- Rich Cimini, ESPN New York Jets reporter
- 0 Shares
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan, the New York Jets' brash coach, believes he can design a defensive scheme to stop anybody, but the one player he hasn't solved -- his No. 1 tormentor -- is Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Quite simply, Manning has owned Ryan over the years, and Ryan is tired of providing fodder for Manning's career highlight reel.
"Is it personal? Yes, it's personal," Ryan said Monday, looking ahead to the AFC wild-card game Saturday night in Indianapolis. "It's personal against him, Reggie Wayne, all those guys, yeah. [Dwight] Freeney and [Robert] Mathis and those other dudes? Absolutely."
In six games against Ryan-coached defenses, Manning is 5-1, with 1,513 yards, 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. The loss deserves an asterisk because it came last season in Week 16, when Manning was pulled with a third-quarter lead in the infamous Curtis Painter Game. He exacted payback in the AFC Championship Game, throwing for 377 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-17 win over the Jets.
Most coaches wouldn't admit to struggling against a particular player, but Ryan wasn't shy about expressing his frustration. Sometimes, he said, it drives him so crazy that he talks to himself.
"I've seen him many years at the Pro Bowl and I'm like, 'Man ...'" Ryan said. "You know, it's funny, I respect the heck out of the guy, but I'm going to beat him one day. I just hope it's this Saturday."
Manning didn't have a Manning-like season for the AFC South champion Colts (10-6), recording his lowest passer rating (91.9) since 2002. But he picked up his play in recent weeks, rallying the Colts back from the unthinkable -- a potential nonplayoff season.
He's 2-0 against Ryan in the postseason, having won a divisional-round game over the Baltimore Ravens in 2006 -- when Ryan was the defensive coordinator. Manning didn't play well that day -- two interceptions -- but the Colts grinded out a 15-6 win. Then came last January, when Manning rallied the Colts from a halftime deficit and shredded the Jets' secondary.
"You've got all the stats, it's well documented, this is about this year," Ryan said. "I've waited a full year for this. We'll see what happens."
"You lose a playoff game, it's devastating," he continued. "I want to put the shoe on the other foot. I know this team does too. We want him to experience it this time."
The Jets have 32 holdovers from the AFC title game, and they, too, remember the feeling. They were on a magical postseason run and came within 25 minutes of the Super Bowl. The sting of defeat hit hard, resulting in postgame tears in the locker room.
"I lost a championship game and it was a sick feeling," guard Brandon Moore said. "It was an emotional locker room. I think every game is going to be personal as you go along here ... We definitely want to get revenge on them and make up for last year, but it's a new year."
Said linebacker Calvin Pace, "It's tough with a guy like Peyton. He's probably already watched half our season [on tape]."
Manning's former coach, Tony Dungy, apparently believes that Ryan's blitz-oriented scheme isn't suited to stopping the Colts quarterback. Dungy, an NBC studio analyst, said on the air Sunday night that the Colts would've preferred to face the Ravens because they've beaten them eight straight times, but he suggested that Manning would also have his way with the Jets.
"I don't think you can beat Peyton Manning with a defense that's just trying to fool you," said Dungy, who criticized Ryan over the summer for using profanity in HBO's reality series, "Hard Knocks."
Told of Dungy's comments, Ryan responded, "When you get out there [in the media], you've got all the answers, but you don't have to play anymore. I respect everybody's opinions, but the only one I care about is my own."
Actually, Dungy might have a point. In the AFC title game, the Jets sent more than four rushers on 26 of 41 dropbacks, unofficially. The added pressure didn't do much to disrupt the rhythm of Manning, who picked on every defensive back not named Darrelle Revis.
The Jets' defense has been criticized for being inconsistent, but it still finished No. 3 overall and No. 6 against the pass. After Sunday's rout of the Buffalo Bills, Ryan -- in vintage form -- predicted the Jets would win the Super Bowl, his Manning history aside.
"We're not going there to lose. We're going there to win," Ryan said Monday. "That's our mentality. That's my mentality. Always will be. I'm not apologizing for feeling this way. I believe in our football team. I know that's an excellent team we're playing, but they're getting our best shot."
The New York Jets will start their Super Bowl journey where last season's ended -- Indianapolis.