Rex Ryan said he wasn’t the decisive factor after all as the New York Jets defeated the New England Patriots to advance to the conference title game for a second consecutive year.
The Jets’ coach had billed yesterday’s National Football League playoff game, a 28-21 upset win for New York, as a showdown between himself and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Afterward, he gave credit to his players.
“I said this was going to come down to me and Belichick -- thank goodness it never did,” Ryan said. “We thought we had a good plan, but plans are useless without great play from your players. And our players bought in.”
The Jets’ defense harassed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, sacking him five times and forced him into his first interception since the season’s sixth week. Jets second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez threw three touchdown passes and improved his career postseason record to 4-1.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson said that, modesty aside, Ryan outcoached Belichick, a three-time Super Bowl winner.
“Rex called a heck of a ballgame,” said Tomlinson, who rushed for 43 yards on 10 carries and also caught a 7-yard touchdown pass. “The numbers prove it, he was better.”
The Jets’ victory started with defense, Tomlinson said.
On the Patriots’ first possession, New England drove to the Jets’ 28 yard line before linebacker David Harris intercepted Brady’s pass to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and returned the ball to the Patriots’ 12 yard line.
It was just the fifth intercepted pass in 17 games for Brady, who didn’t throw an interception in his last 335 attempts of the season, an NFL record. The two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player threw both of his touchdown passes in the second half, including one with 30 seconds left.
The Jets prevented the Patriots from converting 9 of 14 third-down plays and stopped New England twice on fourth down. Harris finished with nine tackles.
“We didn’t do it today,” Belichick said. “You can list them all: too many penalties, too many mistakes, missed tackles, missed blocks, pressure, drops -- all of the above.”
Ryan said the Jets’ defense thrived by mixing the types of coverage and pressure it showed Brady.
“Against these great quarterbacks, that’s what you have to do,” he said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve ever played good defense. We know a little bit about playing defense and clearly you’ve got to mix it up.”
It was the third time the Jets have had five or more sacks in a playoff game and the first time since 1985, also against New England. Defensive end Shaun Ellis had two sacks during the first quarter.
“I think they spun the dial well on their pressures and coverages,” Brady said. “It just felt like we were fighting hard out there to gain yards.”
It was a stark contrast to the last time the division rivals met on Dec. 6, when Brady threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-3 nationally televised rout.
“We thought we were the better team,” Ryan said. “That Monday night game we weren’t. They were clearly head and shoulders better than we were. But I knew that if we applied ourselves and we played the way we’re capable of playing, that we could beat them.”
Ryan minimized the impact of the Jets’ outspokenness and bravado leading up to the game. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie had used a profanity to describe Brady, while other Jets players criticized the New England quarterback for pointing at opponents after touchdowns.
“We talked because we believed in ourselves,” Ryan said. “We aren’t afraid of anybody.”
Jets linebacker Bart Scott echoed similar sentiments after sending the Patriots, who went 14-2 during the regular season, to a third straight playoff defeat.
“People talked about all the trash talking, but they don’t see the hard work that we put in at practice, the guys buying in,” Scott said in the locker room. “We believe we can match up against anybody. It’s no matter how arrogant or cocky we sound.”
The Jets now travel to Pittsburgh for the American Football Conference title game against the Steelers on Jan. 23.
Ryan has already called the Jets’ third road game of the postseason, “Mission Impossible: Round Three.” The Jets have yet to host a playoff game at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, yet have gone 4-1 in postseason road games under Ryan the past two years. Their only loss came in the conference championship last year in Indianapolis.
“We’re moving on, same old Jets, going to the AFC championship game two years in a row,” Ryan said. “The only difference is we plan on winning this one.”