Sure, Rex Ryan had a feeling his defense would be good. But even the Jets rookie head coach is in awe of what his defensive unit has accomplished.
Not only has its performance exceeded his expectations by closing out the season as the top-rated defense in the NFL, but the unit is a key reason the Jets have won five of their last six games and are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006.
"I don't even know if I thought we'd be No. 1 this year," he said during his Monday press conference at the team's facility in Florham Park, N.J. "I thought we'd be a Top 5 defense, certainly . . . But I believe in the system, I believe in the group of players and I definitely believe in the coaches. When you combine all those factors, that's why I have a lot of confidence in it.
". . . This is the New York Jet defense. Period."
That defense held Cincinnati to just 72 total yards in Sunday night's 37-0 win at the Meadowlands and has allowed no more than 15 points in the Jets' last six games.
"We've given up a couple of leads, but I think every team in the league has done that," he said. "When you look at it statistically, and even on the field, this defense has outperformed every defense in the league . . . It took us a little while to hit our stride, but I think we're there right now."
Regardless of how the rest of the league may feel about him or his players, the coach believes opposing players have no option but to the respect the Jets.
"I think people hate me, which is fine," Ryan said. "I wanna be that guy that comes into your town and all that stuff. I want the negative focus, put it on me, that's fine. But our football team, I think, is respected. This is a pretty darn good football team that plays the game, in my opinion, the way it should be played. And I think any true football fan appreciates the way we play. We play great defense and we run the football and we're efficient in the passing game. Oh, and by the way, we play pretty good special teams . . . If they dislike us, or whatever - maybe it's that I'm not afraid and I can be myself - then that's just fine and dandy. But I truly believe we're building a team that I want our opponents to respect and I think we've earned that this year."