Ravens, Jets seem to have pieces to prove hype

Jets and Ravens, who added depth in offseason, mix in touch of trash talking

September 12, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — — The war of words between the Ravens and the New York Jets will unfold into an early statement game for both teams Monday night.

Over the course of six months, the Ravens and the Jets have made some of the biggest moves toward building a Super Bowl team and they haven't been shy in bragging about it. Opening their seasons before a national television audience, one will show the country that it has more championship mettle.

New York quarterback Mark Sanchez has said the Jets are a "dream team." Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie referred to the team as "the Miami Heat of football." And coach Rex Ryan has predicted a Jets' Super Bowl victory as often as curses on Hard Knocks.

Ray Lewis lashed back at the Jets last week, essentially saying there's another team to be reckoned with in the AFC.

On Monday night, the bickering ends and the battle begins in this highly anticipated showdown at New Meadowlands Stadium.

"The greatest gift that we've got is opportunity," Lewis said, "because when that ref blows that whistle, I don't give a damn what Rex says or nobody else says. It's all out. However you want to get it, let's get it."

The Ravens showed that same amount of aggression this offseason. When they needed a receiver, they traded for Anquan Boldin on the first day of free agency and signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh a week before the opener. When they needed a cornerback, they traded for Josh Wilson.

The Jets made headlines by trading for Cromartie and wide receiver Santonio Holmes (who is suspended for this game) and signing LaDanian Tomlinson as their third-down running back.

"You always want to come out on the opening game and make a statement," tight end Todd Heap said. "It basically shows other teams that this is who we are, this is what we're about and this is the style of football that we want to play. It sets the tone for the rest of the season."

What has set the tone for the week leading up to the game has been the feud between Lewis and Ryan.

Lewis said all of Ryan's championship talk has put the pressure on the Jets. Ryan replied to the criticism, saying the Jets are going to try to "smash" Lewis.

"I just hope this time he doesn't hide behind the other linebacker that's taking all the hits for him," New York nose tackle Kris Jenkins said.

The Ravens have seen a motivated Lewis all week. One reason for Lewis' heightened emotions could date back 18 months ago, when Ryan chose to pursue Bart Scott over Lewis in free agency.

"The look in his eye right now, he's ready," fullback Le'Ron McClain said of Lewis. "That speaks for our whole team."

None of the banter has surprised the Ravens. Ryan was the same way when he was the Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008.

As one Ravens player said, Ryan put this defense together and now he has to play it.

"We know we're going to play a confident team," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "But we got coached by him, too. So we have confidence also."

Ryan's defenses are known for being the most high-pressured and unpredictable in the NFL. But the Ravens have had the advantage of seeing his schemes over the years in practice.

Their familiarity will only go so far on Monday night, according to coach John Harbaugh.

"I'm sure he'll definitely bring some things we haven't seen," he said. "It'll be some look, some pattern, some coverage behind a pattern that we haven't seen, but it'll be Rex's style. I think we've seen that. Hopefully we understand what that is."

This isn't the first time the Ravens have gone against a former defensive coordinator of theirs.

In 2003, the Ravens lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 34-26, in their first meeting with Marvin Lewis. In 2007, the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, 9-7, in a reunion with Mike Nolan.

On Monday night, the Ravens go against Ryan and a defense that ranked No. 1 last season.

"He knows that when you get the quarterback uncomfortable it can present a lot of problems to an offense," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's done a good job over the years, but we're confident in our ability to go in there and kind of take that away and run our offense the way we always have."

But both the Ravens and the Jets acknowledge that this will be more than a chess match.

"I know they're going to be popping out of their skin. I have news for you — so are we," Ryan said. "This is going to be a physical contest. I think it's going to be a game that people are going to remember."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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