"Well, give me somebody you want me to call out and I'll do it. Hines Ward? Casey Hampton? I guess those would be the two early targets," Ryan said. "But it's just a different feel. Last week, I just felt Bill Belichick had dominated me the last time we played, and I knew that wasn't going to happen again. But Mike Tomlin, he's one of my favorite coaches."
Can this happen? Can the Jets win on love, respect and mutual admiration? It's been hate, anger and us-against-them bravado that's carried them this far. Can they beat the Steelers and reach the Super Bowl without stirring up the same kind of emotion on which they've lived so far in January?
They just might have to.
"I think we play better when we've got a chip on our shoulder," Jets guard Brandon Moore said. "When we're flying high, things are going great, we're not as good. But as far as this week goes, it's about unfinished business after last year. That's our motivation."
But where's the headline in that? That has nothing to do with hating the other team's quarterback or lingering anger over the way they acted the last time they beat you. Last year's Jets AFC Championship loss was to the Colts, who are already taken care of. And the last time they went to Pittsburgh -- less than a month ago -- the Jets won the game. No, this week doesn't look like it can possibly be half the tabloid circus last week was. This week, they'll have to win without that chip on their shoulder. The best they can hope for is a bunch of people in the media making a bunch of noise about how they can't possibly win. They know how to use that. They're 4-1 in road playoff games over the past two years.
"We have a lot of passionate guys, a lot of emotional guys and a lot of guys who just love the game," receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "And when someone tells you you can't do it, and you have that much passion and emotion, you want to go out there and get it done."
But this time, it's not going to be about the other team. Unless you're Santonio Holmes, the receiver the Steelers dumped on the Jets for a fifth-round pick last off-season, there's just not a lot of bad blood here.
"The stage will set itself," Moore said. "This is the AFC championship game."
From Ryan's perspective, he's happy it's Mike Tomlin's Steelers on the other sideline. Tomlin, as he says, is one of his favorite coaches in the league. Tomlin, you see, doesn't run up the score on a guy like some other coaches (whose names may or may not rhyme with "Jelichick") sometimes do.
To close his news conference Monday, Ryan told a story about a 2007 Ravens-Steelers game in which Ryan was Baltimore's defensive coordinator and Tomlin's Steelers ran up a 38-7 halftime lead.
"They ran the ball every play in the second half," Ryan recalled.
Not only that, Ryan said, but one of the Steelers' fullbacks (Ryan couldn't recall the name, though Carey Davis was the Steelers' fullback who played in that game) spent part of the second half talking smack with then-Ravens linebacker Bart Scott. Near the sideline, Scott told the fullback to get back on the field if he wanted to back up his talk. Tomlin, hearing the conversation, sent the fullback back into the game.
"And on the next play, Bart separated the kid's shoulder," Ryan said before dissolving into a maniacal cackle. "That's one of my favorite stories."
Yes, and in the insane, uber-macho world that is the NFL, that qualifies as a coach showing respect -- for the game and the opponent. And that, Ryan said, is what he thinks of Mike Tomlin.
Where's the fun in that?
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