FOXBORO, Mass. -- Sure, they talked all week. Boldly, brashly, and on at least one occasion, profanely.
But come kickoff on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Jets stopped all the talking and started coaching, and playing and thoroughly outperforming the Patriots in almost every way possible. And that's why they're bound for Pittsburgh and next Sunday's AFC Championship Game. It's not what they said. It's what they did.
Maybe that's what we've been missing about Rex Ryan and his chatty Jets for most of the past two years. It's not their mouths that make their game. It's their game that makes their mouths. What's that they say about it not being bragging if you can back it up? The Jets just backed it up. Every last juicy word of it. Ryan talked about outcoaching Bill Belichick all week, and then he went out and did it.
"We talk because we believe in ourselves,'' said Ryan, basking in his team's latest stunner, a 28-21 divisional-round upset of the same Patriots who demolished New York 45-3 on this same field almost six weeks ago. "That's where the talk came from. There is a huge amount of respect that our team has for New England. But we aren't afraid of anybody. We're not in fear of anybody. We came here on a mission. We're trying to win a Super Bowl.''
Remarkably enough, the 6-seeded Jets are one of four NFL teams still in that particular hunt, and it's not an overstatement to say Ryan is clearly the biggest reason why. Love him or loathe him, Ryan gave his team the difference-making edge on Sunday with a defensive game plan that left Tom Brady and the high-flying Patriots befuddled and off-balance for most of the day.
It was a masterful performance by the Jets, and player after player in the New York locker room gave credit to Ryan and his ability to disguise New York's pass coverages and create the schemes that brought consistent pressure on Brady.
"It was unbelievable,'' said Jets defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, a 14-year veteran. "The game plan was out of sight. It had everything. We did some stuff I've never seen a pro football coach do. Ever. And that was Rex. It was the craziest thing. I don't know how we did it, but we made one thing look like this, and another thing look like that. When you can confuse a Hall of Fame quarterback, you know your game plan is working.''
Pryce spent three seasons in Baltimore with Ryan, playing on a Ravens defense that Ryan coordinated and perennially considered one of the best in the NFL. But he called Sunday Ryan's best game-planning work ever, and marveled at how well New York was able to frustrate the quarterback who's a shoo-in to win his second MVP award in the past four years.
"I thought the game plan was going to work, but I didn't know it was going to work that well,'' Pryce said. "At the end of the day, receivers run routes and DBs cover. It's supposed to be simple. But they found a way to make it as complicated as possible, and Tom Brady literally had no answer. They had no answer for it.
"Rex really coached today. These last two weeks, he's been in the defensive meeting room every day. Every day. He had a big hand in putting this game plan together. Much more than normal. And it worked. He came up with some stuff [Sunday] that just literally confused Tom Brady beyond belief.''
If you saw this game, you know exactly what Pryce is talking about. The clock in Brady's head, the one that activates whenever he's in the pocket, was just a bit off all day long. Mixing their coverages and getting good solid pressure mostly without blitzing, the Jets had Brady looking uncomfortable and hesitant on most pass plays, with none of the crisp offensive rhythm that New England had during its awe-inspiring eight-game winning streak.
The Jets made Brady look anything but Brady-esque. And the more New England pressed, the more the confidence of the Jets defense soared.
"A football player only takes so many seconds [in the pocket], so after your first read's not open, Tom Brady's shaking his head and wondering who's going to hit him next?'' Pryce said. "He had to start dumping the ball off, and any time you can do that to a guy like that, you're going to win.''
The Jets sacked Brady five times, getting three of those in the tone-setting first half. New York's often-used zone coverages seemed to baffle No. 12, and when he threw an early interception to Jets linebacker David Harris -- his first pick since Week 5, a span of 340 passes -- Pryce and Co. started to sense his growing desperation.
"That's when I was like, 'Yep, we got 'em,''' Pryce said. "I could see some of the horror in his eyes when nobody was open, and he's not a running quarterback, so you knew he was going to stand in there and get hit. And he got hit plenty.''
Ryan preached all week to his defenders that Brady and the vaunted Patriots offense was stoppable. New England averaged 37.4 points per game during its streak, winning by an average of three-plus touchdowns. The Jets contributed mightily themselves to that dominance, with that galling 42-point loss here on the Monday night of Week 13. But Ryan also showed his Jets video of Brady's past three playoff games, and the record bore out an uninspired showing against the Chargers in the 2007 AFC title game, the monumental upset loss to the Giants in that season's Super Bowl, and last year's 33-14 first-round humiliation at the hands of the Ravens in Gillette Stadium.
Ryan basically brainwashed his players into believing that Brady could be beaten, and would be beaten. Then he showed them how to do it. And they followed his plan to a T. That's the essence of coaching at its best. Brady finished 29 of 45 for 299 yards, but his two touchdowns, one interception and 89.0 passer rating was noticeably below his MVP-level production of the regular season.
"We were given basically no chance,'' Jets linebacker Bart Scott said of New York's heavy-underdog status. "But we also knew that his quarterback rating over the last four or five playoff games was about 66. The TD-to-INT ratio was high. And we knew when we looked on [both] rosters that we had all the playoff experience, and that they're a relatively young team. We've been in the pressure. Some of their guys were there last year and had been part of the ass-kicking by the Baltimore Ravens.
"We knew we actually had gone on the road and knew what a playoff atmosphere was all about," Scott said. "We could still perform and not get overhyped, and not be underhyped. We can handle the emotional moment and settle into a tough football game.''
Not all that subtly, Scott insinuated that Brady never did settle in during Sunday's tough game. When asked when he knew the Jets defense was in Brady's head, Scott said: "When he started looking for the rush when there was no rush. When he thought after a certain amount of time somebody was coming.
"I give Ben Roethlisberger a lot of credit. He's man enough to stand in the pocket and look down the barrel of a gun and take the hit. There's not a lot of quarterbacks in the league that do that. Most quarterbacks don't like getting hit. They get hit and they turn into a totally different person.''
The facts are these: The Jets are now 4-1 in the playoffs in Ryan's two seasons as head coach (all on the road), and they're making their first back-to-back trips to the AFL/AFC title game in the franchise's 51-year history. New York loves to talk, but it's also a tough-minded and resilient team that has won the past two Januarys in challenging environments like San Diego, Indianapolis and now New England.
"It feels great,'' said Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who was on that Chargers team that got eliminated by New York in last year's AFC divisional round. "I can't tell you how many times [the Patriots] put me out [of the playoffs]. It feels good to finally put them out, and to be moving on.
"[When they got behind] I sensed a group that had never really been in that situation. I sensed a group that for so long, throughout the year, they were used to being up on people and having things their way. But then when things get tight, you see kind of what you're made out of, and I think that's kind of where we shocked them.''
It's now obvious these Jets are made largely in the image of Ryan, their ever-confident head coach. They don't back down, or pipe down, even when logic says they probably should. But it's that bravado that seems to bring out the best in Ryan's Jets.
"If he believes in you first, you find a way to rise to the occasion,'' Pryce said. "It's like someone says, 'Hey, you're a great football player,' and you start to believe it. That's what he does. He says 'We're a great football team and individually you guys are all great players, and do what I brought you here to do.' And that's really all it took.
"It's his confidence in his players. And it's his confidence in himself, because he works hard and he prepares. Yeah, he talks some stuff, but it's kind of like we're selling a heavyweight fight, and he's good at that. But at the end of the day, he has respect for the guys on the sideline, and guys play for him.''
Ryan's Jets played for him on Sunday in New England. As well as they ever have. They did more than just talk their talk. They walked the walk. Maybe it's time we all stop paying quite so much attention to what the Jets say, and more to what they do. The Patriots probably wish they had, but now it's too late for New England. The Jets are off to Pittsburgh, and if they can back up their bold words for one more week, Ryan and his collection of big talkers will find soon themselves on the NFL's biggest stage.