EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Jason Taylor expects to hear a familiar sound when he walks out of the tunnel at MetLife Stadium on Monday night.
And, it won’t be warm, friendly cheers.
“I’m sure I’ll be booed,” the Miami Dolphins linebacker said. “I was booed for a lot of years in that stadium or in that town.”
That’s because Taylor was perhaps the most disliked opposing player among New York Jets fans, and the feeling was certainly mutual. But in an unexpected twist to one of the NFL’s top rivalries, Taylor signed with the Jets in the 2010 offseason and fans gradually embraced him as one of their own. He helped New York reach the AFC championship game.
Now he’s back behind enemy lines — in Jets’ fans minds — and will try to help the winless Dolphins (0-4) send the struggling Jets (2-3) to their fourth straight loss Monday night.
“I tried to do my best to make them cheer last year, but being back on the other side of the coin now I’m sure I’ll get my fair share of boos, which is to be expected,” he said. “They’re Jets fans and they should be and they’re very passionate about their team and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Taylor is the NFL’s active career sacks leader and eighth on the all-time list with 133½, including one this season. He’s far from the dominant force he once was, when he was sent quarterbacks to the turf in bunches, but he had his moments in his one season in green and white.
“I’ll say this,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said, “we would’ve loved to have had Jason back.”
Moments after the Jets lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game, Taylor fought back tears as he talked about his time in New York and getting that far in the playoffs for the first time. He had put aside his hatred for the Jets and their fans — he once called them “classless” — for a Super Bowl run. Taylor also acknowledged he didn’t know if he would ever take the field again.
New York appeared to help make that decision when it released him in March. But Taylor still wanted to play, and was hoping for another year with the Jets, who also had interest in bringing him back, but at a lesser salary. Taylor, who had five sacks with the Jets, headed back home to Miami for his third stint with the Dolphins a few months later.
“He was great, a real professional about the way he went about his business, about the way he interacted with other players on the team,” Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “He was respectful with the trainers and equipment staff. He was the ultimate pro. We loved having him, and it’s going to be fun to face him.”
Sanchez took the high road after Taylor recently said he thought Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne had more overall talent than the Jets’ signal caller. Sanchez said that’s what Taylor has to say; he has to support his own guy.
Taylor did offer this about Sanchez: “He’s a darn good quarterback.”
Ryan often praised Taylor last season and talked up his everlasting ability to rush the passer, something the Jets could use now.
“I thought Jason was great for this football team, his presence on the field and in the locker room, as well,” Ryan said. “He’s a class act all the way, so I don’t regret signing Jason Taylor here for one second.”
Even though Taylor has firsthand knowledge of how Ryan runs his defense?
“We’re not just a ‘This is the defense we run each week,'” Ryan said. “But I’m sure he can help some.”
No doubt about it, according to Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake.
“Him going away to an unnamed team and having him come back, the wisdom is something you can’t get anywhere,” Wake said. “You can’t coach that. It’s invaluable.”
For years, Taylor talked about his dislike for the Jets and their fans, but he doesn’t hate them anymore. He said his one season changed his perspective on the rivalry, not that his approach on the field will be any different, of course.
“I’m not going to play any easier because I know them and am friends with them,” Taylor said. “They aren’t going to take it easy on me, either. I’m sure they want to make me regret not going there or whatever. It’ll be a fun game, a game that both teams need to win. It’ll be a typical New York-Miami heated, intense game.”
And there’s plenty on the line with this one, too. The Jets are a team in near-crisis as players have taken jabs at each other in the locker room, with wide receiver Santonio Holmes calling out the offensive line for not giving Sanchez enough time to throw, and guard Brandon Moore saying Holmes’ comments were out of line and have a “fragmenting effect” on the locker room.
Some Jets added it’s a “must-win” game, even just six weeks into the season.
For the Dolphins, they’re trying to avoid their second 0-5 start in five seasons and will have Matt Moore at quarterback with Henne out for the season with a separated shoulder.
Coach Tony Sparano might feel the pressure intensify with another loss; some folks already are calling for his job. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall said he’s going to show more passion, with his goal to be ejected in the second quarter after maybe getting into a fight with the Jets’ Antonio Cromartie or Bart Scott.
Yep, just another ho-hum Dolphins-Jets game on Monday night.
“It’s not desperation,” Taylor said. “There’s no reason to be desperate. You start being desperate, you do things outside of yourself and you start to take too many risks. You end up making mistakes because you’re playing with desperation. Have that sense of urgency and, trust me, we fully anticipate that they will have that sense of urgency in focus, and we’re going to have the same thing.”