Anyone whose hobbies range from karate to creative cooking is a fellow well worth meeting, but the Jets would have preferred that Andre Tippett introduce himself to their quarterback in a more genteel way Saturday.

With 32 seconds left before halftime of the AFC wild-card game, Ken O'Brien had a couple of visions: an open teammate perhaps 12 yards downfield and the exceptional Tippett perhaps 12 inches from his face.

"Wasn't no dirty hit," Tippett said of the collision that followed O'Brien's hurried incompletion. He was right, although none of the truth seekers crowded about him in the Patriots' dressing room would have debated the point, had he not been.

What had happened was a linebacker's fantasy, one of those football accidents Tippett is paid to create. The idea is not to cripple the quarterback, just to get him tipsy enough to be ineffective.

"He had trouble remembering formations and plays," said Jets Coach Joe Walton. That is kind of important even for the top-rated quarterback in the conference.

"He tried to come back (early in the second half), but I guess he couldn't," Tippett said of his good work, "and so they were going without their leader.

"No matter how much coaches say that it doesn't matter who plays quarterback, that football is a team game, it's in the back of their minds: 'We've lost that edge.'

"It's happened to us. We got that edge this time -- and took advantage of it. We were hungry. Very hungry."

The Patriots were the superior team in nearly every way. And also lucky, for the officials seemed to blow a call that gave them a touchdown on a fumbled kickoff midway through the second half.

Still, the way Tippett and the other New England defenders were playing, that call was significant, though not pivotal.

By boring into O'Brien, Tippett was boring into the minds of casual fans who soon might realize what the rest of football already knows: There may be more-famous linebackers, but none more effective.

Tippett was returning to his roots, having been raised in nearby Newark before he escaped to a college life that at first frightened and intimidated him.

"I wasn't used to the Midwest," he said of his early problems at Iowa. "I saw lots of kids coming from well-to-do families and me not having the things they had.

"Clothes.

"Money.

"My freshman and sophomore years, I was depressed. Homesick. But basically, I didn't want to come back home, to be seen as a loser."

He described his childhood environment as "a chance to see what you want to be and what you don't want to be. But it wasn't all bad."

An uncle was important in his staying at Iowa, saying to the confused and lonely Tippett over the phone: "Why do you want to come back? What is there to do?"

The uncle was in Giants Stadium yesterday, Tippett said. Tickets were left in his name, as were 30 or so others for friends and relatives. Truth be known, Tippett admitted, his major pregame concern was tickets rather than tackles.

"I must have had 20 phone calls (Friday night)," he said. "People who wanted tickets; people who wanted to see me in the hotel.

"Actually, we didn't want to worry too much about the game anyway. We didn't want to put that kind of pressure on ourselves."

The Patriots not having won a playoff since 1963 -- when Tippett was 4 years old -- was a large enough monkey to stomp on their collective shoulder.

"I'd heard and read so much about our not being able to win the big games, about all that talent not being able to do much," the four-year veteran recalled. "We were tired of it. We figured: 'Let's go out and do something about it.'

"We're over that hump now."

If the Jets were a hump, the Raiders next week qualify as a hill, if not a mountain. That can wait. Give Tippett a chance to reflect on another routinely stunning afternoon.

In addition to knocking O'Brien out of the game, Tippett forced another sack and clobbered Freeman McNeil hard enough to cause him to tip the ball to a Patriots teammate.

Tippett's postgame theme was lessons, those learned from the uncle several years ago and those learned from a loss to the Jets here several weeks ago.

"I learned that if you stop moving your feet (against right tackle Marvin Powell), he'll kill you," Tippett said. "In the other game, Powell ran me by the quarterback four or five times. I wasn't using my head like I should have.

"I came inside more this time. I kept him honest."

Tippett, being honest himself, admitted that he told Patriots publicists about his interest in cooking "just to draw attention."

That was insurance, in case his second-degree black belt in karate was not enough of an angle. His toughness was certified the time against the Bills last year when his helmet was knocked off and he made the tackle anyway.

Tippett learned karate "as self-defense as a kid," he said.

Life had been that tough?

"Yeah."

Cooking was a necessity when he roomed off campus at Iowa. New England has given him the chance to experiment with lobster and shrimp dishes.

With no chef's costume to be seen, Tippett still helped concoct quite a stew.