Trash talk from Jets' Rex Ryan wasn't enough to topple Belichick-Brady duo

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·Columnist
Trash talk from Jets' Rex Ryan wasn't enough to topple Belichick-Brady duo
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Rex Ryan famously announced his arrival as an NFL head coach by going straight at Bill Belichick, straight at the biggest bully on the AFC East (if not league) block.

"I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's, you know, rings," Ryan told WFAN back in June of 2009. "I came to win."

This was and remains Ryan's way, of course. He's more than willing to say things he is certain he can back up, if only because he believes his players will revel in the talk.

The Patriots have won five of six games vs. the Jets. (AP)
The Patriots have won five of six games vs. the Jets. (AP)

He also, perhaps, knew better than anyone else that his career with the New York Jets would be defined by how he fared against the Belichick-Tom Brady dynasty up the road.

When Ryan arrived the Pats had won six of eight division titles, captured three Super Bowls and only lost a fourth when an 18-0 team was beat on a helmet catch.

Ryan was determined to change that and felt poking the bear and expressing supreme confidence through the media would be the route to eventually beating New England on the field.

It didn't work. The Patriots have won five consecutive AFC East crowns. New York meanwhile slinks into Thursday's matchup at 1-5, with speculation centering on how this will be Ryan's last trip to Foxborough because this will be his last year coaching the Jets.

"Somebody asked me if we focus on New England," Ryan said to the New York Post this past summer. "[Expletive]. We're focused on us, and how are we going to get better … I don't worry about them. They need to worry about us."

Even during the carefree days of training camp that quote felt empty, a bit like an act. This was Rex, having hung onto his job despite missing the playoffs three consecutive years, churning up the old New England hate in an attempt to convince someone, anyone (perhaps himself) that this wasn't over, that the war hadn't been won, that the rings hadn't figuratively been kissed.

Should New England worry now, he was asked on Tuesday?

"Not as much," Ryan whispered in a deadpan as reporters laughed at his joke.

Gallows humor aside, what once looked like the fiercest rivalry in the NFL, especially when the Jets appeared on the verge of toppling New England, is now just a lousy weeknight matchup, with Ryan himself admitting this is a career low point.

"Yeah I would say so," Ryan said this week. "It's not by lack of effort. We're trying everything we can. It just hasn't happened for us yet."

Geno Smith looks lost in Year 2 with the Jets. (AP)
Geno Smith looks lost in Year 2 with the Jets. (AP)

Meanwhile Belichick's team is 4-2 following an impressive turnaround from an ugly stumble earlier in the year.

No, the Patriots probably aren't good enough to win a Super Bowl, but you never know. Once again they are solid, strong and sitting in first place. They look like a team that will give itself another chance come January. It's the Patriot Way, sustained excellence.

Belichick and Brady. Brady and Belichick. And if you have to compete against them twice a season, if you have to figure out a way to get above them in the standings, if you have to move the unmovable object of the NFL, those might as well be a couple of curse words.

The natural reaction is to mock Ryan for always talking a big game but never quite delivering in full, but it may not be that easy. He certainly had his days and his underlying motive for the bold quotes undoubtedly played a role in creating it.

"I think we already have sent a message to them," Ryan said on WFAN back in 2009. "So they can read between the lines. … They can figure it out. And when they come here that second week of the season, we'll see."

When New England visited New York that second week of the season, they did see: Jets 16, Pats 9, with Tom Brady held to 216 yards.

The rivalry was on and it was real. New York wasn't cowering. By January 2011, the Jets were in Foxborough upsetting a loaded, 14-2 Patriots team in the divisional round of the playoffs, ruining a presumed Super Bowl run for arguably the best win of Ryan's career.

In the end, though, he couldn't find the quarterback Belichick had. Mark Sanchez's star never fully arrived before fading fast and Geno Smith has shown as much confusion as potential. Ryan's band of defensive stars aged quickly. And the Jets never could beat out New England for the division, thus assuring playoff runs that required three road games to reach the Super Bowl … twice the Jets fell just short in the AFC title game.

Mostly Belichick and Brady never really faltered. They aren't perfect but for years and years and years they churn on. They rarely implode and when they do the correction is quick. The quarterback never loses motivation. The roster is replenished on the fly. The coach spends endless time staying on the cusp of the game.

Over the last 13 seasons, they've averaged a 12-4 record.

There are a lot of coaches, a lot of teams that got bulldozed along the way. Ryan's just might have been the loudest. He just might have been the closest. Had he coached in a different division or faced a different era Patriots club, maybe it all would've been different.

Since that playoff victory in the 2010 season that temporarily spun the rivalry around, New England won five of the next six meetings and advanced to at least the AFC title game in three consecutive seasons. New York is 23-31 in the regular season.

At this point it hardly feels like a big game anymore. New England just looking to grab another divisional win en route to a 12th AFC East title in 14 seasons.

The Jets are just trying to stay off the back page of the tabs.

"I believe in this football team," Ryan said Tuesday. "We are showing up and obviously they're showing up. They're going to present the very best that they have and we are going to present the very best that we have. At the end of the day we'll see who is the best team this particular time."

That's about as far as Ryan could talk up his guys this week, a far cry from the bravado of days past. He took his shots at Belichick, even wobbled the dynasty one January night, but in the end the empire struck back.

And now it might all end with a little more than a whimper.