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Jets coach Ryan still brash, confident entering Pats showdown

For Rex Ryan, Sunday's AFC Divisional Playoff Game provides everything he wanted: the opportunity to back up this season's big words and vindicate a long-suffering New York Jets fanbase on the national stage against his nemesis, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Ryan sat down with NFL Network insider Michael Lombardi for an interview that aired Sunday on "NFL GameDay Morning," and the boisterous Jets coach reiterated his remarks from earlier in the week, calling Belichick "the best football coach maybe in the history of the game."

But it's clear that Ryan and Belichick won't get together anytime soon to swap vacation photos over a glass of white wine.

When he shook hands with Belichick following the Patriots' 45-3 drilling of the Jets last month, a demoralized Ryan told New England's coach, "We'll see you in Round 3."

Belichick didn't respond.

"He just looked at me," Ryan said.

Ryan blames that Monday night massacre on his inability to play chess with Belichick.

"It was all my coaching. I just put it on myself," said Ryan, who added that he has since poured over the game tape "probably 20 times."

"This is about Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan," Ryan declared Monday. "There's no question. It's personal ... He's going to get everything I have on Sunday, and if he slips at all, we're going to beat him."

"How would Bill slip?" Lombardi asked Ryan.

"I don't know. Hopefully, we'll find out," Ryan said. "Because you know what? I recognize this guy is the best football coach maybe in the history of the game. I don't think there's any doubt. In my opinion, he is. But, again, I'm not worried about where I fit in the all-time list. I just want to be the best coach one particular day. And that's Sunday."

Lombardi asked if Ryan has regretted any of his brash comments this season.

"Do you ever get home at night and turn on the T.V., hear yourself talk, and say, 'Did I really say that?'" Lombardi asked.

"No. Never. I mean, 'cause number one, I'm not paying attention," Ryan said, adding: "I'm just myself. (Are) there things that maybe I shouldn't say? Whatever, maybe. But if I'm always worried about what I'm saying, then it wouldn't work for me. I'm just gonna, you know, be myself -- and that's what works for me."

Ryan earlier this week declared the playoff game against the Patriots as "the second-biggest in the history of the franchise" behind the 1969 Super Bowl victory over the Baltimore Colts.

"It's hard to say we haven't had a great season," Ryan said. "We've won 11 games. We've beat Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. You know, we've already had an excellent season. But our goal, the only way to reach our goal is to win the Super Bowl.

Ryan's Super Bowl talk fell on deaf ears after the Week 13 implosion in New England.

Ryan gathered his team on the practice field on the Wednesday after that loss, telling the players he was "burying the game." Ryan took a football used in the rout and placed it in a freshly dug hole.

Ryan said he knew that -- you guessed it -- Belichick had done the same after a 2001 loss to the Miami Dolphins. New England went on to win its first Super Bowl title that season.

"I'm not used to gettin' beat like that -- ever," Ryan said. "It was kind of new ground. When I did come up with that football deal -- you know, everybody gave Belichick credit, which is fine. Give him credit. My brother (Rob Ryan) was on that staff when he actually did it."

Ryan told Lombardi that the Jets are still football's finest.

"After the first week of the season, I think everybody thought New England was the best team in football," Ryan said. "I was convinced that we were the best team in football. We beat them (in Week 2). ... Several weeks later, I still thought we were the best team in football. New England showed me at that time that they were the best.

"We'll see what happens, who the best team is right now. Granted, you still got Pittsburgh ... You got some team in the NFC that I ain't worried about right now. ... How I'd rank them? I still think we're the best football team."

Love him or hate him, Ryan's posturing is largely welcomed by Jets fans after the franchise played second fiddle to the New York Giants for decades.

Manish Mehta, who covers the Jets for the New York Daily News, has witnessed firsthand Ryan's effect on the fans.

"Ryan's meteoric rise in popularity among Jets fans has been something to behold," Mehta said via e-mail. "He's reached iconic status in these past two years. They respect his honesty, passion and determination to set this star-crossed franchise back on the right path. He's genuine. He's real. Fans can sense that about him. He really cares. That goes a long way for a fanbase that has endured so much disappointment in the past four decades."

Boston Herald reporter Ian Rapoport sees Ryan as the ideal foil for the stoic Belichick.

"Of course, there is the hatred always associated with the rival coach," Rapoport said via e-mail. "And every time he says something wacky, you heard the immediate, loud response. But I don't get the feeling the anger is deep-seated. I have no doubt, inside, Patriots fans love to have the perfect foil for Belichick. Ryan's everything Belichick isn't, complete opposites. If Ryan ever left New York, Patriots fans would miss him."

It's hard to look past the Week 13 massacre, but as Ryan has pointed out, the Jets have won three out of the last five contests against the Patriots, and their five wins at New England since 2000 are more than any of the Patriots' opponents during that span.

Shutting down quarterback Tom Brady, who tossed four touchdown passes against the Jets in Week 13, is a different story. Ryan has poked and prodded Brady in recent weeks, praising Manning and saying no one studies like him, even though Brady thinks he does.

"What is it about Tom Brady that maybe your team doesn't like or you don't particularly care for?" Lombardi asked Ryan.

"That he's not our quarterback. I think that's probably the No. 1 thing," Ryan said with a laugh. "If you're the opposition, I don't like you. You know, I'll respect you and all that. After the game, I'll say, 'You know, I think that's a great quarterback and a heck of a person,' but I don't care who's across from me. He's no friend of mine."

New York's problem is that New England thrives against the league's top defenses, going 6-1 against top 10 scoring defenses this season. But if any defense knows Brady well, it's Gang Green, and Ryan maintains that last year's top defense hasn't regressed, although statistically they rank third this season.

"Our standards are so high," Ryan said, who has never led a defense that ranked worse than sixth in the NFL. "Clearly we were the best defense in the league last year by 50 yards a game. So, we're coming from No. 1. We always expect to be the best defense in the league. And one thing I told everybody that would listen is that -- at the end of the season -- I think we'll have the best defense in the league. But the season ain't over."

To begrudge fans the team's good fortune under Ryan is to forget how Bill Parcells bolted the Jets in January 2000, after just three seasons, stunning players by reciting the poem "The Man In The Glass," before resigning. Of course, Parcells named then-defensive coordinator Belichick as his replacement. Twenty-four hours into the job, Belichick fumbled through an awkward resignation speech, saying, "I just can't do what I need to do here. There are a lot of unanswered questions here."

By month's end, Belichick was the head coach in New England -- and the rest is history.

A decade later, Belichick's unchecked reign of terror over the AFC East rarely has been challenged.

Everyone has tried to solve Belichick, but for Ryan, "it's personal," and nothing short of a win Sunday will have any meaning for the man.

"My job is to get my players prepared to play to the best of their abilities," Ryan said. "I clearly failed the last time ... I failed our team, and that doesn't sit well with me or anybody else. And, you know, Jet fans, it shouldn't sit well with them. I have to do a better job of getting our team ready.

"Talent for talent, New England's a great football team. I think we're a great football team. I think the talent's level. I think the assistant coaches, it's level, two great staffs. ... (last time around) I wasn't up to Bill Belichick.

Let the chess match begin.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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