Entering Week 7 of the 2012 NFL season, each of the four teams in the AFC East have identical 3-3 records. Remarkably, that is the first time in NFL history that an entire division has been tied this late into the season. And yet, the season is still quite young.
The New England Patriots, the heavy preseason favorites to run away from the pack and cruise to their fourth straight division title and 10th in 11 years, have hit some unexpected speed bumps along the way.
While the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills are beginning to prove that they’ll stick around awhile, it’s no secret that the biannual Jets/Patriots matchups have become one of the premier rivalries in the AFC.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan, humbled after failing to reach the postseason last year for the first time in his career, has come back in 2012 a little bit subdued, more shrewd and calculating, less willing to step on people’s toes.
But a leopard can never change his spots, and Rex Ryan has not shied away from the fact that he is still the same guy he’s always been, perhaps a little more coy, but still as confident as ever.
Ryan caused a bit of a stir this week when he gave an honest, candid sound bite about expecting to beat Bill Belichick and the Patriots this Sunday in a game that could swing the balance of the AFC East for weeks to come.
“I want [the Patriots] to know, and they know, that I think we’re going to beat them,” Ryan said, just hours after the Jets’ 35-9 victory over the Colts.
“I don’t buy into all that other stuff,” Ryan said, referring to the media hoopla spelling doom and gloom for Gang Green.
“I recognize [New England is] a great football team and [Bill] Belichick is a great coach. I’ve never once said that he wasn’t,” Ryan continued. “But we’re not going to back down or concede anything.”
“They’re going to get our best shot. We know we’re going to get theirs. It really doesn’t matter who says what, but we’re going to be ourselves.”
“We’re coming up there to take our swing. We’ll see if we land that punch to win the game.”
Yes, when it comes to a big game with a lot at stake for both sides, Rex Ryan and the Jets can’t help but be themselves.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
The Jets finally looked like the Jets in Week 6, grounding and pounding the Colts into submission, outrushing them by over 200 yards to help take the pressure off Mark Sanchez, who played a clean, crisp game from start to finish.
Don’t expect that formula to be as successful on Sunday. Not to the tune of 250+ rushing yards, at least. Sanchez will need to do what Russell Wilson was able to do last week. Make big throws in big moments. It’s not as if he’s never done it before, on the big stage, in the house of horrors that is Gillette Stadium.
January 16, 2011, just 22 months ago, Sanchez did just that. In one of the biggest playoff upsets of this young decade, Sanchez threw 3 touchdown passes without a single turnover in a Jets victory, completing 64% of his passes along the way, good for a 127.3 quarterback rating.
If the Jets want to pull off another upset on the road in Foxboro, they’ll need that Sanchez to emerge. They believe they can win, and Rex Ryan thinks that they will win. Why wouldn’t he be confident? They’ve done it before. They can do it again.
Sunday afternoon, Ryan’s Jets will try to go out there and back up their words. They wouldn’t want it any other way.