FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Ding ding ding. Here we go again.
It's Round 3, Jets-Patriots. And, as usual, Rex Ryan got things off to a rip-roarin' start.
"This is about Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan," the Jets' brash coach declared Monday. "There's no question. It's personal. It's about him against myself, and that's what it's going to come down to."
He described last Saturday's game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts as "personal," too. After a 17-16 win set up this playoff matchup between the Jets (12-5) and Patriots (14-2), Ryan is letting everyone know that this time, it's really, really personal.
"I recognize that he's the best and all that," Ryan said of Belichick. "But, I'm just trying to be the best on Sunday, and I plan on being the best coach on Sunday. That's what it is. I recognize that my level has to come up, and he's going to get my best shot. He's going to get everything I have on Sunday, and if he slips at all, we're going to beat him."
Now, those are fightin' words.
"I might have a little quickness on him," an uncharacteristically playful Belichick said. "He's probably got a little more strength and power on me. So, I don't think you'll see either one of us out there making any blocks or tackles or runs or throws or catches. At least you won't see me doing it. It's probably a good thing for our team."
But Belichick has the victories, and the Super Bowl rings that Ryan craves. Ryan thinks the teams are evenly matched from the players to the assistant coaches, and a regular-season split supports that. But he acknowledges he needs to do "a ridiculous amount" of preparation to top Belichick after being outcoached by him in their last meeting, a 45-3 rout at New England.
That loss so angered Ryan that he took a game ball and buried it near one of the practice fields as the entire team watched.
"We have to play fast and physical," Ryan said. "That doesn't mean we're going to dummy it up. If you dummy it up against them, you'll get crushed."
The way they did just over a month ago. Just to remind his players, Ryan will have the team watch that game film "every day" this week as it prepares for the Patriots.
"I told Belichick after the game, 'We'll see you in Round 3,'" Ryan said.
And Belichick's response?
"He just looked at me," Ryan said.
Ryan has often given Belichick respect, calling him a "Hall of Fame coach" and praising his ability to get the most out of his players. But he has also maintained the sizzle in this rivalry, despite it starting long before Ryan got to New York.
"My thing goes back to when they were the Boston Patriots and they had (Houston) Antwine, that's one of the D-linemen, and they had Jim Nance as a great back," Ryan said, recalling Patriots teams of the 1960s. "That's how far I go back in this thing. It's not just now."
The Jets and Patriots are two of the original AFL teams, and their very first meeting in 1960 was a good indicator of how this rivalry would take shape. The Titans — the Jets' previous incarnation — blew a 24-21 lead when punter Rick Sapienza fumbled a snap and Chuck Shonta picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown to end the game. The Titans insisted a Patriots player kicked the ball, but the play stood, and Boston won 28-24.
They played each other for the first time in the postseason in 1985, a Patriots win in the wild-card round. The teams waited 21 years before meeting in the playoffs again — another New England win.
But, many of the current bad feelings started back in 1997 when Bill Parcells left the Patriots after a loss in the Super Bowl to become Jets coach. Curtis Martin followed him from Foxborough to the Meadowlands a year later, and had a Hall of Fame-caliber career with the Jets.
Belichick became a "villain" in Jets fans' minds on perhaps the most bizarre day in franchise history, when he was set to replace Parcells after the 1999 season, but bailed out after one day as the "H.C. of the N.Y.J." and became Patriots coach.
In 2006, Eric Mangini left Belichick's staff in New England, angering the boss, and was hired as the coach of the Jets. Postgame handshakes — or the lack of them — between the coaches were always highlights. Spygate also became a national headline after New England was penalized $750,000 and a first-round draft pick by the NFL for illegal sideline videotaping of the Jets.
Ryan added to it all a few months after he was hired in 2009, saying he didn't come to New York "to kiss Bill Belichick's rings." He even took a shot at Brady — although he insists that wasn't his intent — while praising Manning last week, saying the Patriots quarterback "thinks" he studies as hard as the Colts star but doesn't.
When asked Monday what he thought of Brady going to see "Lombardi" on Broadway instead of watching the Jets' game Saturday night, Ryan threw another jab.
"Peyton Manning would have been watching our game," Ryan said with a huge grin.
Ryan understands how his comments could be taken as slaps at Brady, but "he took a shot at me by his antics on the field."
Antics? Ryan was asked if he meant Brady pointing at the Jets sideline or looking at them after scoring.
"Just Brady being Brady," he said vaguely. "I don't like seeing that; nobody does. No Jet fan likes to see that. And I know he can't wait to do it. He's not going to say anything publicly, but he does it. It's what it is. It's my job to get him out of the end zone."
Brady, who said he wouldn't watch the Jets on HBO's "Hard Knocks" because he hates them, took the high road on Ryan's comments. He said everybody is entitled to their opinion, and there have been plenty of those during this rivalry.
"This never started when Belichick became the coach," Ryan said. "They always had one with these two teams. And, let's face it: New York is New York. Everybody wants to beat the best."
But, right now, most think that means the Patriots, who earned a bye after finishing as the AFC's top seed with the best record in the NFL.
Moments after that loss last month, Ryan said he wished he could take his team right out onto the field and play again. A few weeks later, he and the Jets will get that chance — with plenty on the line.
"If we win this one, we'll be right back to where we always are," Ryan said. "Same old Jets, right in the AFC championship game."
AP Sports Writer Howard Ulman in Foxborough, Mass., contributed to this report.