FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Rex Ryan strolled up to Antonio Cromartie during practice Wednesday, glad to know his cornerback has unseated him as Public Enemy No. 1 in Patriots country.
"He said, 'You know what? I'm not the most hated guy in New England anymore,' '' Cromartie said. "But it goes with the territory."
Dangerous territory, when you call Tom Brady a few choice words.
In a story in yesterday's Daily News, Cromartie ripped the Patriots quarterback, using two vulgarities. He refused to back down one iota Wednesday, injecting more fuel into a raging fire leading up to Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
"Why would I regret them?" Cromartie said. "Nah, that's my opinion and that's how I feel about it. There's no reason for me to sit back and take anything back I said about him, and I'm not.
"My opinion is never going to change about Brady. I hate him, he hates me, he hates the Jets. Who cares?"
Brady, as Bill Belichick did Monday after Ryan called this game "personal" between the Patriots coach and himself, tried to play along and have a little fun with the sudden dust-up.
"I've been called worse," Brady said Wednesday. "Belichick has called me that, my offensive coordinator has called me that, and I know they like me. So maybe he likes me because there are people who have called me that a few times."
Ryan had no problem with Cromartie's slippery, foul-mouthed tongue.
"I think that language is a little salty for me," Ryan deadpanned with a laugh.
"You shouldn't like who you are going up against right now. This is the playoffs. I can tell you our whole team respects Brady and the Patriots. But hey, we don't like any of them right now. You shouldn't. Danny Woodhead is a great kid, but I can't stand Danny Woodhead right now.
"I think that's just part of it, and trust me, the feeling is mutual."
Cromartie has had a severe dislike for Brady ever since the 2006 season, when the cornerback was with the Chargers. After their playoff win over San Diego, the Patriots danced on the Chargers' midfield logo, which irked Cromartie. But what really gets his blood boiling is when Brady points at the opposing sideline after a touchdown, which the Jets say he did to them after his 1-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' 45-3 runaway Dec. 6.
"Everybody saw the film, and everybody saw the tape of him pointing, and taunting at the sideline and at our players," Cromartie said. "So that's just ongoing. When you do stuff like that, it's not being a professional on the football field. Just be a pro and act like you've been there before."
That's why Cromartie thinks Brady is disrespectful.
"Yeah, yeah, he is," Cromartie said. "If you want to talk about being professional, be professional. You've been there before, scoring touchdowns. Act like it and go back to the sideline."
Brady, however, has no recollection of such occurrences.
"I don't remember that," he said. "I'm very emotional as I play. I don't think I've ever pointed at anybody. That's definitely not my style . . . I'm sure I'm excited when we can score against one of the top defenses in the league."
Too excited, if you ask Cromartie.
"All the taunting, be a pro about it," Cromartie said. "If you are going to have your fun, do it on the sideline. But don't look at our sideline. That's the biggest sign of disrespect."
Brady said being disrespectful is the last thing he's trying to do.
"That's certainly not my intent," he said. "I don't remember ever pointing. I'm sure there are 50,000 cameras on the game. I'm sure if there was a problem doing that, then they would show that. I have a lot of respect for those players, and for their scheme, and their coaches and the way they get their team prepared.
"Maybe that's just a source of motivation for them, but I certainly don't feel that way. There is enough for me to worry about."
Something Cromartie certainly isn't worried about: Being targeted more because of his verbal war with Brady.
"I hope he throws the ball 10 times my way," he said. "Only thing I can do is go out and make him pay. That's the only thing you can do."
Other than providing bulletin-board fodder, of course.
"Man, they can have all the material they want to," Cromartie said. "They don't care what we say out here in the media. It's what you do in between those white lines. That's what it's going to come to on Sunday."