Perhaps the only matchup that can even approach the same stratosphere as the Ravens’ biannual meetings — and a third, if we’re lucky — with the Pittsburgh Steelers is the occasional confrontation with Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.
If the bright lights of Sunday Night Football weren’t enough, the Ravens will be donning their all-black uniforms while the 2-1 Jets try to snap a six-game losing streak against Baltimore that dates all the way back to 1998. Since winning the first meeting between the teams in 1997 (played at Giants Stadium), the Jets have been beaten three times each in Baltimore and in their home stadium.
To the surprise of no one, a heated dynamic — if not a full-fledged rivalry — was born when Ryan left the Ravens to become the head coach of the Jets in 2009. Their meeting in Week 1 of last season spawned comments from Ray Lewis usually reserved solely for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I’m going to be very careful with this, we’re talking about the Jets like we’re talking about the Saints,” Lewis said prior to the Week 1 meeting last season. “That’s the Super Bowl champs. Until they play tonight, that’s the only people that can be dethroned. Drew Brees and the Saints, not Mark Sanchez and the Jets. All of this ‘We’re the Miami Heat of football.’ If you’re the Miami Heat, we got to be the Lakers and multiple rings.
And if that didn’t satisfy your appetite for what’s potentially on tap when the Ravens return to practice on Wednesday afternoon, Lewis offered the famous “buckle up your chinstrap” comment that epitomized the physical game we saw in the Ravens’ 10-9 win a year ago.
“The game ain’t played through tongues,” Lewis said. “The game is played when you buckle up your chin strap. So, all this pressure [Ryan] wants to put on his team, I hope they can cash the check that he writes.”
It will be nearly impossible to top the back-and-forth from a year ago that nearly made the actual game an afterthought with the needles being thrown in the week leading up to the Monday night affair.
But can they match it?
So far, no warning shots have been fired — particularly by the Jets after the Raiders ran for an astounding 234 yards against them in a humbling 34-24 defeat in Oakland. However, it’s difficult to envision the likes of Ryan, Lewis, Bart Scott, and Terrell Suggs making it through the entire week without a few interesting comments being offered to the virtual bulletin board for the opposition. These are the types of games that are a reporter’s dream: physical football with plenty of quotes and sound bytes to add fuel to the fire leading up to kickoff.
To no one’s surprise given his typical demeanor with the media, coach John Harbaugh’s Monday comments about the Jets were soaking wet firewood rather than kindling.
“They are a very good football team – very aggressive, very tough, very determined,” Harbaugh said. “They have a lot of playmakers – that’s the biggest thing. [They have] playmakers all over the field. I think when you see them win, they can win it in a lot of different ways. They can win by dominating the opponent, they can win by pulling it out at the end. That’s the mark of a good team – a winning team. That will be our challenge.”
Despite the complimentary statements from the Ravens coach, Harbaugh’s comments regarding potential barbs being exchanged left the door wide open for the louder personalities on the Ravens to fire shots up I-95 the remainder of the week.
“We always tell our guys really to be themselves,” said Harbaugh when asked if he would deter players from talking. “We don’t tell them not to say anything. We encourage them to be their best selves. I think our guys are pretty good guys, and our guys are classy guys. I’m sure our guys will have fun with it. I don’t think you will hear too much malicious [words] coming out of our guys. Our guys like those guys, so to speak. It will be good laughs listening to what comes out of New York, and we will be looking forward to it because it is always funny. It’s always entertaining. It makes it more fun.”
The roots connecting the Ravens and Jets run even deeper than the average fan realizes when you take a closer look at the two organizations. Players, coaches, and even front office personnel hold strong connections on a number of different levels.
Scott (2002-08), safety Jim Leonhard (2008), and wide receiver Derrick Mason (2005-2010) all found “greener” pastures after departing Baltimore. Mason’s move to the Jets will throw an intriguing wrinkle to this Sunday’s meeting, given the 37-year-old wideout’s tendency to hold court with the media from time to time.
In addition to Ryan (1999-2008), defensive coordinator Mike Pettine (2002-08), defensive line coach Mark Carrier (2006-09), quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh (1999-2004), and defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman (2002-07) spent time on the Baltimore coaching staff. On the flip side, Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler coached the Jets’ quarterbacks and wide receivers in 2003 and 2004.
Even the offensive coordinators share a bond — though not through New York or Baltimore — as Cam Cameron and Jets coordinator Brian Schottenheimer were members of the Chargers’ offensive staff from 2002 to 2005 under former head coach Marty Schottenheimer.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and Ravens architect Ozzie Newsome were both with the Cleveland Browns in 1995. While Newsome owned the title of director of pro personnel at the time, Tannenbaum was a player personnel assistant.
Despite the many ties throughout the organizations, it ultimately comes down to the players on the field, as much as Ryan might try to throw his name into the fray.
Yes, a mutual respect exists between the Ravens and Jets, but it won’t prevent the sides from being quiet this week.
At least we all hope.