As if he hadn't previously pulled out all the emotional stops this week in preparing to play AFC East rival New England in a divisional playoff game on Sunday, Jets coach Rex Ryan took the rest of his chips and moved them to the center of the table when asked to place this game in, uh, perspective.
"This one will probably be the second biggest game in the history of the franchise," Ryan said. "Obviously, Super Bowl III being the most [important]."
Since Super Bowl III, the Jets have reached the AFC championship game three times, including last season when they lost, 30-17, at Indianapolis. But Ryan believes there are other factors that have combined to raise this divisional playoff to another level, including his "personal" battle against Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"I think it would be even more so than last year's Indianapolis game," Ryan said. "I think this one is huge because you've got your rival, a team that has won three Super Bowls right there in your own division; you're at their place; you're coming off the huge, embarrassing loss [45-3] we had in that Monday night game. I think this, without question, would be the second-biggest game in the history of the franchise. That's my opinion."
Assessing his team's readiness at the end of its practice week, Ryan said: "The hay's in the barn. We are ready to go. We're making that trip up. We're going to show up. I guarantee you that. For anybody who thinks it's going to be the same exact outcome as it was last time, I don't believe that's true."
The coach said his troops got off to a slow start this week, so, wherever there was a gray area in terms of players understanding the concepts being practiced, especially on defense, they simplified things to reduce the chance of confusion. Ryan wants his players to be able to be able to react without having to think too much.
After losing to the Patriots 45-3 on Dec. 6, the Jets have stressed the importance of keeping the game close early because their game plan had to change when they quickly fell behind. But when asked what he will do if the Jets win the coin toss, Ryan did not hesitate -- he plans to give Patriots quarterback Tom Brady first crack at the ball.
"We're going to defer like we always do," Ryan said. "The one time we didn't, you guys convinced me of it, and we went three and out." Responding to the laughter that followed, Ryan smiled and said, "I'm not pointing fingers, placing blame.
"But I just think this is who we are. We're not afraid to play defense. We'll kick it off to them and see what happens. Their percentage of scoring [on the first possession] is higher than anybody in the league, but regardless of when they get the ball, it's going to be a challenge. I'd just as soon play defense first."
Clearly, Ryan plans to make it a physical game on both sides of the ball. The Jets want to rely on the running game on offense and rattle Brady and the Patriots' receivers on offense if possible.
Summing up his message to the team, Ryan said: "I just think we earned this right to come back here and play against the New England Patriots. One thing I can tell you right now is we have plenty of respect for them, but we don't fear them. I can promise you that. We do not fear them. We respect them, and we're going to win the game.
"The stakes are as high as you can stack them, but we know we have to go out and take it and that's what we plan on doing."