From the moment Rex Ryan joined the Jets and identified Patriots coach Bill Belichick as Public Enemy No. 1, tension between the two AFC East rivals was ratcheted up to new emotional heights. Ryan hasn’t kissed Belichick’s Super Bowl rings, as he swore he wouldn’t, but neither has he knocked the Patriots off their perch as division champs the past four seasons.
But Ryan and the Jets will always have that 2010 divisional playoff victory over Belichick’s team at Gillette Stadium, and whatever anger some of Ryan’s comments might have inspired those first couple of seasons, Belichick has publicly professed his respect for Ryan’s work.
Maybe four straight wins over the Jets, including the 49-19 rout last Thanksgiving at MetLife Stadium in the “buttfumble” game, have softened Belichick’s attitude, but he was very complimentary of Ryan leading up to Thursday’s night’s meeting at Gillette Stadium.
Asked for his thoughts on Ryan, Belichick described him as a “gameplan coach,” meaning the Jets coach isn’t afraid to try different approaches from week to week tailored to his opponent. “How they defend you and how they defend the team or the opponent after is all based on how he sees the matchups and what he wants to do,” Belichick said. “There certainly will be some in-game adjustments we’ll have to make, I’m sure in all three phases of the game based on how they specifically try to attack us.
“He does a good job. Well-prepared. The players play hard. He attacks the offense.”
Belichick said the fundamentals of Ryan’s defense can be seen from week to week, but he added, “You also see a lot of things that are different. Those are specific to the personnel matchups. I think they’re specific to the situation in those games.”
Noting the personnel changes to Ryan’s defense, Belichick expressed admiration for the depth and talent on the defensive line, mentioning Muhammad Wilkerson, rookie Shelton Richardson and backup Damon Harrison. Knowing what they are up against, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said they will have to match the physical approach of the Jets.
Brady has no trouble summoning his enthusiasm for the rivalry. “It’s awesome,” the quarterback said. “I mean, it’s Boston-New York. It’s been that way for a long time, long before me, and any time you see them on the schedule, you just think of all the great games you’ve had against them and you think of how challenging the game will be. We know a lot of the faces; we know the scheme. There are some new faces that are part of the rivalry, so, it’s going to be an exciting game.”
While Brady doesn’t mind saying the rivalry with the Jets is special, that’s where Belichick draws the line. He doesn’t want to elevate one opponent on the schedule over another even though his players notice a definite increase of the intensity level during the week of a Jets game.
Asked if he has “enjoyed” the competition with Ryan, Belichick grimaced. “Look, it’s a very competitive rivalry between the Jets and the Patriots,” Belichick said. “I’ve been on both sides of it, and it’s very competitive. It’s about competition every week. I don’t know if ‘enjoyable’ is the right word, but it’s challenging.”