Blood oath: Jets are coming for you

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eli Manning needed only one dab of his gash to wave to the sideline, to call for help, to realize his forehead looked far worse than Y.A. Tittle's did in that epic black-and-white photo from a bygone place.

As an angry river of blood ran over his face, like storm water raging down a drain, Manning became the ugly, small-picture face of Rex Ryan's master, big-picture plan. The head coach of the New York Jets doesn't just want to win a Super Bowl and become a larger-than-life TV star in the process.

He wants to seize this marketplace by the throat, steal it away from the New York Giants, and if he has to bludgeon and bloody their $100 million franchise quarterback in a preseason game along the way, then Manning had better learn to do one thing:


Early in the second quarter, Manning called an audible without informing the rest of the team. He dropped back and into running back Brandon Jacobs, who separated the quarterback from the ball. With Manning juggling and struggling to regain control, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace blasted him from the blind side, sending Eli's helmet flying and sending Eli's face plunging into an oncoming Jim Leonhard.

Pace's mid-August hit was delivered with late December force, and given the stakes (or lack thereof) it fell only a yard or two short of dirty -- just the way Ryan likes it.

"Hard Knocks" on Wednesday nights, harder knocks on Monday nights.

Suddenly Manning's head, nose and hands were a bloody, hard-to-watch mess. "His pants and shirt were all red," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "That means it squirted."

It was worse than Tittle's injury, not nearly as bad as Clint Malarchuk's, almost as bad as Isiah Thomas' after Karl Malone decided to stop a drive to the basket by driving an elbow into Isiah's face.

"Hellacious hit by Calvin," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "I think Brandon Jacobs should send Eli some flowers. He got in the way and kind of started that whole thing, but that's how you finish the play."

Manning walked off while pressing a white bandage hard against his wound, walked with a couple of trainers around the end zone of the New Meadowlands Stadium and on the dotted yellow line taking him toward the tunnel. The quarterback who had started 94 consecutive regular season and postseason games was never to be seen again in the game.

"I feel fine," Manning said afterward. "I feel normal. ... Sometimes you make a mistake and you get hit in the head."

Especially when Buddy Ryan's son is standing on the other side of the field.

Manning's red badge of courage -- the 3-inch head laceration that required a dozen stitches -- said more about the opposing coach than it did about the quarterback. In effect, Rex Ryan had christened a new building and a new rivalry with Eli's blood.

"Well, I think if Eli doesn't hit his own running back," Ryan said, "the hit might not have been so severe. I think that's what really set it off a little bit."

That and a Jets defense that went after Eli harder than it went after Eli's big brother in the AFC title game.

"Just trying to get off the field," Pace said. "It wasn't any kind of malicious play or anything. Just playing football."

Rex Ryan's kind of football.

The Jets blitzed Manning on his first pass play, forcing a rushed incompletion. Later in the first quarter, Ryan called for a second third-down blitz and Scott ended up with a clear path to Manning, who rushed another pass that became an incompletion.

Eric Smith blocked Matt Dodge's punt on the next play, and Ryan congratulated his safety on the sideline as if he'd just picked off Tom Brady to clinch the division title.

Yes, Ryan wanted to beat up the Giants in this preseason opener as badly as George Steinbrenner wanted to beat up the Mets in the Mayor's Trophy Game.

Ryan didn't get the official victory -- that belonged to Coughlin, by a 31-16 count. The Giants' backups ripped the Jets' backups, who could've used a Darrelle Revis or two to cover Victor Cruz, a faceless receiver out of Paterson who scored three touchdowns to notarize his training camp impression of Jerry Rice.

But the Jets' first-teamers took a 13-10 halftime lead over the Giants' first-teamers, and played a more physical game, allowing Ryan to make the statement he wanted to make.

Remember, this is the son of a man who punched a fellow coach (Kevin Gilbride, now the Giants' offensive coordinator) and put up bounties on opposing players. Ryan isn't about to make many new friends around the league with his mouth, whether he's starring on HBO or conducting his daily briefings with the media.

"I take it with a good laugh and a good sense of humor," Jets legend Joe Namath said. "But you look around at the 31 other teams, and I don't think they'll like it one bit. ... You're asking for trouble in a sense. You'd better go out there and put up, or else you're going to have to keep shutting up big time."

Ryan isn't shying away from any of that. With Manning looking like an extra in a zombie film, staggering out of the scene, the Jets coach sent Mark Sanchez right back into the second-quarter fire and had him pass, pass, pass. The go-ahead field goal was kicked and the home team had its moral victory before the scrubs screwed it up.

"We got whipped by 'em," Ryan said of the second-teamers.

He didn't seem to mind. The Jets had drawn first blood, Eli Manning's, another step in Ryan's plan to paint the town red.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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