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Alex Ferguson meets Barry Fry in NFL playoffs

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Neil Reynolds | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

There have been several occasions in the past when I have painted New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as the Alex Ferguson of the NFL.

The three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach is widely considered as a sideline genius and a legend in the making, he does not suffer fools gladly, he could take or leave pre- and post-match press conferences and he is happy to ship out troublesome players who don't fully buy into his system, even if they are the biggest names in the sport.

Ferguson was content to allow the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to leave Old Trafford, and Belichick made a similar headline-making move this season when he jettisoned one of the most successful wide receivers of the past decade in Randy Moss.

Belichick has guided the league-leading Patriots to the quarter-final stage of the NFL playoffs and this Sunday evening he takes on his polar opposite in New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan.

Rex Ryan has said that Sunday's playoff fixture is 'personal' between him and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Photos: AP

Rex Ryan has said that Sunday's playoff fixture is 'personal' between him and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Photos: AP

If Belichick is the NFL's Alex Ferguson, Ryan is probably more akin to Peterborough's Barry Fry. He is a larger-than-life character, he has never met a microphone he didn't like and he is constantly filling journalists' notebooks with cracking one-liners.

Ryan has not disappointed this week, insisting: "There's no question it's personal - it's about Belichick against myself. That's what it's going to come down to. I recognise that he's the best in the business and all that, but I'm just trying to be the best on Sunday.

"He's going to get my best shot. If he slips at all, I'm going to beat him."

This is a typical Ryan move. He seems unable to avoid making a controversial remark but I think it is actually a well-designed move to put the spotlight on himself, allowing his team to prepare for big games in relative peace and quiet while he takes all the tough questions.

Ryan, who once challenged Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder to a fight
, has been in the media spotlight all season long. His team was the subject of a fly-on-the-wall documentary called Hard Knocks (a series Patriots quarterback Tom Brady refused to watch because he hates the Jets) and in December it was alleged that his wife of 23 years, Michelle, was the star of a series of You Tube foot fetish videos, one of which reportedly featured the coach speaking off camera.

Interestingly, it was not an allegation denied by Ryan, who instead responded to questions from the media by saying: "It's a personal matter."

Ryan appears completely unfazed by the probing into his private life and remains totally focused on the job at hand. And it would be especially sweet for New Yorkers if the Jets can knock off the 14-2 Patriots at the weekend, especially after Ryan's team suffered a stunning 45-3 loss at the hands of the Patriots last month.

That was a result that so angered Ryan he dug a hole at the Jets' training ground and buried the game ball in it.

Ryan revealed: "I told Belichick after that game 'We'll see you in round three.' He just looked at me."

There is certainly no love lost between these AFC East rivals, and it would be fair to say they have quite a bit of previous.

The bad feeling really began in 1997 when Patriots head coach Bill Parcells left to take charge of the Jets. A year later, New England's star running back, Curtis Martin, also raced out of Boston and enjoyed the best years of a potential Hall of Fame career with the Jets.

In 1999, the Patriots got their revenge. Belichick was lined up as the Jets' replacement for the departing Parcells but he had a very late change of heart and took charge of New England.

That was a blow to the Jets that became more painful with each passing season as Belichick guided the Patriots to Super Bowl wins in 2002, 2004 and 2005, making them the elite team in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Jets are still chasing their first NFL title success since the 1968 campaign.

In 2006, Belichick was angered when his trusted assistant, Eric Mangini, left to coach the Jets, and in 2008 the Patriots were at the centre of the Spygate storm, where they were found guilty of illegally video-taping another team in action. And yes, you guessed correctly - it was the Jets.

That little controversy cost the Patriots $750,000 and a first round draft pick. It also threatened to damage Belichick's legacy, to some degree, with some critics suggesting New England needed such illicit activities in order to succeed.

I don't think that was the case, and Belichick has long reigned over one of the best-run and most talented teams in the NFL.

The 2010 edition of his Patriots will provide a stiff challenge for the Jets. Brady has enjoyed the kind of season that virtually guarantees he will be named the league's Most Valuable Player on Super Bowl Sunday.

The catalyst of New England's three Super Bowl wins has thrown 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions this term. He has not tossed an interception in an NFL record 335 passes. That is out-of-this-world production.

Offensively, the Patriots have been able to share the load among players who were not that heralded around the league at the start of this season and who might actually struggle to start elsewhere if they were to be judged purely on athletic talent.

Belichick is not all about speed. He factors in toughness, mental agility and attitude. If you hit hard, put the team first and can think quickly on your feet, you can play for the Patriots.

And that is why the likes of undrafted running backs Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead (signed after the Jets cut him in the summer) have been able to succeed in New England, alongside aerial targets such as rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and veteran wide receivers Deion Branch and Wes Welker.

It has been a total team effort for the Patriots, and that is fitting for Belichick's club where the individual is never allowed to put his own goals ahead of the group's ambitions.

Defensively, the Patriots are tougher to work out but they appear to be on the rise. This young and developing unit ranks 25th out of the NFL's 32 teams in terms of yards conceded but they lead the league in turnovers, taking the ball away from the opposition 38 times.

The Jets - who are no mugs themselves with 12 wins to their name and a host of stars including quarterback Mark Sanchez, running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, and receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes - will enjoy no luck if they try to entice bulletin board material out of the Patriots.

New York are a mirror image of their head coach - loud, brash, confident and in your face. The Patriots reflect the personality of their coach - they are quiet, business-like and determined to let their play on the field do the talking.

So this is more than a tale of two head coaches. It is a tale of two vastly different teams with just one thing in common - they don't like each other very much.

And that should make for a very interesting Sunday evening as Arlo White and Greg Brady bring live commentary of the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears from 1745 GMT on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra before handing over to myself and Nat Coombs for the Jets-Patriots showdown.

For now, I am leaning towards Brady and the Patriots. I would much rather listen to Ryan in a press conference and think he is a breath of fresh air for the NFL, but he and his team still have a long way to go before they can overcome New England and Belichick.

NFL Divisional Playoff Round Predictions

Baltimore Ravens 13 Pittsburgh Steelers 17
Green Bay Packers 24 Atlanta Falcons 21
Seattle Seahawks 10 Chicago Bears 28
New York Jets 17 New England Patriots 27

Listen to live coverage of Sunday's playoff games from 1745 GMT on BBC Five live sports extra and watch highlights of the weekend's action at 2320 GMT next Monday on BBC Two.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Rex is like Kevin Keegan but with a bit more savvy and a lot less self-doubt. He'll still get schooled this weekend though.

    I know this is a very dangerous way to look at the NFL - the any-given-Sunday rule is a constant - but watching the Jets in Indy last weekend, there was nothing on display to worry the Pats.

    The offense somehow scraped 17 points against the Colts, who've conceded 25 ppg at home since November. And their defense is set up to stop a boilerplate modern offense, something it does very well, but won't work against Belichick, who has torn up the offensive text-book this year and set Brady to work on baffled defenses.

    Obviously I'm just a regular armchair dork, but who honestly thinks Rex Ryan and his coaching team can come up with a plan to slow down the Pats offense? Their only realistic shot is to keep Brady off the field, and that only happens if Sanchez discovers a level of precision and consistency that we've never seen.

    So Pats by a distance, and there's a lot of us who'd loov it, loov it, if Belichick decided to run up the scoreboard.

    Agree with your other predictions, Neil, Bears comfortably and the Packers by a score, except for the Ravens-Steelers. Gut feel that the Ravens nick this one, perhaps on a game-changing defensive play by Ed Reed who unbelievably in the circumstances is back to his very best.

  • Comment number 2.

    You love or hate Rex. I'm firmly on the hate side. He can chat all he wants but you've got to win something sooner or later, like a division title perhaps.

    A lot neutrals dislike Ryan and the Jets and while i'll admit he was quite entertaining on Hard Knocks i think he's been found out a bit this season. The defense isn't as good as he'd like to think it is. And Sanchez is no where near earning that #5 pick contract he's on.

    The stony silence from the Patriots camp reflects Belichick's philosophy. Let them do the talking and spend all their time with the press. The Patriots will prepare better, practice harder and play better than the opposition.

    Also, "Spygate" was in 2007!

  • Comment number 3.

    I think, and hope, that the Patriots will rack up 30+ again. I've had enough of the Jets' trash talk. I would disagree on the Seattle Chicago game. No way the Bears win this by 18. Seattle may not be that good, (7-9) don't lie, but take a look at the QBs. Rookie playoff QBs have a terrible record. Chicago's QB is a bit of a mental midget, Seattle's has lots of playoff experience and has been to the superbowl. This is way closer than 18 pts - Seattle to sneek it maybe.

  • Comment number 4.

    What a bad article. This is NOT a rivalry. A rivalry is established on the field. The Patriots have dominated the NFL for the past 10 years, going to 4 Super Bowls and winning 8 division titles. They are clearly the best NFL franchise of the past 10 years, with Pittsburgh second.
    The Jets won the division in 2002 on a tie-breaker with a 9-7 record. They have not won an important game since they won the 1968 Super Bowl. Just because one team likes to talk a lot in the media, they does not make this a rivalry. The Pats true rivals are the Colts as they have similar records and have met in the play-offs many times in recent years.

  • Comment number 5.

    It was kind of obvious getting rid of a Randy Moss well past his prime but Billi Beli is indeed awesomely good in his judgements. So Patriots win, I think the Falcons are strong enough at home to progress and the Seahawks should lose to the Bears. Like The-same-Eddie-George my gut (or nose) thinks the Ravens win, they are ripe and emotionalised enough to finally get the better of the Steelers, for Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. I hope so.

  • Comment number 6.

    >> This is NOT a rivalry.

    I challenge you to find a supporter of either team who agrees with you.

  • Comment number 7.

    Both the AFC games this weekend are between pairs of teams that don't like each other. The difference is that the Ravens and Steelers respect each other, while the Jets and Patriots don't.

  • Comment number 8.

    Sepps Bladder, you need to chillax ASAP! I'm with The_Same_Eddie_George (first sensible thing he has said all day), ask any fan and this is a huge rivalry. I would put it on the same level to United/City rivalry - one established team and one up and coming team. Please can we remeber a few points:

    1) the 45-3 game was a one off, a fluke drubbing happens in all sports and is not a sure predictor of the season

    2) the Jets beat the pats by double digits in the second week of the season...granted it was at home but they are split 2-2 in the last 2 years, not exactly an overwhelming sign pf Pats dominance

    3) Mark Sanchez, young and inconsistent though he may be is 3-1 in play offs and has produced when it really mattered this year (Pats away aside but the 45 points were not his fault)

    4) The Jets shut down the best QB in the league last week without too much difficulty...lets see if the Robbie Savage of the NFL can carry his team of cast offs and misfits for yet another big game...

    5) the Jets are packed with big game, experienced players who have every chance of exposing the inexperience of Woodhead, Will Mullin and Gary McCormick in a post season game

    GO JETS!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Re 4. Sepps Bladder wrote:
    What a bad article. This is NOT a rivalry. A rivalry is established on the field.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    No, in any sport there is intense rivalry between New York and Boston. More so because the Jets and Pats play in the AFC East. The Pats vs Jets games are crucial in determining the winners of that division.

  • Comment number 10.

    As a Pats fan the Jets-Pats thing isn't a rivalry yet. It's utter hatred between Boston and NY fan bases sure, but this isn't a rivalry. Pats-Colts is a rivalry. I hate the Jets, but i fear and respect the Colts. They're the rival and always will be while Manning and Brady are squaring off. (Go check our Bill Simmons' recent article on Manning-Brady on ESPN.com, it's great stuff).

    IanKimSinger please tell me you don't think Sanchez is the reason the Jets won on saturday. After the 10th pass went saying over his WR's heads I was begging to play these guys.

    Saying the 45-3 was a fluke isn't accurate at all. It was a prepared and fired up team pounding on a lazy group of pre-madonnas. The Jets will be better this week, but they won't be as good as New England are.

    Dunno who you're calling Misfits. Didn't fit elsewhere maybe, but oh boy can Belichick get the best out of them.

  • Comment number 11.

    As IanKimmerSinger rightly points out, has everyone forgotten that the J-E-T-S beat the Pats earlier in the season? Have you forgotten that we beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh and the Colts in Indianapolis? The latter despite King Mark only turning up for 3 plays the entire game.

    In addition, as IanKimmerSinger again points out, a 2-2 record over the last 2 seasons hardly backs up the claims (and believe me, that's all that they are) that this is a one-sided relationship.

    As for this not being a rivalry Sepps Bladder, I have no idea what planet you are on. Would you class Man Utd - Liverpool as a rivalry? Would you class Man Utd - Leeds as a rivalry? They are two of the fiercest rivalries in British sport, and when was the last time that those teams competed "on the field"? Which team actually made it to the AFC Championship Game last year? Oh yeah, it was the Jets (thank you King Mark).

    Another thing I do not understand is how people can dislike Rex Ryan. GunnerToby, how are you "firmly on the hate side"? Thatspellsdisasterforscotland, how can you call what he says "trash talk"? Unless I was watching a different interview, he paid tribute to the Dark Lord and said that he was potentially the greatest coach of all time - now I like a laugh as much as the next man, but that is the polar opposite of trash talk in my book. In fact, call me old fashioned, I'd quite like to be called that.

    You're welcome, world.

  • Comment number 12.

    GunnerToby, how would you describe your loss in week 2? A fluke?

    Also, Mark was the reason that we won on Saturday - how else would you explain the 50-second drive up the field to set up the winning FG? I know for a fact that Tom couldn't have done that.

    I also wish everyone would stop talking about Tom's passing stats this season - he is blatantly throwing easy passes to trigger payment clauses in his contract. When was the last time he tried to excel himself?

    If he was such a good passer of the ball, why won't he test himself by throwing to the receivers who are visiting the Holy Church of Revis Christ?

    As for pre-madonnas, surely the man who has a hair transplant fits the bill more than anyone?

  • Comment number 13.

    #4 AND #10 GunnerToby

    It's clear to see that the teams don't like each other. Rex wants to make it personal as he did against the Colts....where it had the desired effect. Sanchez was good in the game winning drive.

    What makes it a rivalry is that the Jets finally have a team that can threaten the Patriots dominance. Before....they just didn't like each other. The Boston - New York thing is real.

    Pats are big favorites but they will have to play well to win. If they don't play well, the Jets will beat them.

    On the other predictions I'd go for the:

    Ravens over the Steelers 10-6
    Falcons over Green Bay 38-32
    Bears over the Seahawks 18-12

  • Comment number 14.

    As a dolphins I can't say I've any particular fondness either team, however my dislike for the pats stems from the fact their so good, my dislike for the jets stems from the fact that their all talk an have to back it up in the shape of a ring.

    Think pats might have too much for the jets especially in foxboro. Pats front 7 won't get pushed around as easy as the colts did last saturday an sanchez doesn't look like he's stepped up the plate jus yet.

    On a separate note, really lookin forward to ravens an steelers, definitely not a game for the feint hearted!

  • Comment number 15.

    Ian @ 8...

    "the 45 points were not his fault"

    The practically negative QB rating and three picks if I recall which all ended up in Pats TDs... I put that on Sanchez, and I can't wait for the re-run this weekend.

    Also...

    "If he was such a good passer of the ball, why won't he test himself by throwing to the receivers who are visiting the Holy Church of Revis Christ?"

    Tom's a decent guy, he doesn't want to puncture the one good myth the Jets have going for them.

  • Comment number 16.

    "Tom's a decent guy, he doesn't want to puncture the one good myth the Jets have going for them."

    Lol I like :)

    Go Pats!!

  • Comment number 17.

    Revis is the best player in football - Rex said that, so that makes it gospel.

    How about we ask Reggie Wayne? I may be mistaken, but I think he went for 107 yards against the Pats, and for only 1 yard against the Jets?

  • Comment number 18.

    Holy Church. Good QB's throw to the open man. No one throws on Revis cos he's great and 99.9% of the time has his man locked down.

    Tom takes the easy throws? Of course he does. He doesn't do a Favre/Cutler and try to force it into spaces that aren't there. Hence his fantastic TD-INT ratio through his career. Does that make him a bad QB? Of course not! and WTF are you even talking about Brady can't make last minute drives??? Go back and look at his first season in the league. Have a little look at the 2001 play-offs. Also he's so funking good he doesn't need to make those drives any more! Sanchez got them about 30 yards due to the big Cro return and then that ridiculous Caldwell timeout.

    The week 2 loss was a great game from the Jets and not so good from the Patriots. It happens. They traded Moss cos their main threat wouldn't work vs Jets/he was becoming a pain. The Pats are much better than they were then and if anything the Jets are worse.

    Revis is one of the top 4 or 5 defensive players in the league. Personally i'd put Polamalu/Ngata/Matthews ahead of him atm cos they do so much more than cover 1 guy all day (which Revis does brilliantly). Ngata might just be the most disruptive defensive player going.

    Anyway, bring on game day. It should be a great one.

  • Comment number 19.

    I agree, it should be great - ending with the J-E-T-S in the AFC Championship Game. Same old Jets.

  • Comment number 20.

    Armchair fans will see nothing but rivalry this weekend! Sunday kicks off with Inspector Clousseau against See You Jimmy as Villa take on Brum. Then the mighty Blues go to Anfield and tank them, whilst Carragher and Stevie G sit in the stands bawling. Ravens will have squeeked past the Steelers. The Pack will win by 3 against the Falcons. The Bears roll over the Seahawks and then we settle down for this.

    Yes it's a rivalry. Yes Rex Ryan thinks he's got a way better team than he actually has. Yes the Patriots will do it again and rack up 35 plus.

    Patriots win.
    Ravens win.
    Packers win.
    Bears win.

    Neil will be riding the Packers all the way - see next week's blog!

    Bears, Pats in Dallas.

  • Comment number 21.

    S.P.E.L.L. I.T. O.U.T.
    J.E.T.S.
    L.O.S.E.

    Rex was sent from heaven to the New England sports media.
    Prediction: 31°F, partly cloudy. Oh, Pats win too.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    "Also, Mark was the reason that we won on Saturday - how else would you explain the 50-second drive up the field to set up the winning FG? I know for a fact that Tom couldn't have done that.
    I also wish everyone would stop talking about Tom's passing stats this season - he is blatantly throwing easy passes to trigger payment clauses in his contract. When was the last time he tried to excel himself?"

    I was going to comment earlier but I have been trying to work out who you were talking about. As Brady is playing this weekend I thought you meant him but then your statements are way off so you must be talking about someone else.

    Go and check a couple of Superbowl victories of Mr Brady's and you will find you are wrong. Also, easy passes to trigger payment clauses - possibly the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard, Brady throws easy passes to move the chains and win games.

    I have never minded Rex being loud-mouthed and brash, thats who Rex is he won't ever change and I'd rather my coach be himself than a yes man. The Jets knew what they were getting and so did everyone else. If he thinks it helps his team believe they can win then whats the problem?
    Also, his comment regarding him versus Belicheck is just a defense mechanism to protect his QB. If he comes out and say its a battle of Brady versus Sanchez we all know the winner of that contest.

  • Comment number 24.

    RevisChrist is just yanking a few chains.

    But he does raise an important question. When the Pats run up another monster score, does Revis Island still exist? Or does is it just a victim of Global Tawming?

  • Comment number 25.

    Eddie, yes it cleary exists. Personnally I think if the Jets just set Revis island in one area they lose. The key this week is to move Revis around, get him on Welker, Gronk, Hernandez and Woodhead. Obviously not at the same time but if Jets can line him up in different places it makes Brady's job a lot tougher than just putting Branch on Revis island.

  • Comment number 26.

    I think people are looking too much into the games that the Pats and Jets have played this season.

    The fact is that the Patriots are a completely different team than they were during the second game of the season. The Jets won that game, and deservedly so because that Pats just couldnt string anything together. The match at Foxboro was simply a case of a form team going for the jugular of a team that really didnt turn up in the snow. You can't really judge anything from them.

    It's not going to be like that on Sunday, but I still think the Patriots will have too much for the Jets. Sanchez is a long way from the finished article yet, and I think the defence will struggle to contain the two exuberant rookie TEs. Should be a great match though, I can't wait. My prediction: Pats by about 7.

  • Comment number 27.

    If the Jets put Revis over 1 reciever the whole game it becomes 10 v 10 and the Pats stroll.

    Personally think the Pats win by 7-10 points anyway.

    Whats the weather forecast? Aren't the Pats something ridiculous like 27-0 when there is snow on the ground at kick-off?

  • Comment number 28.

    Hey guys, does anyone know what time the Superbowl kicks off UK time and weather or not its on the BBC? Thanks

  • Comment number 29.

    Yeah yeah yeah - Jets this, Jets that. It's simple; They. Wont. Win. Brady, Belichick et al simply will not allow it. So all you Jets - or non-Pats - fans, watch and learn as the Dynasty rolls on into another decade.
    And 'Frostbag' - I think it's on Beeb1 at 2330.

    Oh, and Brady will get MVP too.
    Enjoy the lesson y'all...

  • Comment number 30.

    Guy, well done for pointing out that you think Brady might get MYP - one of the most original shouts i've heard all season.

    I'm guessing you're following this from the UK? I apologise if i'm incorrect, but if you are, well done for supporting one of the most successful teams of the past decade. You strike me as the kind of person who started to support Chelsea around 2004.

    Jets will win 24-21. You heard it here first. 7/2 at the bookies = free money.

    When I say Mark, you say Sanchez.

    Mark.

  • Comment number 31.

    "TheHolyChurchofRevisChrist"
    You are sadly wrong, my friend. Yes I live in the UK, but I have followed the Pats passionately since '82, through (many, many) bad years (V. Bears - Superbowl?), and now through good. So I've earned my opinions.
    Brady for MVP - no brainer, yes, but I said will - not might.
    I also played Gridiron for three hard years in the UK league in its peak in the 80's, as QB, so again, I have earned my opinion.
    I support Birmingham City who are by no means a 'top' force in English Soccer, nor are they fashionable, not by a long way. But support them I do, all the same.
    So, when you go to bed on Sunday night (in New York I presume...), having been summarily whupped, think of this little english Guy who has probably supported his team longer than you have yours..
    Please accept my condolences in advance.

  • Comment number 32.

    A thank you, all aboard the Jet plane... congratulations Guy you've won a first class ticket!

  • Comment number 33.

    To all the Jets haters out there I have one thing to say. . . J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS JETS!

  • Comment number 34.

    3 outta 4 predictions. thats not bad Neil. Who would have thought that the Jets would stick it to the Pats?? Green bay all the way??

  • Comment number 35.

    Hi there Guy, good weekend? You seem quiet!

    When I say Mark, you say Sanchez. Mark!

  • Comment number 36.

    One doesn't like to blow one's own trumpet but I think there were a couple of people calling the Jets sticking it the Pats on this blog Mikehuey. The Robbie Savage of the NFL showing his true self and being sat down 5 times was nice to see.

    Surely jets are now favourites...

    When I say "Giselle", you say "you're sleeping with a loser", Giselle?!?

  • Comment number 37.

    Neil, i'd be interested to get your views ahead of the games this weekend - should we expect a new blog?

    I personally can't see anyone stopping Rex's Gang Green at this moment in time

  • Comment number 38.

    Guy - I forgot to mention it but Man Utd (my team) are playing Birmingham this weekend. "Please accept my condolences in advance."

  • Comment number 39.

    TheHoly-yadayadayada...
    3 things...
    1 -both out of the playoffs now.
    2 -Typical Jets fan - doesn't know when to shut up.
    3 -Who'd have guessed you were a Man U fan too? Easy to support, aren't they? I'd be interested to learn which part of the country you live in...
    And yes - we lost, but I expected to, and never sounded off about how we were going to beat Man U at home. Probably never happen to be honest...

  • Comment number 40.

    Helloooooo.... helloooooo.
    Oh it's all gone quiet since the Jets went out.
    Funny that....
    Nothing to shout about?
    Never mind

 

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