If you heard Marty Lyons' fiery halftime speech and saw how it warmed up the closing-night crowd on a frigid Sunday at Giants Stadium as the Jets were on the verge of a playoff-clinching 37-0 win over Cincinnati, then, you know how much that win meant to those who have given their devotion to a franchise that has been star-crossed the past 40 years.
Same Old Jets? It's a catch-all phrase that has echoed down the years with a frustrated fan base. But nowa glimmer.
Coach Rex Ryan's optimistic bluster. The promise of rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez shows when he avoids interceptions. The NFL's most prolific running game. And most of all, the aggressive play of the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
Yes, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis rested several starters, most notably running back Cedric Benson, in anticipation of Saturday's wild-card playoff rematch in Cincinnati. But it was 27-0 at halftime against the starters who did play, and no matter how you slice it, the Bengals took a beating on both sides of the ball.
That has to give the AFC North champions pause this week as they prepare for the game that counts. As Lyons was coming down from his radio commentator's seat in the press box to start off Ryan's postgame press conference, the old defensive tackle in him came out. Watching the Bengals trot off the field to their locker room, Lyons nodded their direction and said, "There have to be some tight [players] over there."
Indeed there must be. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer isn't likely to go 1 for 11 passing for zero yards and a 1.7 QB rating again, and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco might not be shutout again by Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. But Palmer is going to remember the pressure he faced, and Ochocinco might wince at the memory of the hit by safety Kerry Rhodes that encouraged him to leave the game early.
Call it more of Ryan's sometimes misguided bluster if you like, but the coach said, "I feel good about our team. In these conditions, you saw, with that running game and playing great defense, we'll be tough to beat .... I know one thing: You don't want to play us."
There's a suspicion the Bengals were content to take the loss and get the Jets and their error-prone rookie quarterback at home as a first-round playoff opponent. If Sanchez reverts and starts throwing balls up for grabs again, the Jets could wind up the easy out that some expect.
With a rested Benson in the lineup, it'll be tough for the Jets to hold the Bengals to just 72 yards rushing (not to mention total offense) again. Presumably, the Bengals went with a vanilla offensive scheme Sunday night and will have a lot more flavors in store for Saturday's game. But there's videotape of 15 other games and only so much more they can do.
In the end, football comes down to blocking, tackling and avoiding mistakes at this time of year, especially in cold-weather conditions the two teams are likely to face again.
How dangerous might these 9-7 Jets be? "Very dangerous," Ryan said. "You've got to be able to run the football this time of year, and you've got to be able to play defense. We can do that better than any team in the league. That gives us a chance in every single game no matter who we play.
"This is a heck of a football team. I think it's probably been a few years since the Jets had a No. 1 defense in the league, and it's not even close. And a top rushing attack in the league. I don't know about the 'Same Old Jets' stuff."
The Jets should expect a better game by Cincinnati for sure. But after 37-0, no matter what the circumstances, the Bengals can't be comfortable. They might be hoping to see the 'Same Old Jets,' but fearing the alternative they saw Sunday night.