Rex Ryan: Jets haven't caught Patriots

Rex Ryan didn't confirm it, but he might wear a cup when the New York Jets play the New England Patriots.

He fears Tom Brady might drill him.

"You know he can't stand me," Ryan said last week at the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. "One day, I expect him to roll out one time, launch a ball at me and take the incompletion. That's what I worry about."

Ryan needled Brady during the playoffs last year. Even while the Jets were preparing to play the Indianapolis Colts, he went out of his way to mention Peyton Manning was a better student of the game and Brady was propped up by Bill Belichick's coaching.

"I do like to play with him a little bit," Ryan said of Brady, "but what a great quarterback."

That's why Ryan already has the Jan. 24 Sports Illustrated cover framed on his wall. It's a photo from the Jets' amazing postseason victory over the Patriots. Outside linebacker Calvin Pace is blasting a wide-eyed Brady, right arm still in the air. Brady and the ball are suspended in the air, jarred apart.

"That was a great picture," Ryan said. "His eyes were this big!

"Nobody can take that win away from us, and it was a great feeling. But, man, oh man. Just once -- I'm not asking for much -- just once I want that to be a Super Bowl picture."

Much has been made of provocative comments Ryan has delivered about the Patriots and making it "personal" when he plays them and not kissing Belichick's rings and Brady not being as good as Manning.

But there should be no mistaking Ryan's respect for the Patriots.

Even though the Jets have outlasted the Patriots in each of Ryan's two seasons -- the Jets have gone to the AFC East Championship Game both times, while the Patriots have been one-and-done after home defeats -- Ryan won't say his team is better yet.

"I can't say we've caught them because they've won our division two straight years," Ryan said. "But we know we can beat them. We're 3-2 against them since I've been here. That was what everybody forgot: We beat them in Week 2. We got crushed in the Monday Night Massacre. Belichick outcoached me. But we beat them pretty good in Week 2.

"We're right there with anybody in this league. Obviously, they had the best record in football, and they earned that. But we certainly never feared them. We respected them, but we didn't fear them. We knew that we were going to play a zillion times better than we did that Monday night. My kid's high school team might have played better than that. But you know what? We beat them two out of three.

"I know they're going to circle those games, and so will we."