The Jets got their revenge as they won 17-16 on a last second field goal by Nick Folk sending them on to play their old rival, the New England Patriots. After the regular season disaster in New England and the Patriots dominance at home no one gave the Jets a chance to win in Foxboro. Ryan took the pressure off of the players and kept the talk away from the blowout at Foxboro by framing the matchup as one between himself and Bill Belichick as stated here:
“When you look at it, both teams are very even,” Ryan said. “When you look at the players, our teams are solid across the board. When you look at the assistant coaches, we’re on level ground. So this is going to be about me raising my level against Bill Belichick. I recognize he’s the best. But I’m just trying to be the best on Sunday. And I plan on being the best coach on Sunday.”
“He’s going to going to get everything I have on Sunday,” Ryan added. “If he slips at all, we’re going to beat him.”
What followed was the second greatest game in Jets history and certainly the most satisfying for those who were not around for Super Bowl III. The Jets beat the Patriots 28-21 and moved on to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship. The celebration at the end of the game with Bart Scott’s “Can’t Wait” interview and the team celebrating on the Patriots’ home field are things that will be remembered for years to come.
Another year another AFC Championship Game for the Jets and Rex Ryan but this time it is handled differently. Instead of the uber-confident coach that believed in his team and didn’t give a damn about the opponent Ryan decided to heap praise on the Steelers during the week.
“They’ve got an outstanding set offense,” said Ryan. “But they do as good a job as anybody in this league when it breaks down. First off, Roethlisberger is able to just knock people around physically, not go down, keep plays alive with his athleticism, with his strength and all that. But the receivers do a great job. They run their route and then they see Big Ben scrambling and they get open.”
The Jets came out flat. Really, really, really flat and fell behind 24-0. They rallied back to 24-19 but couldn’t stop Pittsburgh on a 3rd and 6 and the clock ran out on the game and the season. Personally I still have not gotten over that loss it was a terrible gut punch. The Jets were the better team they had already beaten Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh Week 15 and I truly believe if they weren’t emotionally spent from the New England game that they would have advanced to the Super Bowl.
This game was the turning point of the Rex Ryan era. He had the team completely unified and bought in, they gave everything they had physically and emotionally and they fell short of the goal Rex was so certain they would achieve. Doubt over whether the team could get over the hump started to creep into the minds of everyone. His critics had their first opening to take their shots at him and line up they did. Life is much different when the preseason favorite doesn’t win than when the underdog falls short.
What lessons would Rex Ryan learn from this season and how would it affect him in 2011? Would he see the tiny cracks in the foundation of the team before it was too late? We’ll see next time when we examine Rex Ryan the 2011 edition.