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Monday, January 17, 2011
New York Jets ♥ Pittsburgh Steelers

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex likes Mike. Bart likes Ben. Bart's teammates like Ben so much that it sounds like they want to adopt him.

Wait a second; the New York Jets are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday for the AFC championship, and they're -- brace yourself -- lobbing bouquets instead of grenades?

Where is the hate?

It's still early, and things could change, but the Jets apparently spewed their last drops of venom last week toward the New England Patriots. They used last month's 45-3 embarrassment and perceived slights by Tom Brady as fuel, lashing out in the media at the Belichick Boys.

Bart Scott
Ben Roethlisberger drew praise for getting rocked by then-Raven Bart Scott and saying, "Nice hit, Bart."

Nose tackle Sione Pouha said Monday that preparing for the Patriots was like "sharpening up our sword for battle." The Jets won that battle, won it as impressively as they've won anything in 40 years, and now it's on to Pittsburgh for the right to advance to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.

But something was missing on Day 1 of championship hype, and that something was the usual chip on the Jets' shoulder. There was confidence, sure, but there was no tough talk, and that probably will have concerned fans wondering whether the Jets subconsciously believe they won their championship in Foxborough.

Rex Ryan himself called it the second-biggest win in franchise history, after Super Bowl III in 1969, so how do you top that? You win the Super Bowl, of course -- and that should be the only motivation any team needs at this point in the season. But it still was a bit weird to not hear the usual bravado from the Jets' bunker.

There's no payback factor for the Jets, who defeated the Steelers last month at Heinz Field 22-17. There's also no divisional-rivalry factor, although Ryan and Bart Scott faced the Steelers enough times in their years with the Baltimore Ravens to build up bad feelings toward them.

But there was only peace and love on Day 1. Ryan actually joked about calling out the Steelers' Hines Ward and Casey Hampton just to spice it up.

"It's a different feel," said Ryan, who appeared subdued (for him) after the biggest win of his career. "Like I said last week, Bill Belichick had dominated me the time before. I was just like, 'Man, that's not going to happen. No way is that going to happen to me again.'"

This week, the Jets might have to manufacture something to keep them angry because, let's face it, they play better when they're ticked off. That's their personality, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Maybe Darrelle Revis can call Ward a slouch. Maybe Antonio Cromartie can call Ben Roethlisberger a bleeping a-----. Maybe Scott can threaten to punch out the entire Steelers offensive line.

Then again, maybe not. Cromartie already is on record as saying Roethlisberger is a good dude.

Yawn.

Ryan got a little warm and fuzzy as he described his fondness for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. He recalled a game from 2007, when Tomlin didn't try to run up the score against Ryan's banged-up Baltimore defense. The Steelers jumped to a 35-0 lead, but instead of pulling a Belichick, they ran the ball on 21 of 28 plays in the second half.

"He wasn't going to try to rub our nose in it," said Ryan, delivering a veiled shot at Belichick and Brady for the 45-3 beatdown.

Ryan related a story within the story, about how Scott -- upset that the Steelers' fullback was running his mouth during the blowout -- went to Tomlin and asked him to reinsert the fullback into the game. According to Ryan, Tomlin said to Scott, "Bart, you want him? You want a piece of him?"

Scott, of course, said yes. So Tomlin sent his fullback (Ryan couldn't remember his name) back into the game, and he ended up with a separated shoulder.

"That's one of my favorite stories, and it told me a lot about Mike Tomlin," Ryan said, smiling.

Ryan said he respects Belichick more than any other coach in the league, but that respect is based on accomplishment, not personal affection. It's different with Tomlin, and it's different with Roethlisberger. The Jets raved about his toughness, his willingness to stand in the pocket and take hits. You didn't hear them saying that last week about Brady.

"He plays like a man," Scott said of Big Ben.

Trevor Pryce, another former Raven, recalled a time when Roethlisberger got blown up by Scott in a Pittsburgh-Baltimore game and actually turned to Scott and said, "Nice hit, Bart." Stuff like that earns the respect of opponents.

Pryce called Roethlisberger a "genetic freak," adding that it's an "honor and a privilege to play against him, it really is."

Honor? Privilege? Could the Jets be trash-talked out? Say it ain't so.