There was no question after Friday's practice that coach Rex Ryan's week-long message to the Jets was to bring a more physical edge to their game in today's divisional playoff against the Patriots, the team they have to beat every year in the AFC East. Anyone who listened to the tone of the language in the Jets' locker room could hear the players gearing up for a physical battle.
Linebacker Bart Scott was the most forceful when he told Newsday's Jets beat writer Rod Boone that Patriots receiver Wes Welker better be careful about insulting Ryan or "his days in a uniform will be numbered." That comment has resonated across the media spectrum the past two days, and it prompted the NFL to issue a warning on Saturday that players should leave the trash talk on the sidelines. You know Scott will be watched closely today by the officials.
But Scott wasn't alone in threatening mayhem. Safety James Ihedigbo said the Jets were coming to Foxborough to "physically intimidate this team." Describing his approach to the game, Ihedigbo added, "I'm a very passionate player. I've always played this game with a relentless mindset and a kind of controlled violence. I use that every time I step on the field, and as a team, we play like that. That's what it means to 'play like a Jet as a player with your hair on fire.'"
That's bold talk for a team that was destroyed 45-3 on Monday Night Football on their last visit to Gillette Stadium. But Ihedigbo said it would be a mistake to believe that game will foretell the outcome of this one.
"The only thing I can say about last time we played there is that it was a regular-season game," Ihedigbo said. "Playoff football is completely different. You look at how the Seahawks beat the defending Super Bowl champions. What happened in the regular season, you might as well throw it out the window because it's not going to help you win this game. You better come ready to play playoff football."
When it was Ryan's turn for his press conference on Friday, he built this game up as the "second-most important" game in franchise history behind Super Bowl III even though it's just a second-round playoff game and not the AFC championship. And he said the Jets would win, which is something he says every week.
But the real clue to his thinking about how to remedy the mistakes the Jets made last time against the Pats came when he spoke about the theme in practice. "I think it's going to be a physical matchup now," Ryan said. "That's what you want. Right now, we're ready to approach this game in a physical fashion. Now we just have to execute."
As if to underline the message, Ryan had this response when asked about Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson saying the Jets should shut up and play. "We could use Reggie's bat this week," Ryan quipped. "If he wants to help us out, I'd be happy."