” he said. But few of his players followed suit.
“This game is officially over. You’d better believe I’m thinking about New England,” Edwards said.
Ryan arranged to bury the football from the 45-3 loss, but talk was already circulating in the victorious locker room about exhuming it.
“We remember what they did to us,” safety Brodney Pool said.
“Not going to happen again,” added Dwight Lowery, a defensive backfield mate standing nearby.
Maybe not, but this much appears certain: The opening week of the postseason only reinforced the perception that this season’s Super Bowl champion is likely to come out of the AFC. The final four on that side of the bracket — New England, New York, Pittsburgh and Baltimore — have been, in some order, the four best teams since the regular season began, but the toughest stretch is just beginning.
Ryan’s Jets have been up-and-down performers. If he’s smart, their coach will make sure that the talking they do the rest of the week stays at a simmer instead of a boil. Belichick may be dull, but his teams follow his lead, preparing meticulously and rarely having trouble making statements in the biggest games. The last thing they need is encouragement.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.