OK, so Rex Ryan has decided to knock off the guarantees and the smack talk this year. Fine. You don't want to talk about the Super Bowl? Gotcha.
In the run-up to Sunday's Week 2 game against the Steelers, Ryan did such a 180 from his chest-thumping days of yesteryear that you'd think he'd gone Bill Belichick on us. In describing the Steelers, he went up and down the defensive lineup and hurled so many superlatives, you'd have thought the Jets were about to face Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris in addition to this year's team.
Belichick has a way of making his opponents -- even the weakest of them -- sound unbeatable, and Ryan sure did sound a lot like his nemesis from New England. Belichick could make this year's Dolphins sound like the unbeaten team from '72. Ryan might just as well have been talking about the Steel Curtain days of the '70s when looking at this year's group.
"I always look at the jerseys [fans are wearing]," Ryan said. "How many different players' names do they have on [their jerseys]? They have Lambert, Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Mel Blount. They have Hines Ward. They have Jerome Bettis and a million of their current players."
Granted, the Steelers are a very good team, potentially an elite team. And yes, Ryan has had his share of disappointments against them, both with the Jets and the Ravens as defensive coordinator. He has lost an AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh with both teams. But even after last week's resounding 48-28 win over the Bills in the regular-season opener, Ryan is tempering expectations heading into Pittsburgh.
It might not be such a bad thing for the coach to throw so many bouquets at the Steelers that it made you wonder if he'll even bother to show up. After all, it's only Week 2, and there's no sense riling up your opponent any more than necessary.
Perspective and measured statements aren't terms usually associated with Ryan, but in this case, it certainly beats the alternative. No use talking trash about a Steelers team looking to bounce back from a season-opening loss to the Broncos.
"It's not if you beat Pittsburgh or lose to Pittsburgh, the season's not over either way," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "We plan on playing well, we plan on being efficient. After that, we'll see where we're at."
Sanchez no doubt will be a focal point -- when isn't he? -- but he does have reason to feel encouraged heading into the game. He had one of his best NFL performances last week, throwing three touchdown passes and completing two-thirds of his passes. He also has played well against the Steelers on the road. He helped the Jets to a 22-17 upset win late in the 2010 regular season, a game that kept the Jets' playoff hopes alive, and he was excellent in the AFC Championship Game later that season. The Jets lost, 24-19, but through no fault of Sanchez, who was 20-for-33 with two TDs and no INTs.
Throw in at least the threat of Tim Tebow throwing it against a defense he scorched in Denver's AFC wild-card win over the Steelers last season, and the Jets can be expected to compete. Remember, too, that the Steelers are likely to be without injured star defenders James Harrison and Troy Polamalu (the Jets are without cornerback Darrelle Revis and tight end Dustin Keller).
Ryan won't add to what already will be a bubbling cauldron of emotion by stirring the hornet's nest with any pregame antics, instead choosing to let his players do the talking in this one.
"It's going to be one of our toughest challenges all year," Sanchez said.
No argument there. Especially from the coach.
"It's going to take everything we have and we'll see what happens," Ryan said, channeling his inner Belichick.