Let's get this out of the way right now, whatever you want to say about the Jets and coach Rex Ryan this week they are not frauds.
Are they annoying braggarts? Yes. Is Ryan's over-the-top rhetoric, replete with verbal jabs at Tom Brady, tedious? Yes. (It's pretty rich that Ryan would criticize Brady for going to a play instead of watching the Jets play since the coach puts on a Broadway show every time he steps to the podium.) Is it cathartic to see the self-professed "Soon to be champs" lose. Yes.
Are the Jets all talk and no talent? No.
That was a popular opinion in these parts after the Patriots served a heaping helping of Bill Belichick's famous humble pie to Gang Green and their grandiloquent coach in what was billed as an AFC East showdown for the ages on Dec. 6. Instead, it was a 45-3 beatdown for the ages administered by the Patriots.
If the Jets were a bunch of Bernie Madoffs then we wouldn't be preparing for a rubber match between the fierce rivals. They would have been exposed long before reaching a return trip to Foxborough. Ryan told Belichick they'd meet again and for once actually backed up his words.
Charlatans-in-shoulder-pads wouldn't have won a must-win game in Pittsburgh, and they wouldn't have been able to relegate Peyton Manning's playoff sightings from here on out to selling Sony TVs and Oreo cookies.
J-E-T-S is a four-letter word around here, rightfully so given the history and histrionics between the teams. But you also have to give Ryan's team a little bit of R-E-S-P-E-C-T because they went into Indianapolis and held Indy to just 16 points and Manning to only one touchdown pass. You might even want to send them flowers since they eliminated the one player, Manning, that Patriots fans feared most in the playoffs.
It was only the second time all year that Manning's offense was held to just one touchdown. Any team that can hold Manning to 16 points and Brady to 14 in the same season is neither a punching bag nor a punchline. They are a formidable, if eminently unlikeable, opponent.
The Jets may not be frauds, but they are flawed. And the Patriots exposed every one of them on that memorable and thoroughly enjoyable Monday night. However, don't think it's going to be that easy the third time around. The Patriots are better than the Jets, but not 45-3 better. That was the margin of victory, but it's not the margin of ability between the teams.
Ask the New Orleans Saints what happens when you presume playoff victory.
Much of what Vociferous Rex spews in his press conferences is spurious boasting, empty-calorie quotes. But today when he went into self-flagellation/team-aggrandizement for a poor game plan that contributed to that Monday night meltdown there was some actual veracity in his voice.
Last time both teams had 11 days to prepare to play each other and Belichick used that time to dissect Ryan's defense and confuse his wannabee franchise quarterback. Ryan looked like he used the time to eat Thanksgiving Day leftovers.
"There are chess matches every week, but it was checkmate," Ryan told the New York media today. "He definitely out-coached me."
Ryan can talk all he wants about how he plans on being the best coach on Sunday, but almost any plan the Jets come up with will be better than the one they had last time.
"The plan might have looked good on paper but it wasn’t realistic," Ryan said. "When we had to make the adjustments, we couldn't execute. It really came down to coaching more than playing. It was obvious they were that much better -- Belichick was that much better than I was that last game."
Ryan had no clue how to handle the new-look New England offense, the one that didn't have Randy Moss as its centerpiece, the one Belichick created in part to beat the Jets. Brady spread the ball around and picked the Jets apart, going 21 of 29 for 326 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. The simulated pressure and blitz schemes that had thrown off Brady's timing in the teams' first meeting didn't even cause TB12 to bat an eyelash this time.
Brady didn't need to look at Buddy Ryan's Bears tape to figure out Rex's defense. On one dump-off to Danny Woodhead, the Jets had defensive lineman Mike DeVito responsible for the running back. The result was a 50-yard gain for the Jets castoff/Patriots cult hero.
Ryan's deployment, or lack there of, of shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis was baffling. Revis spent most of his time just playing centerfield in a short zone, roaming around the secondary like he was at a cocktail party.
Offensively, the Jets made a fatal miscalculation. They thought they could take advantage of the Patriots pass defense. The problem was the Patriots' perceived defensive weakness was also the Jets' offensive Achilles' heel.
Sanchez, who completed only 54.8 percent of his passes this season, was simply not accurate enough out of the shotgun spread to execute the game plan. He finished 17 of 33 for 164 yards and threw three straight interceptions in the second half.
Don't expect the Jets to make the same mistakes this time. The depleted Patriots defensive line will get a heavy dose of Shonn Greene and noted Patriot-hater LaDainian Tomlinson and the Jets ground-and-pound attack. Defensively, New York will take either Deion Branch, who destroyed Antonio Cromartie in the last meeting, or Wes Welker away from Brady using Revis.
Just like the Patriots learned from their mistakes in the Jets' 28-14 win in Week 2, New York will learn from theirs.
Yes, the Patriots have a better coach and a better quarterback. But those are advantages New England has against any team it plays, not just the Jets.
The Jets aren't frauds. They're foils who are capable of foiling the Patriots' playoff plans if they're underestimated.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.