Rex Ryan ready for blame if Jets fall

Updated: December 21, 2011, 9:39 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets need the game to save their playoff hopes from falling apart. Rex Ryan needs the game to save face.

After boasting for the second straight day his team is better than the New York Giants, Ryan acknowledged Tuesday that he's going to get hammered by critics if the Jets fall short to the Giants on Saturday in the Battle of New York at MetLife Stadium.

"I feel like I have to win this game because I put it out there, I want to be the better team in our city, there's no doubt," Ryan said, adding that if they lose, "it's going to fall on one person, and that's the way it should be. It's coming right on top of me, and that's fine. And when we win, it'll be about the Jets."

It's probably safe to assume that Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank never fired off shots at the Giants when the regular-season rivalry began in 1970. Ryan is a different kind of coach, and he has succeeded in making it all about him, perhaps as a way to divert attention from their 45-19 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

Instead of burying a ball in the practice field, a symbolic gesture he tried last December after a 45-3 loss to the New England Patriots, Ryan is trying to bury the opposition with his rhetoric.

"Do I believe, in my heart, that we're the better football team? Yes," said Ryan, continuing the "We-want-to-own-New York" rant he began Monday.

His players appreciated the public vote of confidence, but there wasn't much buzz in the locker room about wanting to beat the Giants. They simply want to win to improve their playoff chances.

"Personally, I could care less about (bragging rights)," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I spent a lot of my money in the offseason. I'm depending on these playoff checks to get me by."

Scott said he was joking about that. But he was serious when he said, "It's about getting to the playoffs ... If this was some other time, maybe that would be more important earlier in the season. Right now, it's about the playoffs."

Does Ryan's bravado fire up the opposition?

"I don't know," quarterback Mark Sanchez said Tuesday in an interview with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN New York 1050's "The Michael Kay Show." "Other teams see that I'm sure and they're not playing against Rex, but once again he's speaking for the team, and I'm sure (opposing teams) wanna win maybe that much more. But that's fine and that's something I've learned to adjust to, and I'm really excited that he's my coach. I couldn't have anybody better."

Sanchez said Ryan's unorthodox motivation tactics are "different than anything he's every experienced."

"But, at the same time, he knows how to motivate players and knows how to get guys excited for games," Sanchez said. "Coming off a tough loss last week there's nothing more important to us than getting back out on the field and playing and trying to get a win. So, I think whatever kind of pressure he puts us -- saying we're gonna win the game or guaranteeing Super Bowls or whatever -- he's just trying to get us to play as best as we can and doing everything he knows how to do it.

"That's encouraging as a player to know that your coach has that kind of confidence in you. And he's willing to say anything to help us accomplish our goals and win games."

The Jets (8-6) can all but secure their third straight postseason appearance by winning their final two games. If they finish 9-7, and end up in a tie for the second wild-card spot, their chances drop significantly because of complicated tiebreakers that could go against them.

Turns out the Giants (7-7) are in a similarly desperate situation, controlling their own fate in the NFC East.

"It's going to be us or them," Scott said. "We call this death ground" -- an ancient military reference to a place where an army is backed up and has no escape route.

At the start of the season, the Jets talked openly about capturing the AFC East so they could have at least one playoff game at home. That goal got blown up after getting swept by the Patriots. They shifted their focus to the wild card, but endangered that goal with last week's no-show in Philadelphia.

Hello, death ground.

They tried to put a positive spin on their plight, of course. In the linebackers meeting, coach Bob Sutton asked his players, "If, at the beginning of the year, (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell said, 'Hey, you've got two games to win and you're in the playoffs,' would you take that deal?"

"Everybody in there, I think had a unanimous yes," said Scott, who related the anecdote. "We've got two games to try and get to the tournament. That's all you can ask for."

The Jets close the season in Miami on New Year's Day.

"We're right there," Sanchez said. "Everything we want is right in front of us."

Ryan wants all that and more. From the moment he was hired in 2009, he's been obsessed with overtaking the Patriots in the AFC East and taking the town from the Giants.

"I recognize the rich tradition of Giants football, there's no question, and I'm not trying to take a run at the Giants or a shot at the Giants," he said. "I want to be the best team in the National Football League, and the fact that we share the same stadium, the same state, both New York teams ... I don't want to be the one that is not looked at as the best team in my own state. There's no way.

"I want to be the best team, period. Now, do I have the courage to say it? Absolutely. And if it doesn't happen and we get beat by the Giants, I'll be the first one to tip my hat to them."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo was used in this report.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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