FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Soon after becoming the New York Jets' coach in 2009, Rex Ryan famously declared he'd never kiss Bill Belichick's Super Bowl rings. Since then, he has rarely passed up a chance to tweak the New England Patriots.
On Monday, Ryan's old bluster -- missing since last season -- was back.
"I want them to know -- and they know -- I think we're going to beat them," Ryan said, explaining his motivation for the tough talk. "I don't buy into all that other stuff. Look, I recognize they're a great football team and Belichick's a great coach. I've never once said he wasn't, OK, but we're not going to back down or concede anything.
"They're going to get our best shot. We know we're going to get theirs. It doesn't matter who says what, because we're going to be ourselves. We're coming up there to take our swing. We'll see if we land that punch to win the game."
Clearly, Ryan was emboldened by Sunday's 35-9 rout of the Indianapolis Colts, a win that snapped a two-game losing streak. He also has a track record of beating the Patriots, although he doesn't own a winning record against them. Ryan is 3-4 against Belichick, but that includes a playoff victory.
The winner of Sunday's game will take control of the AFC East, where all four teams are deadlocked at 3-3. The Jets already are 2-0 in the division, so they'd be in great shape if they could pull off the upset.
Ryan sidestepped the question when asked whether the Patriots, who already have lost as many games as they did last season, have lost their aura.
"Are they more vulnerable? I don't know," Ryan said. "They've lost three games. That's probably more than they normally lose in a season. We need to worry about ourselves more than anybody else."
Tight end Dustin Keller said he's shocked the Patriots are only a .500 team.
"Yeah, I am," he said. "They're usually a lot better at this point in the year, but they can turn it around at any moment, so we have to be playing our A-game. Otherwise, we won't be able to pull it off."
It's amazing how one convincing win can change the mood around a team. Before Sunday, the Jets were perceived as a team on the verge of collapse with a smoldering quarterback controversy between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.
But they regained some of their old swagger, compiling 252 rushing yards, four sacks and four takeaways in a wire-to-wire domination of the young Colts. Afterward, Ryan was feeling frisky. When asked about the Patriots, he said: "I don't feel like tugging on Superman's cape today. Maybe tomorrow."
He didn't disappoint.
Ryan acknowledged that his coaching obsession is to overtake the Patriots in the AFC East, admitting he has built the roster with them in mind. Specifically, he's tried to maintain a strong secondary to combat Tom Brady and his stable of weapons.
"I've never stopped thinking about them," he said. "That's the team you have to beat to win our division. You always think about them."
The Jets have finished second to the Patriots for three straight years. The rivalry was one-sided last season, as the Jets lost 30-21 and 37-16. In the latter game, at MetLife Stadium, Ryan was fined $75,000 by the NFL for yelling a profanity at a fan as he walked off the field at halftime.
Speaking of profanity, Belichick was overheard after the game using a vulgarity to describe how the Patriots scored 37 points on one of the top defenses in the league. That didn't sit well with cornerback Darrelle Revis, who called Belichick's remarks "ignorant" and "disrespectful" during an offseason interview.
Revis won't play Sunday; he's out for the season with a torn ACL. Even without him, the game will hype itself.
"We should be playing with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder," Keller said.
That the Jets have a chance to grab sole possession of first place in the AFC East is somewhat surprising, considering the number of injuries and how badly they played for a month. Until a 21-point explosion in the second quarter, they had scored only 17 points in the previous nine quarters.
Ryan believes that their best football is ahead of them.
"Let's face it, we're all tied for first in our division," Ryan said.
After a pause, he deadpanned: "We're also tied for last. That's depressing."