But for the time being, Ryan's team is playing like a highly disciplined organization. Their loyalty to each other is palpable, and they say it starts with Ryan, who takes all blame when they lose and deflects credit when they win. After they beat the Patriots, he said, "It has nothing to do with me." To which Pryce replied affectionately with his own expletive: "Bull. It had everything to do with him."
Then there is the masterly job Ryan has done with second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, guiding a loose kid to imminent superstardom and four playoff victories. Sanchez might have driven some coaches crazy. He exudes a surfer boy carefree-ness, with wings of curling hair, Skechers on his feet, and rope bracelets on his wrist. But Ryan has let him be himself.
Sanchez's relationship with Ryan was defined by an early encounter, when Sanchez was a draftee out of Southern California. He went to dinner with Ryan, owner Woody Johnson and several assistant coaches, and after the meal as they left the restaurant a jokey Sanchez decided to alarm his new bosses. There was a motorcycle parked at the curb, and Sanchez pretended it was his. He said, "All right, I'll see you guys later," swung a leg over the bike. "I was just messing around," he says. Some coaches would have gasped. Ryan laughed. He liked it.
Later, when Sanchez struggled with mistakes on the field and doubted himself, Ryan brought up the episode: "Be that guy that got on the motorcycle," he told Sanchez. "Just be him."
"Even in the toughest situations, he's always told me he's never wavered in his confidence," Sanchez says. "And it's taught me to never waver. You've got to trust yourself. When all else fails, get back to basics, go with what you know and trust your instincts. He'll always tell me in the toughest situations, 'Be yourself. Be the guy we drafted.' "
There is no tougher situation than the one the Jets now face. Ryan will try to summon another big swell of emotion in order to win in the cold, hostile environs of Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. It will be their third straight road game as underdog, and the question is whether their emotion is sustainable.
Moreover, the Jets will need serious substance to beat the ferociously physical Steelers, who have won two Super Bowls since the 2005 season and six trophies overall. If it's a matter of the Jets' inspiration against the Steelers' heavy hitting and hardware, it won't be enough. Ryan is cognizant of that, which is why he kept his incendiary talk to a minimum. But on Friday, Ryan pronounced his team ready, and with a confident verbal flourish suggested his team is ready for the playground again.
"They've had six Super Bowl trophies," he said. "If they want to put them on the field, we will play them, too."