PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - After a season spent trash-talking and baiting opponents, the New York Jets have turned their AFC Championship clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday into a gridiron lovefest.
Until this week, the Jets have had nothing but venom and profanity for their playoff opponents while the only praise offered has been lavished on themselves.
"Mike Tomlin, I have a great deal of respect for, he's one of my favorite coaches," gushed Ryan. "He's a man's man and his team plays like that."
While the Jets have often talked a better game than they have played, squeaking into the playoffs as the AFC's sixth seed, they have been able to back up their bravado with impressive victories over the Colts and Patriots to reach the AFC final for the second straight year.
If the Jets can clear the final hurdle and beat the Steelers, few could deny them the right to gloat after navigating one of the most treacherous paths any team has ever taken to a Super Bowl.
"For myself, I've been there (AFC Championship) three years in a row, I don't know if I can handle not winning it," said Ryan, who reached the game two years ago as a defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens. "I need to win this game.
"You definitely would've taken a different route... I'll be honest; I wasn't wanting Indy to be in there. The same thing in New England.
"Now, you have Roethlisberger."
Outsmarting Roethlisberger, who is one of the league's great playoff performers with a 9-2 record in the post-season, may be the toughest challenge of all.
"I just go out and try and win football games and try and win championships."
The Jets have just one win in eight trips to Pittsburgh but that lone victory came last month.
Defense, however, will have as much to say as the quarterbacks about who moves on to Dallas.
The Steelers finished the regular season as the NFL's top-ranked defense, surrendering a league-low average of 14.5 points per game and will be boosted by the return to fitness of their talismanic Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu.
"I think they (Jets) have been pretty consistent about stating their intentions all year, which is to be world champs," said Tomlin. "I think we've been pretty consistent about stating ours, so you know where that's going to lead us.
"That's two trains on a track."
(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Steve Ginsburg; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)