NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Rex Ryan set the tone early in the week — with a brash boast, of course.
His Jets, the coach declared, have been the best football team in New York since he came to town. And he said the facts bear that out: Two playoff trips compared to none by the Giants. But, Ryan wants a lot more.
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“I don’t want to be the one that is not looked at as the best team in my own state,” Ryan said. “There’s no way. I want to be the best team, period. Now, do I have the courage to say it? Absolutely.”
For the first time in his three seasons as the coach of the Jets (8-6), Ryan gets to play for New York supremacy when he and Tom Coughlin’s Giants (7-7) square off Saturday in a game with plenty of playoff implications.
That’s the major focus, getting to the postseason, and it’s what prompted the normally tight-lipped Coughlin to say this about Ryan’s bravado: “Talk is cheap. Play the game.”
Ryan kept going throughout the week, and players on both sides took some jabs at each other. But both sides have insisted they need to win, regardless of bragging rights, to stay in the postseason picture — even if that might not be completely true. Still, the sense of desperation is clear.
“We all understand that it’s going to be some good competition and I mean, just look at the circumstances of this game,” said Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress, a former Giants star. “The loser of that game won’t go to the playoffs; Christmas Eve, Jets versus the Giants. This is what New York is all about. It couldn’t be a better setting.”
If the Giants beat the Jets and then Dallas at home next weekend, they’ll win the NFC East and return to the playoffs for first time since 2008. But a loss Saturday and a Cowboys win would make for what Burress predicts will be “a bittersweet Christmas” for the Giants.
“It’s going to be do or die,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said.
Two wins will just about clinch the Jets a third straight wild-card appearance under Ryan — the first time the team would be in the playoffs three straight years.
“It would be huge, no question,” Ryan said. “That would be a great accomplishment.”
A loss still wouldn’t eliminate them, but they aren’t even thinking in those terms.
“It’s a big one,” Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “We want to win these next two and hopefully control our destiny going into the playoffs, not have to sit around in a couple weeks hoping certain teams lose or not. If we can just win these next two, then we’ll be OK.”
When this matchup was first announced several months ago, many thought it could potentially be a preview to a Subway Super Bowl, something New York-area fans have dreamed of for decades. Instead of the teams being among the elite in their conferences, they’ve been surprisingly mediocre.
That was never more clear than last week when the Giants were embarrassed by the lowly Washington Redskins 23-10, and the Jets were humiliated by the Philadelphia Eagles 45-19. With so much on the line, though, that might actually give this game even more juice than if both had already clinched postseason berths.
“Both teams are fighting for playoff position and both teams are coming off losses so those are the reasons that it is a big game,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “There may be other factors that come into that, but none should be bigger than the reasons that both teams are trying to get into the playoffs.”
Jets linebacker Bart Scott agreed, brushing off all of the New York-New York chatter.
“I spent a lot of my money in the offseason, so I’m depending on these playoff checks to get me by,” he said with a smile. “I’m just playing. It’s about getting to the playoffs. I could care less about the Jets-Giants thing. If this was some other time, maybe that would be more important earlier in the season. Right now, it’s about the playoffs.”
It’s the first regular-season game the teams are playing against each other at MetLife Stadium, their new home for the past two years. Ryan initially thought the game would be played to open the season on Sept. 11, but likes that there’s such a meaningful matchup going on at this point in the schedule.
“I want to be the team that people talk about, that are interested in, and you do that by winning,” Ryan said. “And that’s who I want to be, and I want to be the best team in the National Football League. It’s not just in this city, but clearly, when you have two teams that share the same name and share the same stadium, it’s much bigger than that.”
The Jets are ranked seventh against the pass, but Manning is having a career year. He has thrown for a franchise-record 4,362 yards, and has 25 touchdown passes, while Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are the first pair of Giants receivers to have 1,000 yards in the same season.
New York also will have to handle a sometimes-dominant pass rush from the Giants that includes the explosive Jason Pierre-Paul, who has 13½ sacks, and Justin Tuck.
Meanwhile, Sanchez seems to play his best in big-time pressure situations, and the running game with Shonn Greene appears to finally be on track after the Jets flip-flopped earlier in the season on whether they would be a pass-first or run-first offense.
“I absolutely think it’s going to be a 60-minute game,” Ryan said, “and it’s probably going to take all 60 to figure it out.”
Playoff hopes, city supremacy and all.
“I could care less about bragging rights,” Tuck said. “The last time I checked, the mayor of New York ran the city. New Jersey, Governor (Chris) Christie, doesn’t he have a lot to say with what goes on in New Jersey? I didn’t see me making any rulings on anything. Rex Ryan, either. We have a lot of catching up to do. What is it, 27 rings now the Yankees have? They run New York if you want to talk about running New York, but other than that, it’s the playoffs.”
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