Hate him or love him, Rex is Rex

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Hate him or love him, Rex is Rex

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

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.

It's honesty.

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.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)