For Rex Ryan, who put his coaching reputation as a defensive wizard on the line with a week of inspired horn-blowing before his Jets met the Patriots, the cold-fish, no-look, post-game handshake he got from losing coach Bill Belichick had to be the sweetest reward of all.
Ryan earned his reward by believing in himself, believing in his defense and believing that Jets fans would not reject as cheesy the coach’s clarion call for full-throated support against his team’s most vexing opponent.
“We’re giving the game ball to our fans,” Ryan said Sunday after a 16-9 victory at Giants Stadium that ended the Pats’ eight-year winning streak on the Jets’ turf. “This game ball is going in our trophy case.”
Too bad Jets fans can’t do with the game ball what NHL players can after their team wins the Stanley Cup: Keep it for a day and do whatever you like.
Instead, Jets fans can savor a victory as brash and decisive as Ryan himself.
Twice in the game’s final nine-and-a-half minutes, the Patriots had the ball needing a touchdown to tie the score.
Did the Jets retreat into the conservative shell of a “prevent defense” and give Tom Brady ample opportunities to break their hearts?
As Ryan himself might say, “Hell, no.”
Blitzes came early and often—from up the middle, from the right side, from the left (blind) side, making Brady uncomfortable throughout.
Brady finished 23-for-47 for 216 yards with an interception and no touchdowns—pedestrian numbers by his standards.
The Jets kept the heat on Brady until his final pass, intended for Joey Galloway over the middle, was repelled by nickel back Dwight Lowery with 62 seconds left.
That’s when the noise at Giants Stadium became deafening, noise from Jets fans who had grown tired of seeing their team pushed around by the Patriots, tired of lamenting “Same Old Jets” after apparent victories had morphed into numbing defeats.
And if offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had not kept under wraps in the first half rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez (3-for-5, 15 yards, 1 fumble) and his favorite receiver Jerricho Cotchery (0 receptions, 0 yards), the Jets might well have routed the Patriots
That’s how well the Jets' defense played.
There is reason now to believe the Jets have become at least the equal of the Pats, if not their superiors.
Ryan is the reason.
He has built a defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in eight quarters this season. (The Texans’ Week One touchdown came on an interception.)
His defense limited the Pats to three field goals in a first half in which Brady and Co. began drives at the Jets’ 17, the Jets’ 49 and their own 40.
Ryan’s defense shut out the Pats in the second half, causing one New England fan to tell me, “We didn’t have Wes Welker. That hurt us a lot.”
This is the NFL equivalent of grasping at straws.
Since when is the absence of Welker, out with a knee injury, a valid reason for the Pats’ inability to score a touchdown all day?
Randy Moss played. So did Brady and Galloway and Laurence Maroney.
But most of all, the Jets’ defense played.
The defense played well enough to justify Ryan’s bold talk and send a clear message to the rest of the NFL: These are not the same old Jets.