- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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This one's personal -- or at least that's how Rex Ryan made it sound.
The New York Jets' coach, who famously proclaimed last year that he'll never kiss Bill Belichick's rings, hyped the Dec. 6 showdown against Belichick as a championship-caliber boxing match. Ryan has tremendous respect for what Belichick has accomplished with the New England Patriots, but he also carries a chip on his shoulder.
"There are a lot of really good coaches in this league, but there's only one guy that's the best," Ryan said Friday. "I like a challenge. It motivates you. It's like anything else, almost like going into a championship fight. You're going to have to fight the best guy.
"I pride myself on being a good football coach," he continued. "With the guys that I have around us, I feel confident. But I'm still not in Bill Belichick's class, and I know that. But I know one thing: He's going to get my best shot."
Ryan's career mark is 2-1 against Belichick, and the Jets have trailed the Patriots in the AFC East standings only two weeks out of 12 this season, but the brash coach believes his team isn't getting enough respect. Maybe he thinks he's not getting enough.
Minutes after Thursday night's 26-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals -- the Jets' fourth straight -- Ryan made this sarcastic remark about the Patriots: "Clearly, they're the best team in football. That's what all the experts say -- except me."
Ryan has led the Jets to a 9-2 record, same as the Patriots, but they're getting criticized because they haven't dominated inferior competition. The combined record of the Jets' last five victims is 14-38, and they needed last-minute heroics to pull out four of those games.
The Jets are 1-2 against teams with winning records, their lone victory over the Patriots 28-14 in Week 2. That was so long ago that the Patriots had some guy named Moss at wide receiver.
Maybe there's an anti-Jets sentiment. Or maybe they feel slighted because the Patriots command so much respect.
"I think it's respect," Ryan said. "They earned that, but we have the same record and we beat them once. I don't know if we're looked at in that light or whatever, but, you know, that's OK. The great thing is, we get to prove it on Monday Night Football in their place. We'll see. I know I feel confident with this football team. I know everybody in our locker room believes we'll win."
That the Patriots have three Vince Lombardi Trophies in their building might be the reason why they receive more love than the Jets, but Ryan has fostered a championship mentality around the Jets. He has reasons to feel good as they prepare for what he dubbed the "marquee game of the year."
The Jets' defense, maligned after a fourth-quarter collapse last Sunday against the Houston Texans, dominated the Bengals. They recorded three sacks, intercepted two passes and limited the Bengals to no first downs over the final 14 minutes.
"I understand New England is moving it up and down the field against everybody, but we'll see," Ryan said, defiant as ever. "I have confidence that won't be the case this week."
The Jets also are benefitting from big plays on special teams, the latest an 89-yard kickoff return by Brad Smith, who lost one shoe about halfway to the end zone.
The only downer from the game was the play of the offense, Mark Sanchez in particular. Sanchez, who had been playing the best ball of his career, passed for only 166 yards, missed open receivers and threw a horrible interception. After the game, he acted as if the Jets had lost.
"I'm pretty hard on myself and I need to be better after a night like this," he said. "I need to be perfect. To demand what I need out of those guys, to get where we want to go, the quarterback play needs to be a lot better than tonight."
Now Sanchez returns to his personal house of horrors, Gillette Stadium, where he threw four interceptions last season as a rookie. Looking back, Ryan called it "a brutal performance." He expects Sanchez to bounce back.
"We know that Mark is a totally different guy," Ryan said.
Ryan likes to say the Patriots always have the edge in two areas -- quarterback and head coach. That's what he says, but does he really believe that?
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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