Despite all of Ryan's bluster, it's about QBs

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Rex Ryan has actually lost about 75 pounds since last season, or so he says.

"I'm not as big a target as I used to be," the New York Jets coach noted as he stood in front of a microphone Monday and tried to make himself the biggest target he could.

Yes, Ryan was in full effect again. A playoff game at New England looms Sunday, and it's not so much that he can't help but speak his mind as there's a method to his madness. Newsday declared Ryan went "bonkers" Monday but one of Ryan's long-time confidants saw it differently.

"He knows exactly what he's doing," the associate said.

Exactly what he's doing is trying to make this all about Rex Ryan against Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Or Rex Ryan against quarterback Tom Brady(notes). Or Rex Ryan against Rex Ryan.

Anything that keeps the focus and the blame and the pressure on himself is a victory because it keeps it away from the real issue for the Jets – inconsistent quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes).

"This is about Bill Belichick versus Rex Ryan," Ryan told reporters. "It's about him against myself. That's what it's going to come down to."

Actually, it probably won't.

Coaches can design game plans and manage the clock and motivate their guys, but at the end of the day it's the players who make plays. Ryan is unlikely to gain any significant advantage over Belichick just as Belichick is unlikely to gain any significant advantage over Ryan.

These are two excellent coaches, and while one of them could certainly screw up, the likelihood pales in significance to the play of their quarterbacks.

This is really about Tom Brady versus Mark Sanchez, and that's a matchup that deep down even the Jets can't feel good about. Yes, Sanchez has his moments, but Brady has his seasons. One is a developing, hit-or-miss second-year guy. The other has three Super Bowls and (soon) two MVPs.

Sanchez is usually at his best in the pressure of the final minutes of a close contest – such as leading the game-winning drive against the Colts on Saturday. The key is getting there, which was far easier against Indy and its banged-up, patch work offense.

Sanchez was erratic in the first half Saturday, overthrowing receivers and missing reads. The Jets' first-half possessions went as such: punt, punt, punt, punt and pick. The offense got going in the second half only when it went run-heavy. The Jets' defense held the Colts in check though – just seven first-half points – to buy the needed time.

If Sanchez isn't brilliant against New England from snap one, the game can get out of hand in a hurry. No one cares how you look in the final minute of a blowout – like December's 45-3 shellacking the Pats put on the Jets for instance. New England led 24-3 at the break, a margin that Jets receiver Braylon Edwards(notes) noted allowed them to sit back in Cover 2 for most of the game.

"If they come at us with their press coverage or the man-to-man they did at the beginning of the game, we'll take advantage of it this time," Edwards said.

They better. Sanchez doesn't have to be perfect, but he has to play well early, late and in between. He went 17-of-33 for 164 yards, with one sack, three picks and zero touchdowns in December. As a rookie in Foxborough, he went 8-for-21 for 136 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. It's expected to be cold and windy as night falls on Sunday, conditions the Southern California product is still trying to prove he can play in.

If your game plan is hoping Brady will play poorly and New England will be like the Colts and allow Sanchez to get comfortable for a late charge, well, it's possible but not a high-percentage play.

While the task is on the Jets' defense to hold New England, there is only so much that can be expected. Ryan and his players are quick to point out the teams split their regular-season series this season – the Jets winning 28-14 in the Meadowlands back in September.

That Patriots offense is nothing like the current one, though – Belichick recast everything on the fly, dumping Randy Moss(notes) and embracing a concept featuring two young tight ends (Aaron Hernandez(notes) and Rob Gronkowski(notes)) that led to the seventh most points in NFL history. They closed the season with eight consecutive 30-plus point games, scoring an average of 37.4 per contest. If you're going to beat them, it's probably going to be in a shootout.

That might be why Belichick didn't see the correlation when Ryan brought up the first game at the end of the December blowout.

"I told Belichick after the game, 'We'll see you in Round 3,' " Ryan said.

Belichick's response?

"He just looked at me."

It's a good story, though, and led Belichick to have to respond – "I don't think you'll see either of us out there making any blocks, or tackles, or runs, throws or catches." Belichick downplayed the rivalry and praised the Jets. Mostly it turned the focus onto big Rex and his big mouth. Ryan said the entire game will be decided by what he and he alone does – give him credit, he wants the heat.

"If it was up to the players, this would be a tie game," Ryan said. "The fact that it was me against Belichick last game; it was 45-3 in his favor. I'm just trying to level the score. I recognize that I'm never going to be a better coach than him. My job is to be a better coach than him this week."

Sanchez who?

Just in case anyone thought to make this about dueling quarterbacks, Rex again picked a fight with Brady, too, just a week before Ryan declared it a "personal" battle between himself and Peyton Manning(notes) in an effort to shape the news. It worked. Why not stick to the playbook, right?

Last week he noted Brady didn't work as hard as the uber-dedicated Manning. And when asked about Brady not watching the Colts-Jets (Brady watched the second half) in favor of attending the Broadway play "Lombardi," Ryan questioned his commitment.

"Peyton Manning would have been watching our game," Ryan said.

He then called out Brady's unspecified "antics" on the field that Ryan – with a straight face – claimed may cross the line.

"That's just Brady being Brady," Ryan said. "I don't like seeing that. No Jets fan likes to see that. He can't wait to do it. He's not going to say anything publicly, but he does it. It's what it is. It's my job to keep him out of the end zone."

Whatever. A man who was once fined for flipping off a fan at an MMA match, just went through a tabloid fetish story and had one of his assistant coaches stick a knee out to trip up a Miami Dolphin on the sideline gets offended by "antics"?

No, Rex Ryan realizes he needs to be big enough to take on two Patriots icons. It's RR vs. BB. It's RR. vs. TB.

Just as long as no one mentions Mark Sanchez and his seven Massachusetts interceptions. The kid has got enough pressure because no matter what Rex Ryan says, everyone knows it's up to his quarterback to find a way stay with the best in the game.