Who would have believed the Jets' defenders could overcome the memory of the humiliating 45-3 beatdown quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots put on them in the Monday Night Football showcase Dec. 6?
No team in NFL history had ever won a playoff game against an opponent it had lost to by more than 32 points. That is, until Sunday night at Gillette Stadium, when the Jets stopped Brady and the 14-2 Patriots juggernaut, 28-21, to advance to the AFC Championship Game for the second straight season.
That's a first in Jets history, and linebacker Bart Scott wants credit to go where credit is due.
As coach Rex Ryan's most staunch defender, his comments were like a verbal Gatorade bath showered on the coach he followed from Baltimore. The coach who punctured the Bill Belichick aura in New England.
"Maybe one day, you guys will realize Rex Ryan is a hell of a defensive mind,'' Scott said to reporters. "Why can't he be better than Belichick?''
The first task for Ryan in the aftermath of the pounding administered by the Patriots was to shore up belief in the locker room. Scott said Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine focused on statistics that showed Brady's quarterback rating in his previous five or six playoff games hovered around 66.0.
Ticking off Ryan's other points, Scott said Brady's TD-to-interception ratio in recent playoff games was poor, "we had more playoff experience; they got their butts kicked by Baltimore [last season], and we knew we could handle the emotion of the moment.''
Scott said Ryan and the defensive coaches also believed the Patriots lost their ability to go deep when Randy Moss was traded and they changed to a scheme emphasizing shorter, ball-control passes. "They're not a vertical offense,'' Scott said. "We didn't fear them going deep.''
The Patriots' advantage was their speed and quickness operating out of a scheme that was difficult to read. So the Jets fought finesse with physicality. No one did it better than defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, who put pressure on Brady without help from the usual array of blitzes.
"Ellis came from everywhere,'' defensive tackle Sione Pouha said of the 11-year veteran. "He played with heart. This rivalry runs deep with him.''
Ellis was credited with two of the Jets' five sacks, and his pressure forced Brady to run into Pouha on another. The pressure worked because the Jets did such a good job of disguising their coverages that Brady couldn't get a solid pre-snap read.
"We made a change to play more zone, and we did a good job of disguising so Brady had to figure out what we were in,'' safety Eric Smith said. "Some stuff, we just lined up and played. We said, 'Here we are. See if you can beat us.' ''
The secondary also worked all week on "playing with their eyes,'' meaning concentrating on locking in on their receivers and not peeking at Brady. So there were several times when Brady had time but no open receivers because the secondary held its coverage, such as the third-and-13 incompletion at the Jets' 34 in the fourth quarter with the Patriots down 10 points.
Scott was asked when he knew the Jets' defense was getting to Brady. "He started looking for the rush when there was no rush,'' he said.
Speaking of the Jets' next opponent Sunday in Pittsburgh, Scott added, "I give [Steelers quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger a lot of credit. He's willing to stand in there and not back down.''
He meant unlike Brady, whose quarterback rating against the Jets was 89.0 - respectable, but not nearly good enough to beat Rex Ryan's defense this day.