- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- So there was no clown car parked outside the Jets' training facility Thursday. But clearly, it's back. It's got to be here somewhere. The same one we've seen before. It's one of those tiny little sub-compacts that circles and circles, then jerks to a stop just before a door flies open, and out climb five, 10, maybe 15 guys that'll make you laugh, make you cry, make you wonder what in the world are they thinking?
This time it seems to be this: One week after Rex Ryan's mouth came out of hibernation and roared again -- this time by saying he believed the Jets could beat New England, only to see them lose at the end in a galling series of errors and questionable play calling -- the muzzles for everyone else seem to be slipping off, too. The slapstick seems on its way back.
And you don't have to be renowned film critic Pauline Kael to know we've already seen this movie before. And we know how it ends: Ugly.
Maybe not this week, exactly. The Jets are still better than the Miami Dolphins, their opponent Sunday at MetLife Stadium. But Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said Thursday on ESPN Radio that the Dolphins are officially hacked off by some comments made Wednesday by Jets situational pass rusher Aaron Maybin in particular, that the Jets intend to knock Reggie Bush out of the game -- legally, of course.
Maybin protested it was taken out of context. This after learning Pouncey had reacted irritably, saying: "I just don't understand it. Yeah, we're angry. ... Hearing that from a guy that last year was known as one of the biggest busts in NFL history, for him to open his mouth and say he's going to hurt our starting running back? No, we're not going to have that."
Maybin's remarks and the rest of the noise that was suddenly coming out of the Jets this week is a throwback to the badder days of Ryan's regime. It started when Rex said Wednesday that he wants Bush to apologize for something Bush said about Darrelle Revis' season-ending knee injury after the Jets had promised before the game to put "hot sauce" on him. Then Jets safety LaRon Landry came even closer to the spirit, if not the letter, of what defrocked New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said once upon a time, long before the bounty scandal that continues to rock the Saints came to light, when Williams spoke about putting some "remember-me" hits on opposing offensive stars like Brett Favre.
Wednesday, Landry said of Bush, "Every time he sees me, he will remember that hit. If I'm in the box or I'm going downhill, he'll remember that hit. ... If I get penalized, I'm not going to stop head-hunting," he said. "I'm not going to stop the way I play."
So much for all that contrition that Ryan and the Jets expressed at the end of last season and into the start of this one about how things are going to change around here.
There's some backsliding on that promise going on now. "Why?" is a good question. Was it just because the Jets lost but didn't get massacred as predicted on "Monday Night Football" against Houston, then they beat a so-so Indianapolis team, and played it close against the Patriots last Sunday before losing in overtime? That after Ryan began their week of preparation for the Pats by saying, "I'm not ready to tug on Superman's cape just yet." Pause. "But ask me tomorrow."
Tomorrow came. (Even when you lose in the NFL, it always does.) And then Rex said, "They [the Patriots] know that I think we can beat them."
This did not stop traffic on the Mass Pike.
But other Jets have resumed yammering since.
Miami isn't as good as New England historically is at capitalizing on the Jets' mistakes. But the Jets barely beat the Dolphins earlier this season, and as Ryan pointed out, he's never swept the season series from the Dolphins in his four seasons in New York. Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannenhill is playing better and Miami's defense is still stout. The Dolphins are also the healthier team.
The only Jet who needs this win more than Ryan may be his embattled offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, the former Dolphins head coach who had to endure the leaked news that ownership tried to woo Jim Harbaugh to Miami though Sparano still held the job. Sparano now comes off the overtime loss to New England having to answer why his play calling was so timid in the final moments after recovering a fumble at the Pats' 21 when the Jets might've won in regulation had they been more aggressive?
Look at the bright side. At least Sparano is not enduring the same old questions about why Tebow and the Wildcat offense isn't working for the Jets, or the even-fresher inquiries about why Tebow's NFL peers just voted him the most overrated player in the NFL, according to a just-released Sports Illustrated poll? (The fact that Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez finished No. 2 in the same poll seems to be a sign of just how much other teams must dislike the Jets en masse. Really, who overrates Sanchez's ability anymore?)
"Wow, what are you going to say?" Ryan said Thursday when asked about the SI poll. "I just know I'm happy they're on our football team. It seems like the Jets always get something."
Or bring it on themselves.
"I can tell you one thing," Pouncey promised Thursday. "It's going to be a physical game."
The Jets' rivalry with Miami often feels every bit as nasty as the Jets' blood war with the Patriots -- just for lower stakes. Still, the return of the Jets' loose-cannon remarks this week is enough to leave anyone familiar with how Ryan operated here before surrender to the sneaking suspicion that he said something to the team Wednesday that didn't just kick off preparations for the Dolphins, or fire the players up, but seemed to leave them thinking they have permission to start talking the talk again. (And if they ever get around to walking the walk better than a 3-4 team, well that would be nice, too.)
Would that explain the bold talk? Another fire-and-brimstone, "let's-go-get-a-freaking snack" talk from Rex, as he did all the time on 'Hard Knocks'?
"Nah," Jets guard Matt Slauson laughed.
"Some of the guys might've taken it that way, but not me -- I'm always at the same level anyway," Landry said.
Slauson added: "It's just a big divisional game. And we're excited about how some of the things we've been doing have brought results in recent games."
The Jets should be careful about rushing to pile in and out of the clown car again. This time, there isn't Santonio Holmes to blame for everything anymore.
Thursday, Bart Scott calmly tried to explain the "hot sauce" expression that Bush took offense to. Scott says it dates back to a 2006 game, when Bush was still with the Saints and Scott and Rex were still with the Ravens. Bush left the game with an ankle injury after the Ravens had "beaten him up pretty good," Scott said. But it didn't exactly sound complimentary when Scott added, "He made a decision [that day that] it wasn't good for his career or his stats to keep playing. We were wearing him out, and he didn't really want to deal with the physicality."
It's the sort of back-and-forth Ryan and the Jets used to get into all the time after he first arrived.
But this retro-feeling week started with Rex. And the return of the Jets' bravado and swagger better end far better than it has in the past. Otherwise, the only guy feeling like he's been dipped in hot sauce after this game will be Ryan.
Miami has won two straight. The Jets are 1-2 over the past three weeks. And yet, just seven weeks after swearing off setting the bar too high again for his team anymore, Ryan now has this to say about whether there's a huge gap in the AFC between the Jets and the top teams.
"I don't think it's that huge at all," Ryan said. "We were down 10 points on the road against New England. We're right there. ... We can get better in a lot of areas. That's really making me confident."
Return of Jets' swagger and bravado must end better than it has in the past.