By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- You hate Rex Ryan.
You think him an instigator for saying he wanted to kick Bill Belichick and the Patriots' collective ass. You judge him an attention-whore for the "Hard Knocks" self-indulgence and bombastic press conferences. You call him a pompous windbag for suggesting -- no, stating -- that his New York Jets are the better team and would win the Week 13 meeting.
Just don't write Rex Ryan off. Do so and lose out on some of the most striking sincerity in the NFL. His Monday night post-game reception is a brilliant example.
New York got facewashed, 45-3, by the Patriots in hostile territory. New England was absolutely giddy. More fans than reasonable hung tough in 27 degree weather (11 with the wind chill) to see each precious second tick down on the monumental Jets failure.
Ryan's response: "I came in to kick Belichick's butt and he kicked mine.''
Patriots fans must have howled in ecstasy when that quote hit airwaves. It was sweeter than a white flag; it was a humiliating concession made by an over-sized enemy in a white turtleneck. But even in defeat Ryan wasn't exactly humbled.
"Humiliating? For one night..." he scoffed. "Shoot, I'll fight tomorrow. I guarantee you that. Humiliating? It's the biggest butt-whuppin' I've ever taken as a coach in my career. But I can promise you one thing: I'll be ready to play 'em. I'll play 'em right now if they'll go out and do it again.
"That's the only way I know how to respond. I'll sit back out there and stick my chin out again."
And why not?
Why back down? Why apologize for confidence? Belichick said it himself: all coaches want to win. Ryan just isn't being polite about it. He isn't trying to sneak up on anybody under that worn out veil of self-deprecation. He's lumbering through the NFL's streets, hollering his intentions and waving his gun in the air where everybody can see it.
Think Rex Ryan said his team was better just to get under people's skin? It's not that complicated. He really believed it was true.
"I thought we were going to play a great game. I really did.'' Ryan said. "I thought we were having the best week of practice that we had. Obviously, we had the injury to Jim Leonhard and that kind of put a damper on us but our preparation was great. I thought we were gonna have a huge game and it was just the opposite. "
Ryan shook his head as he spoke. He was at a loss. The Jets had already beaten New England this year, after all. And though national sports writers were picking the Patriots, nobody expected a blowout. Nobody foresaw the shutdown of Mark Sanchez (1733, 164 yards, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble, 1 sack, 0 TD) nor a declawing of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
"Our defense gave up 45 points,'' Ryan lamented. "There's been times that's been a quarter of a season at least, giving up that many points.''
When asked if such a number was even conceivable, Ryan wagged his head more firmly.
"No,'' he said. Then he lifted his eyes and focused on the cameras. "I can imagine us shutting people out. That's what I think happens. But, clearly wasn't the case. This is a good football team. They did a great job coaching, out-coached us and outplayed us."
The complimenting of New England was effusive. It might surprise the people who focus on Ryan's chest-thumping but praising the Patriots makes sense for the Jets coach. Why? All part of the honesty.
"We were trying everything but it just... shoot. They got the job done,'' he said, brow furrowed. "But you've got to give them credit. Tom Brady was hot. He can burn you. They've got a lot of weapons and they did a good job. They protected the quarterback pretty well and gave Brady enough time to make some plays and their guys came up with some big plays for him. "
Huge, huge plays. Brady was surgical on Monday night. The New England quarterback completed 21 of 29 passes, racked up 326 yards and recorded four touchdowns. Gaudy numbers next to Sanchez's tallies. The crowd really started rollicking after a fourth quarter run up the middle by BenJarvus Green-Ellis made the score 45-3. The Patriots were shoving Ryan's bravado back down his throat. Chants of "J-E-T-S! SUCK! SUCK! SUCK!" mixed with cries for running up the score on the hated rival.
But if the Patriots were trying to needle New York on the field the way Ryan did with his words, the Jets coach wasn't squirming. If anything, it brought Rex Ryan right back to where he started.
"I wouldn't say Belichick was necessarily trying to rub it in, but this is the same team that took a bunch of shots on us and they had paybacks. Let's face it, we kicked their butt at our place so they're trying to come back. Trust me, we'll remember this, there's no question about that. "
So where does he stand now, exactly? Respectful of the Patriots' quarterback, nearly reverent toward their coach. Wary of the now Number One team in the AFC.
"We know that this division goes through New England. We thought we were gonna put a stranglehold on it because we would have been up a full game on 'em and have the tie-breaker on 'em. Right now we've pushed. We won one, they won one.
"To say we underestimated them... I don't think so,'' Ryan said. "They've still got Belichick at coach and Brady as quarterback so we'll never underestimate the New England Patriots."
He will probably continue to overestimate his New York Jets, though, and believe to his core that it's the truth. A quality of confidence most teams would probably love in a coach. And a quality most fans clearly love to hate in a rival.