By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
FOXBORO As a rookie last year, it didn't take New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty long to realize he was with a team that was built on being steady in its play, its demeanor and its approach to every opponent.
Then came Jets week.
"You could tell it's a rivalry game," said McCourty, the AFC's Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. "It's a little different energy, just because it's a division game. It's Patriots versus Jets."
And no one individual embodies the rivalry between these two teams more than Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who set his sights on dethroning the Patriots from the moment he took over as the New York Jets coach in 2009.
While the Jets have certainly more than held their own with the Pats since his arrival - the Jets have split the regular season series each of the last two seasons - Ryan wants more.
"We have to beat New England," Ryan said. "That's the team we have to beat, to win the division."
The Patriots have been atop the AFC East seven of the last eight seasons, one of the many Patriots-related facts Ryan can recite verbatim.
"If you want to get a home playoff game or whatever, you have to beat them," Ryan said. "We know what's in front of us."
While Ryan is quick to praise the Patriots (3-1) for their past and present success, he remains confident that his team can knock the Patriots from atop the AFC East and have the Jets finish atop the standings for the first time since 2002.
"It's a huge challenge, but to think that we're just going to accept that we can't beat those guys . . . no way in heck!" Ryan said. "We're here to beat everybody. New England is the best team in the league. But again, we want to be the best team in the league. That hasn't changed a bit. We're not backing down to anybody."
Ryan, as you might expect, had plenty more to say heading into Sunday's game against the New England Patriots.
Here's what he had to say . . .
On whether his team is still defined by its defense:
RR: "We've been inconsistent defensively. We played horribly vs. Oakland. We had a couple breakdowns that were just . . . we gave up a 70-yard run, which is absolutely ridiculous. One thing we know how to do, we know how to stop the run, play defense. This is a team that will be . . . our defense by the time it's all said and done, will be right there where we always are, right around the top in this league."
On whether quarterback Mark Sanchez has improved in this, his third NFL season:
RR: "I think he has. I see it everyday here. I definitely think he has. That last game (a turnover-laden rout at the hands of the Ravens) was . . . it was a rough one, to say the least. You put Tom Brady back there, he was going to struggle that day. The pressure, the consistent pressure that Baltimore was able to put on us, really disrupted what we were trying to get accomplished. I think Mark has improved. I think he's better now than he's ever been."
On the Patriots defense, which hasn't racked up many sacks and doesn't seem to put a lot of pressure on teams:
RR: "The Haynesworth kid only played the one game, but he was a dominant player. And obviously, Vince Wilfork . . . I think Vince should probably move to safety (because of his two interceptions this year). That might be the next move for Vince. They're doing a great job. They do what they do. They force takeaways. They're playing better in the red zone. They never ranked way up there defensively, it's not like they're one or two in the league in defense. They're effective. They make you make mistakes. They do a great job playing the run, and they don't have the ball shot over their heads."
On whether they need to add another player:
RR: "I'd just like to add one player. I'd like to get Nick Mangold back. That would be a big help for us. I'm definitely hopeful that Nick will play (on Sunday vs. New England). You take out the best center in football, no offense to Colin Baxter, but there's only one Nick Mangold in this league. When he went out (with an ankle injury), that was a big loss to us. Hopefully he'll be back and ready to play this week. With Vince and all those guys, we need Nick."
On New England's offensive attack this season:
RR: "The thing that surprises me truthfully about New England's offense, is they're running the ball much more effectively. I think they're eighth in the league in rushing, and with the number one passing attack in football that makes for a tough combination."