Jets-Steelers is the game to see
By Joe cowley
Jan 23, 2011 10:47AM
9-15-10 Sports Joe Cowley. Staff Mug. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times
It’s only fitting the ‘‘Cold War’’ between the Green Bay Packers and the Bears is the first game today. Every heavyweight fight needs a good undercard.
Just about the time the George Halas Trophy is being handed out and flights to Dallas are being booked, the big-boy game — between the team that starred in ‘‘Hard Knocks’’ and a team that has delivered hard knocks all season long — will be kicking off at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
The New York Jets against the Pittsburgh Steelers . . . ‘‘Can’t wait!’’
That’s what the hype was supposed to be, at least, once the Jets upset the New England Patriots and the Steelers outlasted the Baltimore Ravens last weekend. But somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning, a lovefest broke out.
The two biggest bullies in the AFC — and maybe in all of football — spent the week sounding as though they rather would have a hugging contest than play a football game to determine the other half of the Super Bowl bracket.
It started with, of all people, never-shy Jets coach Rex Ryan. After spitting venom throughout the week leading up to the game against the Patriots, Ryan did a 180 when asked about facing off against Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Ryan made it seem as though his adoration for Tomlin was just behind his love of Jets football and his wife’s feet.
As for Tomlin, he rolled with it, returning the favor.
‘‘I love Rex,’’ Tomlin said in his weekly news conference. ‘‘Rex has a lot of fun with you guys [the media]. But when you pass all of those things, man, Rex is a great football coach. He has a pulse of his football team, does a great job of motivating them, and he’s very sound schematically. His glass is always half-full, and I appreciate that.’’
Cue the acoustic-guitar solo and start singing ‘‘Kumbaya’’?
Not even close. Jets-Steelers week has been the ultimate display of gamesmanship on both sides. Make no mistake about it, the teams can’t stand each other. They want to hit each other. They want to hurt each other. They just know what the other one eats.
The Jets are built on bravado and playing the disrespect card. The Steelers have offered up almost no ammunition to fuel that engine. The Steelers, meanwhile, are used to rivals such as the Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals talking a good game before learning it’s about walking it on the field, not talking off of it.
For the Jets’ part, they have issued nothing but love since Bart Scott’s ‘‘Can’t wait!’’ declaration when asked about facing the Steelers minutes after the upset of the Patriots.
‘Talk is cheap’
‘‘For us, it’s a matter of respect,’’ Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie told the (New York) Daily News. ‘‘We knew what we were getting into last week [against the Patriots]. Obviously, we didn’t like them and they don’t like us.’’
Steelers receiver Hines Ward took it a step further when talking this week with Pittsburgh reporters.
‘‘Talk is cheap,’’ Ward said. ‘‘You can talk all week, but if you go out there and don’t back it up, why even talk? That’s why you don’t hear much out of our camp about trash talk. It’s not who we are. It’s not the type of team we are.’’
Once the game starts, however, you had better believe that all bets are off. That’s about the time the acoustic guitar gets smashed and ‘‘Kumbaya’’ turns to ‘‘Hells Bells.’’
The last game between the teams resulted in a 22-17 Jets victory in Week 15, but that comes with an asterisk. The Steelers were without all-world safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller and yielded a kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 264 yards and a touchdown, and the Steelers had 377 total yards and 25 first downs to the Jets’ 276 yards and 17 first downs.
But the game came down to two incompletions by Roethlisberger from the Jets’ 10 to end the game. Both passes were intended for backup tight end Matt Spaeth.
Then again, the Jets have to be confident after rolling through the Indianapolis Colts and the Patriots to reach the AFC Championship Game.
The game won’t be pretty. As a matter of fact, it might get downright ugly.
A good heavyweight fight usually does.