FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Humility is a virtue with which Rex Ryan is completely unacquainted.
If you want humility, go talk to a priest or nun. If you want bleep-you bravado, Rex is your man.
The Jets' coach proved once again this week that he is his father's son as he talked and talked and talked about what his football team was going to do to the Patriots yesterday in their divisional playoff battle. And his players followed his lead.
It was a week of mostly one-sided trash-talking, with Ryan and the Jets taking one jab after another at the Patriots, and the Patriots just smiling that we'll-do-our-talking-on-the-field smile.
But Ryan's cocky team backed up its brash talk yesterday. It sacked soon-to-be league MVP Tom Brady a season-high five times in a 28-21 victory that earned them a spot in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year.
A year ago, they were beaten in the conference title game by Peyton Manning and the Colts, 31-17. This time, they will visit the Steelers, who earned their spot in the Final Four with a Saturday win over the Ravens.
The Jets already have defeated the Steelers once this season. They played at Heinz Field in Week 15 and the Jets came out with a 22-17 win.
Yesterday's game was the third meeting between the Jets and Patriots. The Jets beat them in the Meadowlands in Week 2, 28-14, but had their heads handed to them at Gillette Stadium in Week 13, 45-3.
The Patriots beat them so decisively that few gave the Jets a chance to win yesterday. But their defense did an outstanding job against Brady and the league's top-scoring offense. And their offense mixed the run and the pass to perfection.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez completed 16 of 25 passes, threw for three touchdowns and finished with a 127.3 passer rating, which was 38 points higher than Brady's. It was Sanchez's fourth win in five playoff starts.
Brady completed 29 of 45 passes, but averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt and never was able to get into sync with his receivers. The Patriots, who finished second in the league in third-down efficiency, converted just five of 14 third-down opportunities, including three of 10 in the first three quarters.
"We came here for a reason," Ryan said. "We felt we were the better team. Clearly, we weren't when we played them the last time. They were head and shoulders better than we were that day. But I knew if we applied ourselves and played the way we were capable of playing, we could beat them.
"Same old Jets. Going to the AFC Championship Game for the second year in a row. The only difference is we plan on winning this one."
Despite winning 11 games this season, despite owning the league's third-rated defense, not many people outside their locker room gave the Jets a fighting chance in this rubber match.
The 14-2 Patriots came into the game with an eight-game winning streak. They had averaged 37.3 points per game in those games.
Brady was the closest thing to unstoppable a quarterback's been in the NFL. A league-best 111.0 passer rating. A league-high 36 touchdown passes. Eleven straight games without an interception.
The Patriots owned a 7-1 playoff record at Gillette Stadium and a 67-13 overall record there.
And when the Patriots methodically drove from their own 16 down to the Jets' 28 on their first possession, it looked like everything was going to go according to form.
Then something weird happened. Brady finally threw an interception.
He faked an end-around and threw a screen toward running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. But Brady overthrew him and put it right in the hands of Jets linebacker David Harris, who took it all the way to the New England 12-yard-line before he was caught from behind by tight end Alge Crumpler.
The Jets ended up blowing that scoring opportunity when Nick Folk missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt. But there would be others that they wouldn't blow.
They went ahead 4 1/2 minutes into the second quarter when Sanchez connected with running back LaDainian Tomlinson on a 7-yard touchdown pass, and made it 14-3 with 33 seconds left in the half when Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards for a 15-yard touchdown catch and run. Edwards dragged defensive backs Devin McCourty and Brandon Meriweather the last 6 yards of that catch and run.
"You guys acted like we had got blown out both times [they had played the Patriots in the regular season]," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "If you listened to [ESPN's] Tom Jackson and Mike Ditka and all those guys, it was like we didn't win one. Like we had gotten destroyed both times.
"They acted like we weren't even worthy of being on the field with them. No chance. What do you mean no chance? An 11-5 team. A team that went into Pittsburgh and battled and [won]. It's ridiculous. They should be ashamed of themselves."
Brady's 89.0 passer rating was his lowest since Week 6, when he had an 82.7 rating in a 23-20 win over the Chargers. He was sacked four times in that game, which was the most before yesterday.
"Our expectations this season were very high," Brady said. "Playoff football comes down to who makes the plays, and we made too many mistakes."
The Jets disrupted the Patriots' timing offense by jamming their tight ends and wide receivers at the line and delaying their ability to get into their routes.
Brady has relied heavily on his rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, who had combined for 16 touchdown catches this season. Yesterday, the two had just five catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns. The Patriots' third tight end, Crumpler, who had just six catches this season, was the only Patriots tight end to find the end zone, catching a 2-yard pass from Brady late in the third quarter that, along with a 2-point conversion, closed the Patriots to within 14-11.
But the Jets came right back with another score. They drove 75 yards on five plays with Sanchez throwing his third touchdown pass, a 7-yarder to a diving Santonio Holmes that was every bit as impressive a catch as the one that he caught to help the Steelers win a Super Bowl 2 years ago.
"I said last year that one day [Sanchez] wouldn't be looked at as the weakness of the team," Ryan said. "I said he'll be looked at as the strength. And I think you're seeing that now."
The Jets have earned their ticket to the AFC title game. They have beaten perhaps the game's two best quarterbacks - Peyton Manning and Brady - on successive weekends, and now face another big challenge from the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger.
So now it's on to Pittsburgh for Ryan's Jets. But first, another week of bravado.
"We talk because we believe in ourselves," Ryan said. "That's where the talk comes from. There's a huge amount of respect for New England by our team. That's a great team.
"But we're not afraid of anybody. We came here on a mission. We're trying to win a Super Bowl. Mission impossible, we go to Round 3." *