EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New England Patriots and their fans spent last week making fun of Rex Ryan and the overrated Jets.
Now Rex is laughing at them. In the wake of Sunday's 28-14 beat down of the Patriots, Ryan is 2-1 lifetime against Bill Belichick.
Ryan has also won two more playoff games than the Great Hoodie since taking over in the swamps of Jersey at the start of the 2009 season.
Belichick says all the right things when asked about Ryan. He says he respects Rex and the Ryan family of football minds. He applauds Rex's brother Rob, who won Super Bowl rings as Belichick's linebacker coach. He says he and Rex have different styles, but demonstrates none of the frost he aimed at Eric Mangini when the Man-genius bailed on Belichick and coached the Jets.
Ryan was on a scalding hot seat going into Sunday's game against the Patriots. He made himself a target by wearing a microphone for HBO's Hard Knocks, talking about eating "a f------ snack" and telling the world that the Jets are Super Bowl contenders.
All of the above sounded outright ridiculous when the Jets produced one of the alltime stinkers in their season opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. The Jets were slapped for 125 yards on 14 penalties and they managed only six first downs. Brian Schottenheimer's conservative game plan was mocked. The Jets were booed by their own crowd.
This is how Ryan and the Jets found themselves in a ''must win" situation in Week 2. What Super Bowl contender/pretender could afford to drop its first two games (both at home) then travel to 2-0 Miami with the prospect of starting the season 0-3?
Football America harpooned the Jets after their opening night loss. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was tagged as the new Heath Shuler. Fans turned on the Jets the way they will turn on the Miami Heat come October. If you talk the talk, you'd better be able to walk the walk. We don't like blowhards who can't back up their boasts.
Alas, the Jets recovered from a bad start against New England and whupped the Patriots. Belichick was forced to say, ''they did a better job than we did,'' and Rex was able to regain his preseason mojo.
After the satisfying win, Ryan was asked what he learned about his team. "I didn't learn a whole lot,'' he insisted. "I think a lot of other people learned that we are a lot tougher than they think. We have a lot of resolve. We found a way to get it done. We won't make excuses. We just go out and try to compete.''
What about Sanchez' confidence level after the Baltimore game?
"This guy is more confident than I am, which is saying something,'' said Ryan. "You have to have wide shoulders, especially in this media market. We have the right guy to pull the trigger for us.''
And the right guy coaching the team. Ryan's bluster is refreshing in a league littered with drones. But it's no good unless the Jets win.
Sanchez acknowledged extra pressure on the Jets, but said Ryan's approach enabled him to stay the course.
"We just didn't want to make it bigger than it was,'' said the sophomore quarterback. "Rex had a great message for us when we got back on Tuesday. He didn't want to see anybody with their heads down, moping around, frowning. Just smile, have fun, be us. Get your work done, but have fun with it. That's the way we can play if we're focused.''
Ryan makes it fun. He runs plays with his players (no small feat for a 285-pound coach in a sweater vest), and drops more F-bombs than Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. Ryan was featured on the cover of The New York Times Sunday magazine before the opener and is a regular on the back page of the New York Post and Daily News. Last year he was fined after a fan with a cellphone camera caught him flipping the bird to Miami Dolphins fans while leaving a concert.
Rex made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game in his first year at the helm. His Jets this year are favored to win the AFC East, which has been won by the Patriots in six of the last seven seasons. There was a lot of pressure going into Week 2, but Jets fans are going to run with this win and tell the world that the torch has been passed in the AFC.
It's a little early for that, but Rex and the Jets dodged a big one Sunday.
Maybe the fun is just beginning.