FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The field was their playground, their proving ground, and their place to say: We told you so.
Jets defensive end Jason Taylor, the clock winding down, an improbable victory over New England assured, turned toward a group of Patriots fans and waved bye-bye as the fans hurled expletives. "You're going home," he said back. It was just the beginning.
Receiver Braylon Edwards and corner Antonio Cromartie did standing back flips to celebrate the 28-21 win. Dustin Keller did a Lambeau leap-type excursion into the arms of a group of Jets fans. Dozens of Jets players spread their arms and simulated large airplanes soaring high, like children with imaginations run amok.
The last Jets touchdown was scored by running back Shonn Greene. He took the football, put it gently on the ground, and then laid his head softly on top like it was a pillow. It drew a penalty, but the message was clear: we just put the Patriots to sleep. Night-night.
The Jets are what happens when fearlessness has a one-night stand with cockiness.
The Jets couldn't help themselves, in the end, taunting and talking on their way to the AFC title game against Pittsburgh. They left with a metaphorical middle finger raised high to the critics while simultaneously embracing an almost metaphysical belief in themselves. Would you expect them to be any other way? Would you want them to be any other way?
The Jets talk. And they talk. And they talk until their throats are dry and everyone is tired of hearing from them. But the Jets also back up that talk with action. There was no greater example of this than Tom Brady being sacked five times. Or looking frustrated. Or hands on hips. Or cursing at himself on the bench.
"Everyone said he was unstoppable," said Cromartie.
Ryan, after the game, reiterated a mocking sentence he made during the week about Brady. "He may not study like Peyton Manning," Ryan said, engaging full smirk ahead, "but he's still pretty good."
Jets linebacker Bart Scott said in one postgame interview about the Patriots: "Disrespect us, talk crap about the defense like we're not the third best in the league. All we hear is about their defense. They can't stop a nosebleed. Twenty-fifth in the league."
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At many points in the night stunned silence swept across Gillette Stadium as the Jets embarrassed a team that bashed them only a short while ago. Patriots fans first sat on their hands, and then sat on the hundreds of handmade signs mocking Rex Ryan's foot fetish. Soon, those signs found their way into the trash.
Now the mouthy Jets head to Pittsburgh where again Ryan might make some stupid declaration or Cromartie might call another quarterback an expletive or someone on the Jets will say the Steelers stink. But the way this season is unfolding people would be foolish to doubt them, even if the Jets are sometimes hard to take.
"We talk because we believe in ourselves," Ryan said. Then later he added perhaps the truest words ever spoken by an NFL coach this year.
"We're not afraid of anybody," he said.
This is what was equally as interesting about the way New York approached this game. Cromartie was the week's headline when he called Brady a naughty word and the talk deteriorated from there culminating with Patriots receiver Wes Welker mocking Ryan's videotaped foot escapades.
But the chatter may have served more than just to reinforce the self confidence of the Jets. It may have helped the Jets get into the Patriots' heads.