- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The grounds crew at the New York Jets' practice facility did a bang-up job Wednesday with snow removal. Then again, the snow always melts quicker around the Jets because of all the hot air emanating from the building.
This team doesn't know how to keep quiet. If it's not the bombastic Rex Ryan making headlines, this week calling out Bill Belichick or tweaking Tom Brady for his study habits, it's one of his assistant coaches (see Mike Westhoff on TripGate) or one of his players. The latest is cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who created a firestorm by calling Brady a bleeping, taunting ass----.
Football 101: You don't challenge Belichick, and you don't insult Brady, one of the greatest coach-quarterback tandems in history. More often than not, they will turn your loose lips into a fat lip.
It certainly adds another layer to Sunday's AFC divisional showdown in Foxborough, Mass. Something spectacular is going to happen: It's either going to be the Jets' greatest victory since Super Bowl III or an all-time gag.
A gag on their words, that is.
Ryan did his team no favors by declaring Monday that it's personal between him and Belichick. Ryan's agenda was transparent -- he wanted to take the heat off his players -- but you have to wonder if he did more harm than good. It set the tone for the week; before long, Cromartie was making unnecessary and reckless comments about Brady.
When you lose by 42 points to a team, as the Jets did last month to the Patriots, the usual response is humility.
"Tactically, I think Ryan did the wrong thing," one NFL GM said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's taking this personally. You could see his pride got bruised. To me, in this business, you have to let that stuff go. It's not good for you.
"You don't give Belichick fuel. Nobody -- nobody -- beats Belichick when you give him fuel. Now I give them no chance. They're playing right into Belichick's hands. To make that statement, you can say he's trying to insulate his players. Maybe. Maybe. But it's a seasoned team. I don't think they needed that."
If you don't think Belichick will use the Ryan and Cromartie quotes on his bulletin board, here's a story that illustrates the way he operates. It goes back to his days with the New York Giants, when he was the defensive coordinator.
In January 1991, a few days before the Giants' famous upset of the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV, a Tampa, Fla., newspaper ran a photo of a few Buffalo players at a local jewelry store, getting measured for Super Bowl rings. Privately, the Giants delighted in the Bills' arrogance.
"That was the defining moment of the week," Belichick told me years later in an interview. "When we saw that picture, we got that baby and slapped it up on the wall in the meeting room. We just said to ourselves, 'We got 'em now. We're going to get 'em.' It was a great confidence builder. Everybody was talking about that picture."
Asked about that Wednesday in a conference call with the New York media, Belichick was stricken with a case of selective amnesia.
"I really don't even remember being aware of that story about the rings," he said in his usual monotone. "If it was, I've forgotten about it. I don't remember."
Does anybody think for a second that Cromartie's name isn't going to come up in Belichick's address to the Patriots on the eve of the game? Predictably, Brady downplayed Cromartie's remarks, cracking that Belichick sometimes calls him an "ass----." So maybe, Brady concluded, Cromartie really likes him.
Yeah, right. That's a good one. Cromartie isn't an admirer of Broadway Tom.
"My opinion is never going to change about Brady. ... I hate him, he hates me, he hates the Jets, who cares?" Cromartie said.
Here's the weird thing about the Jets: This is a talented, tough-minded team, and it doesn't need all the extracurricular nonsense to perform. But, hey, this is what owner Woody Johnson signed up for when he hired Ryan, and he's all-in.
"That's the culture we live here," guard Brandon Moore said. "You say what you feel. If you're a trash-talker, you're free to do that."
Publicly or privately, no one around the team ripped Cromartie for trashing Brady. Truth is, they probably all feel the same way. But there's truth, and there's consequences -- and the latter will be severe if the Jets lose.
The Jets have now violated the two main rules of preparing to play the Patriots.