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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The ball is still buried. The chafed feelings are not.
Two days after the embarrassing 45-3 loss to the New England Patriots, Rex Ryan dragged his players out to the practice field in the early morning, placed a ball from the game into a hole, dropped a few F-bombs and filled the hole with dirt. It was a symbolic way to bury the memory.
Six weeks later, the memory is back, like a ghost from the grave. This time, the New York Jets will use it as motivation for the rematch, Sunday in the AFC divisional playoffs at Gillette Stadium.
|Matt Slauson (68) and the Jets will be back on their feet Sunday, thanks to their wild-card win.|
Ryan set the tone Monday, saying the game is personal for him because he felt he was outcoached by Bill Belichick in the previous meeting. Ryan's players continued that theme Tuesday, claiming it's personal for them, too.
"You can look at it like that," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said after a late-afternoon practice. "They beat us 45-3. That doesn't sit well with anybody in this room."
Guard Matt Slauson said, "Absolutely, it is [personal]. They shellacked us. It was bad. We played possibly the worst game we could've played, and they played a great game. So we have to come out and win, to show everyone that we can beat this team. All we want is to go to the Super Bowl and they're the next team in the way of that."
To listen to the Jets describe the last game, you'd think they were kidnapped at the team hotel and replaced by a bunch of UFL players. That, they insisted, wasn't the real Jets team; it was just 45 green-and-white imposters.
The Jets trailed 17-0 after the first quarter, and that was that. Ryan's goal this week is to convince his team the Week 2 meeting against the Patriots -- a 28-14 win -- is a more accurate reflection of the Jets.
"I don't want to give the Patriots any bulletin-board material, but that last game was a fluke," said Slauson, who may have done just that.A fluke? The Jets were down 24-3 at halftime despite not having committed a turnover. That doesn't exactly support the "fluke" spin. They were out of it because they struggled on third down and allowed Tom Brady & Co. to score on their first four possessions.
What makes the Jets think it will be different this time? Two reasons:
• They ran the ball effectively (152 yards, 4.9 per carry) and they believe they can play ball control against the Patriots, keeping Brady on the sideline. LaDainian Tomlinson looked rejuvenated in his 82-yard, two-touchdown performance last week against the Indianapolis Colts, filling the team with optimism.
• The secondary, coming off a terrific game against Peyton Manning, has settled down since the Jim Leonhard upheaval. Three days before 45-3, Leonhard -- the quarterback of the secondary -- broke his leg in practice. It was a major disruption for the defense, which had no answers for Brady, who continually found favorable matchups. Leonhard's replacement, Eric Smith, missed three games with a concussion, but he's back, restoring some stability.
The Jets believe they can beat the Patriots (14-2) if they can withstand the initial punch. Once they fell behind in their previous meeting, it took them out of their comfort zone. They had to abandon the running game, putting Mark Sanchez in difficult passing situations.
"No team has three quarters' worth of plays to beat a Cover 2," wide receiver Braylon Edwards said. "If we stay on track, we'll see Cover 3 and man-to-man all game. We should thrive on that."
The Jets get a chance to prove 45-3 was a fluke. For now, they see it as a horrible memory and fuel.
"I think we should take it personally," running back Shonn Greene said. "That was behind-whoopin' they gave us."