Earlier this week, it appeared that the Jets had realized that it made no sense to rile up the Steelers, who are 8-1 in their last nine postseason games and who have shown up consistently in big games since losing the AFC Championship to the Patriots six years ago to cap Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season.
But whether it’s strategic or because they simply and truly can’t help themselves, chatter has emerged late in the week, and it centers on receiver Hines Ward and his reputation for hitting a guy in the jaw when the rest of his face is turned.
On Thursday, it was defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Our guys I think called him the toughest guy in the league when nobody’s looking,” Pettine said, per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com.
On Friday, it was cornerback Antonio “Cee Lo” Cromartie, who told Adam Schein and Chris Carlin of SNY’s Loudmouths, “I know for a fact that he will hit you while you’re not looking. I don’t think he’s man enough to hit you while you’re looking at him.”
Also on Friday, Jets safety James Ihedigbo got involved. “We’re going to deal with him early so he knows what type of game it’s going to be, and that none of that stuff is being tolerated,” Ihedigbo said, per Begley.
Safety Eric Smith stopped short of saying what would happen if Ward lays a guy out with a no-look block.
“If I finish what I said and then do what I planned on doing, I’m going to get fined,” Smith said, who knows a thing or two (or 50,000 things or two) about being fined.
“We saw some of those plays, like in the Ravens game, he’s out there hitting Dawan Landry in the back, he came across and hit Ray Lewis in the back,” Smith said. “Ed Reed was 30 yards downfield and he’s going down and hitting him. It’s just unnecessary things like that that make you mad as a defender.”
Given that coach Rex Ryan doesn’t seem to have a problem with Ward’s tactics (“[H]e plays hard and he plays to the whistle. . . . I respect the heck out of Hines Ward.”), we’ve got a feeling that the monster Rex has created by talking and talking and talking some more can’t easily be contained, even in those rare weeks when Rex finds a way to zip it.