SAN DIEGO -- Bart Scott called me out. Technically, his remarks were directed toward some guy named "Vic Carusso," but I was the one with the bull's-eye.
Scott made a point of reminding me -- and a whole bunch of other media types within earshot in the New York Jets' dressing room after Sunday's divisional-round game at Qualcomm Stadium -- that I had written on this site the Jets didn't belong in the playoffs.
He also made a point of reminding me, in that booming voice of his, that I had written the Cincinnati Bengals deserved the edge over the Jets in their wild-card game … and that I had written the San Diego Chargers deserved the edge over the Jets on Sunday.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.
Scott let me know about it in playful, yet definitive, terms. In the relentless style that has served him well during his career as a linebacker, Scott told me he would continue to call me out until, well, I finally get one right regarding what has suddenly become one of the greatest Cinderella stories the NFL -- and sports in general -- has seen in quite some time.
After all, that was the San Diego Chargers they beat, 17-14. Remember all of that momentum the Chargers supposedly had from winning their final 11 regular-season games? Remember how the Jets had supposedly gotten a fake pass to the playoffs with wins against an Indianapolis Colts team that didn't play its starters the full game and a Bengals club that allegedly wasn't performing at its best?
Honestly, I might be inclined to become a Jet believer, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. A fairly large obstacle sits between the Jets and a trip to South Florida for Super Bowl XLIV. That would be the Colts, who went 14-0 and set an NFL record with 23 consecutive regular-season victories before an 0-2 finish. That would be the team with Peyton Manning, the four-time league MVP at quarterback, and the team that made it look so easy in disposing of the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.
With that I mind, I walked around the Jets' locker room wondering what it is that the doubters don't know about this team. The first stop was Scott's dressing cubicle.
"They don't understand the resolve of this football team," Scott said. "This team's been through a lot, but this team still stays the course. Throughout the year, our fans and the media can be up and down. We have to stay steady because we have to believe."
Next stop, safety Kerry Rhodes.
"I don't think they know about our heart," Rhodes said. "When they look at our team, I don't know what they see. We've got playmakers everywhere. We've got a good offense; we can run the ball. We've got a quarterback that's playing well at the right time. So I don't know what they see (that should cause them to doubt)."
Cornerback Darrelle Revis: "Some games, the offense might not handle it well or the defense might give up a play to lose a game at the end. But we go back to the drawing board, get the corrections, and we fight."
Fight and believe.
Rex Ryan, the Jets' boisterous rookie head coach, makes a lot of sweeping statements. He says his team not only belonged in the postseason, but should be favored in every game it plays through the Super Bowl.
During a team meeting before Sunday's game, he told his players "In eight days, you'll be getting ready for the Super Bowl." His players weren't rolling their eyes. When the coach makes bold pronouncements, especially in public, they feel an obligation to back him up. As Scott said, "Our head coach has taken a lot of flak for his belief in this football team, and we just want to validate the words that he says."
They buy into Ryan's predictions the same way they buy into his defense-first coaching philosophy. It's an approach that stresses being physical with the opponent, which was what the Jets did when they took over Sunday's game in the fourth quarter. It's an approach that calls for slamming the door on the run and putting heavy pressure on the quarterback and running the ball effectively.
Bottom line, it's an approach designed to protect rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez.
"When you believe, you believe," Scott said. "You don't question the man (Ryan) and the way we win. The Colts play a certain way. They believe in Peyton Manning and they believe in the way they play. They believe, if they get ahead, they can let those guys come off the edge and put pressure on your defense, and if they get up a couple of scores, then they let the dogs loose. They play to Peyton Manning, which is the strength of their team. Our strength right now is our defense.
"The rookie is coming along, he's getting experience. But we have to believe in the way that we decide to play. And it'll be a difference of philosophies, just like it was this week where their offense was their defense. A lot of times for the Colts, their offense is their defense because they put pressure on the opposing team to have to keep pace."
What you come to realize as a Jets doubter is that there's an insatiable need for your point of view. It's clear that, without it, the Jets just might start thinking that they have people rooting for them beyond their most loyal fan base.
"I hope that we're the biggest underdog again because it does give us something to work for and something to strive for," Rhodes said. "When we hear all that negative stuff, we take it into account and go with it."
Said Douglas, "People won't believe, and that's how we like it because we're not going to rest until we're down in Miami and I can see my mom and dad enjoying some of that nice weather."