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Ever since Monday, we’ve all been subject to what the media calls the “War of Words” between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. But is it really a war if one side attacks and the other side doesn’t respond? Perhaps this should be re-named the “Bay of Pigs Invasion of Words,” or perhaps the “Six-Day War of Words.” Hey! There are six days between Monday and Saturday! That kind of works!
This really hasn’t been a back-and-forth exchange of insults and criticisms. Jets personnel would say something inflammatory, and the Patriots would respond with something conciliatory or deflecting. Rex Ryan says this game is about the battle between him and Bill Belichick? Belichick says that it won’t be either of them making the plays. Ryan accuses Tom Brady of relying on coaches to prepare him for a game? Brady says that yes, of course he does. Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie calls Brady some very bad words? Brady: “I’ve been called worse. In fact, Bill Belichick’s called me that. My offensive coordinator has called me that. And I know they like me, so maybe [Cromartie] really likes me.”
So far, there has only been one Patriot to say anything that could be at all construed as even possibly inflammatory: Wes Welker, who 11 times in his Thursday conference used a word related to the foot (feet, step, toe, etc.). Was this a mockery of Ryan? Hard to say. But no other Patriot has come even close to trying to rile up the Jets. In a sport where “disrespect” is the buzzword du jour, used (and often manufactured) by every team to try and give themselves an emotional edge, the Patriots are not giving the Jets anything to work with.
The Jets, meanwhile, run a serious risk with this strategy. The Jets have already seen once how the Patriots, if irritated, can play at a level that not only wins but humiliates their opponent. In the Patriots’ 45-3 victory over the Jets at home, Belichick proved that he has a coaching level that is beyond his regular level, which is pretty darn good to begin with. In that game, the Patriots ran plays never before used in the Belichick era. None was more evident than Brady’s 50-yard pass to Danny Woodhead. That pass began with Brady in the spread and Woodhead in the backfield. Brady hit Woodhead for a five-foot lateral pass, and Woodhead burst through the line, taking advantage of the deep safeties. Belichick saved that play for that game, and it broke the Jets defense in half. If you piss Belichick off, he will take his game to a level that no one else can compete with. He won’t just beat you; he’ll beat you into the ground.
Brady also raised his game against the Jets, clearly miffed at their undeserved publicity. Brady was having an MVP season, and the Jets were getting all the press with little more than an AFC Championship loss to back it up. Was Brady angry? Yes. Did he point at the sidelines? Yes. Did the Jets do anything to shut him up? No. Because Brady is a transcendent quarterback, one of the best of this decade (if not the best), and he too has reserves of quarterback prowess that once tapped can’t be defended or denied. Don’t challenge Brady to beat you, because he can, he will, and he will enjoy it.
Even if the Jets win Sunday’s game (unlikely as that may be), how will they look to the rest of the NFL in their victory? Have they looked charming and fun in their constant attacks on the Patriots? Does this team seem like a happy-go-lucky bunch of youngsters whose swagger comes from their love of the game and their carefree attitude? Or do they look like bullies, picking fights that no one else is interested in just because they like to fight? Does their swagger belie a lack of confidence in themselves? The Patriots are supremely arrogant because they know their system works. The Jets have no such validation, so they replace it with bravado. If they lose, they’ll look like fools. If they win, they’ll look like jerks.
Ryan’s players are talking trash because Ryan talks trash. If the Jets lose, it will be a reflection on the way he runs his team more than it will be on the talent level of his players. Had Ryan backed away, given the Patriots the stock complimentary answers that Belichick and the Patriots always rely on, his players would have played this game just as cool. Instead, these hot-mouthed players are psyching up an opponent that can absolutely play at a level better than any other team in the NFL.
As a team, the Patriots have sometimes come into games not completely focused (their loss to Cleveland this season is a good example). Get them playing sloppy in the beginning, build up a lead, and you might have a chance. But if they come wanting nothing more than to shut you up by shoving your face into the grass, you’re doomed. And talking trash is the most surefire strategy to getting the latter Patriots on Sunday.
The Patriots long ago learned that the best way to make a statement is on the field. Making one off the field just motivates the other team. New Orleans learned the hard way what can happen when a team is constantly belittled. The Patriots are saving their energy for Sunday, but at the rate the Jets are going, they’ll be running on fumes by Saturday.