FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — As if this thing needed more hype.
Rex Ryan said this about the New England Patriots during his final news conference before Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff:
—The Jets respected them but didn’t fear them;
—The game ranks right behind the Broadway Joe Super Bowl win in 1969;
—And, yes, the Jets would win.
“I think it’ll be huge,” the coach said Friday. “This one will probably be the second-biggest in the history of the franchise.”
Following a ho-hum week of name-calling, accusations and challenges, New York is looking to get past the Patriots and reach the AFC championship game for the second straight season. But Bill Belichick and Tom Brady might have something to say about all of that. On the field, that is.
“Certainly the stakes are much higher than they were the last time,” Brady said, referring to the Patriots’ 45-3 rout last month. “Each can execute, certainly, at a very high level against great competition and that’s going to be part of the reason why there is going to be millions of people tuned in for the game on Sunday.”
That these teams clearly don’t like each other — at all — would be another.
“One thing I can tell you right now,” Ryan said, “we have plenty of respect for them up there, but we don’t fear them. I can promise you that. We do not fear them. We respect them and we’re going to win the game. That’s our message. It’s our message every week.”
There have been plenty of other messages sent to and from New York and Boston during the last few days, making for an interesting week.
Ryan kicked things off by praising Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, saying no one studies the game quite so hard, even though Brady thinks he does. Then, Ryan said the game was “personal” between him and Belichick. Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie took things to another level of nastiness when he called Brady a dirty word, while he and his coach accused the Patriots quarterback of showboating and pointing at their sideline after a late touchdown.
Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said the Patriots spread their arms out like planes — the touchdown celebration some New York players use — after an interception in the last meeting.
“When you have a rivalry like this, things are going to come out,” Cotchery said. “People shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. This is a contact sport, though, and it’s going to be settled out there on the field in the end.”
Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson, known to spout off at times during his playing career, said during a radio interview that Ryan’s guys should stop yapping and focus on playing.
“That’s his opinion,” Ryan said. “We’re always going to be who we are. Reggie Jackson is always who he was. We could use Reggie’s bat this week.”
To their credit, the Patriots stayed mostly quiet — under orders from Belichick, of course, who rarely gets into verbal confrontations with other teams through the media.
But after Patriots owner Robert Kraft told The Associated Press he won’t judge the Jets and prefers his team does its talking with its play, wide receiver Wes Welker made several references to feet in his news conference Thursday. It was apparently a dig at recent foot-fetish reports involving Ryan.
“I think this is a huge rivalry-type game and anything goes,” Ryan said, brushing it off. “I can take it. I’m not going to discuss it, but I can take it.”
But, were Welker’s comments out of line?
“I’m not getting into that,” he said.
“It’s clever,” Cotchery said. “I don’t know if he intended it or not, but it was clever.”
Neither Belichick nor Welker would discuss the comments Friday, but the Boston Metro newspaper joined in with the front page headline: “Why the Patriots will de-feet the Jets,” and a montage of feet encircling a smiling Ryan.
“Anything goes this week,” Ryan said. “That’s the way it is.”
And, now, all the talk is just about over — finally.
The rivals split their season series, with both winning at home, a place at which Brady has been nearly flawless in the playoffs. He’s 8-1 at Foxborough, but the one blemish came a year ago in a surprising loss to Baltimore.
“I was a little disappointed after that game,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said, “but at the same time, I’m not really harping on that game. I’m living for this game.”
As are the Jets, who have to deal with a Patriots offense that led the NFL in scoring with 32.4 points per game and tied its own NFL record by scoring at least 30 points in eight consecutive games. Brady also has been incredibly efficient with 36 touchdown passes and only four interceptions — even after the team traded Randy Moss earlier in the season.
“The biggest thing about him is that he’s a winner,” Jets linebacker Jason Taylor said. “He knows how to win and you can never count him out.”
Especially not with so much on the line at this point in the season.
“This is not NBA basketball where you can let a couple games slide,” Taylor said. “Even in the playoffs in those leagues, if they drop one (game), they can always come back the next day and get one. There is no best-of-seven in this league. It’s the best of 60 minutes. If you don’t show up, you’re done.”