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Loudmouth Ryan's Jets are walking the walk

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Neil Reynolds | 14:30 UK time, Thursday, 20 January 2011

We're down to the final four teams bidding for Super Bowl glory in the NFL and the combatants for the 6 February title showdown in Dallas will be decided this weekend.

On what is always one of the best days in the American football calendar, the NFC Championship Game will feature one of the most storied rivalries in the NFL as the Green Bay Packers visit the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field (what a fitting name for a venue given the magnitude of this game).

Later on Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the New York Jets to Pennsylvania for what is sure to be a hard-hitting AFC Championship Game. It is fitting in this wildest of NFL seasons that the top seeds in each conference (the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots) are no longer in the playoffs.

Despite some shocks along the way, there is so much tradition and NFL pedigree on display this weekend. The Bears-Packers rivalry dates back to 1921 and they boast 21 NFL titles between them. And no team has won more Super Bowls than the Steelers, who have a record of six wins and one loss in the greatest show on earth.

Rex Ryan has been accused of being a loudmouth but his Jets players appear to be very motivated by his coaching. Photo: AP

Rex Ryan has been accused of being a loudmouth but his Jets players appear to be very motivated by his coaching. Photo: AP

Yet as we approach the weekend's action, America's attention is firmly focused on the New York Jets - whose only Super Bowl success came in 1968 - and much of that is down to their larger-than-life head coach, Rex Ryan.

After guiding the Jets to the AFC Championship Game for the second year in a row, Ryan is within 60 minutes of everything he ever dreamed of - a personal appearance at Super Bowl Media Day.

Ahead of last week's defeat of New England, Ryan stoked up a war of words that ended up featuring players from both clubs. And while he supported his own men for speaking out, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick benched star wide receiver Wes Welker for the opening drive of the game for poking fun at Ryan.

Ryan is clearly a players' coach. He loves to goof around on the sidelines with his players and I get the impression he operates an open-door policy in New York. He doesn't quite let the lunatics run the asylum, but he does grant his players a fair amount of freedom to express themselves - both physically and vocally.

But do not be fooled into thinking this is a man only capable of demanding a response from his players on an emotional level.

Ryan is a defensive genius when it comes to the tactical side of the game. Putting together a dominant defence is in his blood. His father, Buddy, was a head coach at various clubs but he really made his name as defensive coordinator of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears. Anyone with even a passing interest in the NFL will remember how physically dominant that unit - which featured the likes of Richard Dent, Mike Singletary and William "Refrigerator" Perry - was.

Rex learned strong defence from his father. But he also learned that, so long as you can walk the walk on Sundays, it's OK to talk the talk the rest of the week. Buddy was never short of a colourful and controversial quote and the only time he ever shut up was when he famously almost choked to death on a pork chop.

In advancing to the AFC Championship Game, Rex's defence has confused, pressured and bullied two of the game's greatest quarterbacks in Peyton Manning, of the Indianapolis Colts, and New England's Tom Brady.

Away from the X's and O's of the game, Ryan has a firm finger on the pulse of his team. He knows what makes his guys tick.

On the eve of that famous win in New England, Ryan invited former defensive end Dennis Byrd to address the team. Byrd was a promising young defensive end for the Jets before his career came to a shuddering halt in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs in November 1992.

Byrd was attempting to sack Chiefs' quarterback Dave Krieg when he smashed into team-mate Scott Mersereau. The play ended the careers of both men. Byrd broke his neck and was left paralysed. After months of extensive physical therapy, he was able to walk again but could not even begin to contemplate a return to the gridiron.

Knowing how sorely Byrd missed the game, Ryan invited him to Boston, where he told Jets players to make sure they enjoyed every play because they would never know when it might be their last.

Byrd delivered a stirring speech that led to a standing ovation led by wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who later Tweeted: "I have just heard the most inspirational speech of my life. I have never been more ready to perform in my life."

As Ryan hoped, his Jets were truly inspired and played like men possessed the very next day. That shows this is a head coach who knows how to push all the right buttons.

The Jets face a stiff challenge in Pittsburgh on Sunday night and they are playing in a game that could genuinely go either way. But this is a team packed with talent on both sides of the ball.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez is only in his second season in the NFL yet he already has an incredible four road wins in the playoffs to his name, running back LaDainian Tomlinson has found fresh legs in the Big Apple after looking stale with the San Diego Chargers and the receiving duo of Holmes and Braylon Edwards can be among the best in the league when on form.

Defensively, Shaun Ellis is applying plenty of pressure from the defensive end position, linebacker Bart Scott is about as fired up as any player in the playoffs and Darrelle Revis remains the best cornerback in the NFL by a country mile.

There are two things I know for sure: Ryan will motivate them into a pre-game frenzy and, once the opening kickoff sails into the frigid Pittsburgh air, he will create schemes that give his players the very best chance to succeed.

Of course, whether that will be enough remains to be seen. And that uncertainty is the beauty of these NFL playoffs.

Championship Game Predictions

Green Bay Packers 27 Chicago Bears 16
New York Jets 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20

BBC Radio 5 live sports extra has live coverage of both games from 1945 GMT on Sunday. Watch highlight clips on the BBC Sport website and an extended highlights on BBC 2 from 0010 GMT on Wednesday and afterwards on iPlayer.


  • Comment number 1.

    Neil ... I've enjoyed your articles all thru the year.

    I just hope your predications are totally wrong! As a Bears fan, who went to the regular season Seahawks game and saw us lose, I can't quite believe we've got this far!

    As for Rex Ryan and his Jets, I really dislike them, they are mouthy, arrogant and classless! It has to be the Steelers.

    My heart says: Packers 17 Bears 20, Jets 23 Steelers 30
    My head says: Packers 17 Bears 10, Jets 27 Steelers 10 (Nightmare!)

  • Comment number 2.

    Kind of surprised to see your predictions Neil; going for the away team in both games!

    I think it will be Bears, Steelers in Dallas, although I would love to see Green Bay there. GB have been on a roll of late, even more impressive when you consider their injury list. Rodgers is just sheer class, and his shredding of Atlanta was one for the history books.

    Going to be a great weekend of football though.

  • Comment number 3.

    The most impressive thing to me is that your prediction of "Rogers to lead Packers to superbowl glory" is getting closer and closer to a reality! I thought it was overly bold before the first ball was kicked, now, er, not so much! Whose your tip for next year Neil, I'll call the bookie early.

    Being in NJ, a stones throw from Florham Park, I'm 50% surrounded by Jets fans so I hope they get it done. They invited my son's team there for a walk through, pre-game dinner and a movie showing of When We Were Titans, before the kids' championship game, it was an awesome visit and we even got a picture with their 42 year old Lombardi trophy!

  • Comment number 4.

    Neil, great blog. It really is only coming to light the depth of Rex Ryan as a coach. I had a bet on the Patriots and couldn't believe how well the JETS played. I said last week that the Patriots would have to play poorly if the Jets were going to win....well they did play poorly but all credit goes to the Jets defence for that.

    I don't think the Jets are the most talented team left but they are good enough to go all the way.

    My predictions last week were so off the mark that I'm not going to bother this week....but they should be 2 great games. Mouthwatering prospect.

  • Comment number 5.

    Living in New York, I really hope the Jets win, not just because of how great it would be for the city, but because it would result in the greatest ever episode of NFL Films' "America's Game"!

    I love Rex Ryan. He's funny, abrasive, interesting. He makes the interviews fun to watch, and he's a great defensiive coach too.

  • Comment number 6.

    Great blog.. Yes I was absolutely gutted when the Patriots lost last week to the Jets but it was probably inevitable that the young and inexperienced Pats defence was going to fall off their pedestal having impressed so much this season - at least they'll be better for it in the future. As for the Jets, I'm glad they're still around only because I get to see more of Rex Ryan's press conferences..

    If Bill Belichick was Alex Ferguson, Rex Ryan surely must be Jose Mourinho.. Rex and the Special One are the sort of managers/coaches who attract all the media attention and this protects their teams from the media pressure - and come to think of it, both the Jets and Mourinho-led Chelsea aren't the most attractive teams to watch but defensively they don't give away much.

    Anyway, Packers and Steelers to contest the Super Bowl for me..

  • Comment number 7.

    Bears/Packers is the oldest rivalry in the NFL playing first around 1920, any other place but Soldier Field and yes, the better team would win and the Bears got routed their by the Pats but in this case, Chicago has met GB 2 times already this season, the game is for the Halas trophy, Halas the former legendary coach of Chicago, So watch for the Bears to nick this one. In fact, Papa Bear's daughter would be awarding the trophy to Green Bay if they should win. Likewise, I see the Jets Cinderella story continuing, defeating Indy, New England, I don't think they will stop with Pittsburgh. It'll be Bears vs. Jets while everyone is thinking it will be Packers vs. Steelers.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thanks Neil, another great blog. I am slowly building my knowledge of this game and your blog certainly helps me with the history!

    Just wanted to weigh in that I have backed Green Bay to go all the way to the superbowl too. I'm a big fan of Aaron Rodgers.

    As for the other game, I hate the Steelers (I'm a Brown's fan) so am hoping that the Jets can do something to stop them. I did back them against the Colts but not against the Patriots (who did?!?) and whilst I think the Steelers will be too much for them I am still hopeful!

  • Comment number 9.

    Backed the Colts before the season opener last year and the Saints robbed me, backed the Jets before the season started this year. Lets hope my luck has changed.

  • Comment number 10.

    I had a friend in Manchester back the Packers pre season as betting is illegal here in Texas, he got the stingy odds of 10-1 but them odds look pretty decent now ! Go Green Bay :-)

  • Comment number 11.

    Rex Ryan is Gridiron's equivalent of Rafa Benitez. Way overrated, loved by his own fans and will never win a meaningful trophy. The 1 team that must be overjoyed with the upset win over the Patriots is the steelers who basically have a gimme to the super bowl. Looking forward to Rodgers and Big Ben sluggging it out in a couple of weeks. Should be quite a game.

  • Comment number 12.

    'Have a gimme to the Superbowl' - you must be joking!!! That's what the Patriots and everyone else thought too!! Now look at them, playing in the Probowl!!
    This year has had Packers v Jets written all over it from a long time ago. I can't say I backed them both from the start but at least from halfway through the season and I'm sticking with them both.
    Jets will have enough to somehow overhaul the Steelers, even with Sanchez peppering balls all over the place.
    Packers will make short work of the Bears. Rodgers is looking the real deal.
    Really looking forward to both matches!

  • Comment number 13.

    Why is everyone picking the Jets? I just don't see it. Sanchez will be forced to win the game because no running back has done anything against the Steelers this year. None have eclipsed 100 yards and not many even got past 50! LT and Shonn Greene will be no different. They'll be non factors as rushers but they might be useful as dump offs. Which, with Polamalu lurking around is probably the smartest pass Sanchez will be throwing. Draw plays, screens and passes behind the line of scrimmage aren't likely to win the Jets the game. In the regular season the Jets came to Pittsburgh and won. Barely. But that Steelers team did not have it's most consistent receiver (Heath Miller) nor it's best defensive player (Polamalu).

    Add in that I think the Jets have already played their Superbowl in beating the Patriots and I think this one's got blowout written all over it. The Jets have a lot of talent but they're going to come up short in this one offensively. On the other side of the ball, the Jets Defense should keep the score down but they beat Manning and Brady by pressurising them. Neither of those two has ever dealt well with defenders all over them. Is there a better QB in the league (now or perhaps ever) at making big plays whilst under pressure? You blitz Big Ben you usually pay a heavy price.

  • Comment number 14.

    OK Neil, so last week's predictions from me of Patriots, Ravens, Chicago and Atlanta now looks a little misguided. I am but Luke Skywalker to your Yoda.

    My guessing is that you now find yourself at a crossroads. Having ridden the Green Bay bandwagon all year (good pick by the way), you're now drawn to "the other Sexy Rexy" (Bears fans REALLY missing him!). It's like deciding between the Minogue sisters. Green Bay = Kylie, refinement and finesse, like a gourmet meal that costs a weeks wages. Jets = Danni, Pizza Hut and Lambrini.

    The solution my friend is simple.

    Steelers v Bears.

    Needless to say, the fridge is packed ready for this weekend. If either of the two aforementioned ladies fancy popping round, turn right at Niagara Falls and head for Canada. You have my number!


  • Comment number 15.

    BarcaGooner - Rafa Benitez never won anything of any consequence? Two La Liga titles, the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup, the Champions League....

    But back the NFL, the Steelers O Line is beat up - Rex Ryan and his defense should have a lot of fun against it. The matchup of the Jets O line (who barely missed the excellent RT Damian Woody against the Patriots) against the Steelers D Line should be a great one considering both lines are among the best in the NFL.

    The Steelers will try to take away the Jets running game and put the game on the arm of Mark "Sanchize" Sanchez. Brad Smith will be back this week to take some of the load off of the Sanchize and will take some snaps from under centre at various stages through the game.

    I don't know what exactly Rex Ryan will have planned to mitigate Rothlisberger's out-of-the-pocket big play ability, but there will definitely be something. The Jets secondary is definitely more than potent enough to contain the young Steeler's recieving corps - though whether Sexy Rexy sends an all out blitz attack against the outgunned Steeler's O Line is likely improbable, given the success the Jets had against the Colts and the Pats with packing the defensive backfield and relying mainly on a 3 man rush throughout much of those games.

    Rothlisberger does pose a different conundrum to Brady and P. Manning so maybe Rex will change it up again this time around.

    Hoping for a Jets victory - they are the team I support, but even more so this season, especially after watching Hard Knocks.

    J E T S! Jets! Jets! Jets!

  • Comment number 16.


    Rex Ryan is Gridiron's equivalent of Rafa Benitez. Way overrated, loved by his own fans and will never win a meaningful trophy. The 1 team that must be overjoyed with the upset win over the Patriots is the steelers who basically have a gimme to the super bowl. Looking forward to Rodgers and Big Ben sluggging it out in a couple of weeks. Should be quite a game.


    As a Chelsea fan I hate Liverpool and I don't even like Rafa but this is an idiotic post.
    Rafa won the Champions league, how is that not a meaningful trophy?
    I'd certainly put it just above the FA and League cup.
    But if league titles only count he beat your boys BARCAgooner to two Spanish league titles.

    Anyway back to American Football. Rex Ryan is an excellent coach but it's yet to be seen whether he'll go all the way but two AFC championship games is a great start!
    I'm a little worried as a Jets fan as we don't seem to hate the Steelers enough. Where's the trash talk? Also if they take our running game away and it's Sanchez vs Polamalu it'll be tough.

  • Comment number 17.

    Great blog again Neil, 2 mouthwatering games this weekend. I'm backing you "Green Bay go all the way". Jets - Steelers game really tough to call but I'll go for the Steelers if Polamalu & Big Ben are on form.

  • Comment number 18.

    This is the weekend when Rex Ryans dream becomes a nightmare. The Steelers D will shut his big mouth for yet another season. One thing that has not been mentioned is the crowd at Heinz Field. The best fans in the NFL will roar their (and my)team to yet another Superbowl and then prepare to take over Cowboys Stadium in the same way they have invaded Detroit and Tampa. Steelers by ten.

  • Comment number 19.

    I´m bored with the Steelers,seen too much of them in the last years. So I´ll plump for the Jets and the Packers because of their momentum, and I´m happy for Aaron Rodgers who I felt was kept in Brett´s shadow for too long.

  • Comment number 20.


    Agree about the passion of the Steeler's fans - they've had a lot to be passionate about - one of the best run "big" sporting organisations anywhere across the globe in modern history (sounds like hyperbole, but it's true).

    But if you want passion, check out Jet Bart Scott's heart-on-the-sleeve emotion - we all saw it in "Hard Knocks" and we saw it in his interview with Sal Panantonio after the Patriots game (Palantonio proved what a great journo he is with his straight-man act). You want to see true, heartfelt passion? Youtube that interview - preferably the full version that was conducted right after Scott had been jawing with the Patriot's mascot. There are already "Can't Wait!" T shirts available on the 'net, with Scott's demonstrative visage stencilled in the background.

    There is also video available of Scott running onto the field pregame, grabbing a Patriots poster, ripping it down then stomping on it as he ran onto the field. The passion the Jets players have right now is at a fever pitch, and Scott is emblematic of that - they overturned the massive favourites in the Patriots because of that passion and if they execute as they did then they'll turn in a similar performance against the Steelers.

    I'm not prophesying a definite victory for us, but don't expect a cakewalk against the Rex Ryan led Jets.

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Neil,
    How do you assess the coaching style of the Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, compared to the other coaches in today's NFL?
    My prediction for Superbowl XLV - Pittsburgh vs Green Bay.

  • Comment number 22.

    Go Bears!!!

  • Comment number 23.

    I like the Jets prediction, I know the Packers are being given the edge in the American media...but I think the Bears are going to come out on top with the win. Bears vs. Jets in the Super Bowl!

    Funny video about Packer fans (viewer discretion is advised):

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 24.

    Bears v Steelers Superbowl

    You let yourself down at the end, with some shameful hyperbole .... Revis is not "the best CB in the NFL by a country mile."

    As a Raider fan, Id say Nnamdi is better, but even a neutral would have them as neck and neck.

    interesting to note that this is only the second time that the Bears/Packers have EVER met in postseason ... amazing

  • Comment number 25.

    I don't understand why Sanchez gets such a raw deal.
    He's in his 2nd NFL season and has led the Jets to two Divisional play offs. He made key plays last week when it counted, not bad for a guy who seems to have more pressure thrust on him than others. I'm not saying he's better than guys like Vick, Rodgers, Manning and Brady, but the guy can play.
    Here's hoping for a Jets-Packers final. 8/1 I got on the Packers in pre season, could have got 16s before they defeated the Bears in week 17.

  • Comment number 26.

    I'd be quite happy with the Jets winning tonight and losing the Super Bowl. I think he'll be more fun reacting to defeat than victory!

    Don't ask me to predict these. Too many variables, especially in January outdoor games in these two cities. There will be dropped passes, there will be fumbles, there will be unexpected moments of magic and horror... that's about all I can predict.

    Any given Sunday...

  • Comment number 27.

    I might be biased as a Green Bay fan, but I think this is the year Rodgers starts his legacy. He is on the cusp of greatness. A demolition of the Eagles. Victory in Chicago. A ring against the Steelers.


  • Comment number 28.

    "XLV", does that mean it's the 45th edition of the greatest show on earth?


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