FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Between his dramatic weight loss and his downsized ego this season, Rex Ryan was becoming almost unrecognizable. But a confidence-boosting win over the Colts and a pending date with the Patriots Sunday in Foxboro were all it took to restore Ryan's swagger.
The Jets' coach made it clear that his determination to beat AFC East rival New England and coach Bill Belichick never will change. "I want them to know -- and they know -- that I think we're going to beat them," Ryan said Monday.
"I recognize they're a great football team and Belichick's a great coach. I've never once said that he wasn't. We're not going to back down or concede anything. They're going to get our best shot. We know we're going to get theirs. So it doesn't matter who says what, but we are going to be ourselves. We're coming up there to take our swing, and we'll see if we land that punch to win the game."
The Patriots' surprising 24-23 loss at Seattle on Sunday dropped them to 3-3, tied with the Jets, Dolphins and Bills in the AFC East. Asked if the defending AFC champions look more vulnerable, Ryan said it's unusual for the Pats to have so many losses at this stage of the season, but he added that the Jets need to worry more about themselves.
"It's going to be a slugfest all the way," Ryan said. "It's a 10-game season now, so whoever comes out of it the best will win our division. We're just going to keep slugging."
Ryan's fighting words not only set the tone for Patriots week but reinforced the message he sent to his team after the 34-0 loss to San Francisco Sept. 30. Namely, that they had to be more physical running the ball and stopping the run.
He saw progress in a 23-17 loss to Houston, and it all came to fruition in Sunday's 35-9 win over the Colts.
"We got back to trying to give it to the offense every day in practice, and vice versa," linebacker Garrett McIntyre said. "It's just going back to that Rex-style type of defense, and I think it is carrying over into the games."
All division games are important, but the intensity gets dialed up more for the Patriots. "This week of practice, we'll be banging each other," McIntyre said. "This is a huge opportunity for us."
Up in New England, Belichick's fire is no less hot but a lot more muted. Mention of the Jets elicited a typically clipped response. "Certainly the Jets are a big one this week," Belichick said, "but we face big ones every week."
Having finished second in the division to the Patriots in each of Ryan's first three seasons as coach, the Jets know what's necessary to change that order.
"It's going to be a fight," safety Eric Smith said. "It's a rivalry game. You're up for it no matter what."