FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Tom Brady has been blitzed by Antonio Cromartie and Rex Ryan, and a strong body of evidence suggests this movie is not going to end any better for the New York Jets than "Jaws" ended for the shark.
The bad guy usually gets it in the end, and no team has so eagerly embraced the role of villain since, since ... Jimmy Johnson's Miami Hurricanes? Jerry Tarkanian's Runnin' Rebels? Chuck Daly's Bad Boy Pistons?
Of course, those teams won championships before time and circumstance conspired against them. The Jets? They haven't won a title since man walked on the moon, and yet they are trying to talk the heavily favored New England Patriots into a lather before Sunday's second-round playoff game in Foxborough, Mass.
Ryan had already jabbed Brady after ESPNNewYork.com reported the Patriots' star had attended the Broadway show "Lombardi" instead of watching the Jets on Saturday night, a choice, Ryan claimed, the more studious Peyton Manning never would have made.
Cromartie then barreled through the door his enabling coach opened, calling Brady a profane name in the New York Daily News and railing against his alleged fist-pumping, finger-pointing ways.
Wednesday, when asked what will happen if an enraged Brady throws as many passes as possible his way, Cromartie said, "I'm going to win that battle. If Brady wants to turn it into that, I'd be more than happy to let him try."
Hey, it makes for sexy copy, even if Brady swears he's never pointed at anyone on an opposing sideline. The Jets are talking like they beat the Patriots last month by a 45-3 count, not the other way around, eliminating any chance of the home team taking them a tad lightly after a sleepy week off.
Of greater consequence, the Jets have guaranteed that Brady will be driven to pitch the game of his life. Players, coaches and columnists are forever minimizing the impact that trash talk ultimately has on the winning and the losing.
It's a sudden-death playoff game, the thinking goes. What could possibly motivate Tom Brady more than a chance to save his season and move a step closer to his fourth Super Bowl title?
Only you don't have to be a leading scholar in the field of human nature to understand that pure greatness -- the Brady kind -- is best left unchallenged. And since the Patriots quarterback belongs in the conversation with the Michael Jordans and Tiger Woodses, serial winners fueled by an inferno within, a quick review of their responses to Cromartie-like, Rex-like baiting offers a snapshot of what to expect from Brady on Sunday.
In January 1997, after Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy called him a "con man" who buttered up opponents before slashing and gashing them, Michael Jordan scored 51 points in a Bulls victory and finished the game screaming the following into Van Gundy's face:
"Calm down you little f---!"
The pompous gym teacher, Phil Jackson, would add, "I think it was a tactical mistake by the coach of the Knicks to attack Michael personally before the game."
Not even two weeks later, after Seattle coach George Karl observed that an aging Jordan was going to the basket less and preserving his body more, Jordan exploded for 45 points before declaring, "I'm not scared to go anywhere on the court."
At the 2000 Presidents Cup, with Vijay Singh's caddie wearing a "Tiger Who?" cap, Tiger Woods defeated Singh, 2 and 1. Asked for his reaction to the caddie's cap, Woods said, "2 and 1."
At the 2006 World Match Play Championship, after 64th-seeded Stephen Ames said he had liked his chances against the top-seeded Woods ("Anything can happen, especially where he's hitting the ball," Ames said), Tiger terminated Ames, 9 and 8, with a bloodless gaze in his eye.
Asked for his reaction to Ames' comment, Woods said, "9 and 8." Asked specifically if Ames had inspired him to play at a higher level, Tiger added, "You might say that. As I said, 9 and 8."
Even The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was motivated by slights. In the players' lounge at Madison Square Garden, I watched Gretzky's neighborly smile descend into an unruly knot as I told him that Joe DiMaggio once mocked his 51-game scoring streak because an assist counted as a point.
"I guess a single doesn't count as a hit," Gretzky spit back.
During The Great One's final season, Buffalo's Vaclav Varada belittled his fading game, saying it was "easy" to compete against Gretzky's line and that the legend "was just skating around with the puck." I asked Gretzky if a harsh critique from a middling, faceless player could ever bother him.
"Did it make me mad?" he said. "Yeah, it did. ... It fires me up; it still does. I look forward to the game in Buffalo."
In that game, a Gretzky teammate, Todd Harvey, made sure to punch Varada in the back of his skull.
No, Tom Brady isn't going to send any goon squad Antonio Cromartie's way. Brady's going to handle this one himself, just as he did a few years back, after Pittsburgh's Anthony Smith guaranteed that New England's run at an unbeaten season was about to die a slow and painful death.
Brady threw for only 399 yards and four touchdowns, including two long ones at Smith's expense, in a 34-13 victory over the Steelers that inspired Bill Belichick, of all people, to pile on. "We've played against a lot better safeties than [Smith]," Belichick said.
Brady has played against better corners than Cromartie, Darrelle Revis among them. Now Cromartie has given Brady reason to ignore Revis as much as Manning did in Round 1.
"To think that a comment here or there is going to incite them to play at a greater level," Ryan said, "I don't believe that's true."
I believe it is true, at least when it comes to the best of the best. The evidence suggests that Tom Brady is feeling today precisely what the Jordans and Tigers and Gretzkys felt yesterday.
So Sunday in Foxborough, the odds say it won't be easy being green.