All hearts and flowers, so far

It's not like they've joined hands to sing a chorus of "Kumbaya" or anything, but the rhetoric has been dialed way back for this AFC Championship Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets. So far, anyway.

Two weeks ago, Coach Rex Ryan declared the Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts to be "personal" between him and Peyton Manning. Last week, Ryan said the Divisional Round game against the New England Patriots was "personal" with Bill Belichick. And mixed in liberally both weeks were some shots at Tom Brady.

Not so this week. Ryan kicked things off on Monday with compliments for Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu, with nary a sarcastic word to be heard. Tomlin never has been one to engage in a public sniping contest, and he held true to form during his regularly scheduled news conference on Tuesday.

"I love Rex," said Tomlin. "Rex has a lot of fun with you (media) guys, but when you see past all of those things, this is a great football coach. He has the pulse of his football team. He does a great job of motivating them, is very sound schematically in all three phases, and his glass is always half full. I appreciate that."

Ryan's take on Tomlin was equally effusive. "I have a great deal of respect for Mike Tomlin. He's one of my favorite coaches."

As the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2008, Ryan competed against the Steelers 22 times, and his team was 9-13 in those games, including 0-2 in the playoffs, but most of that came with Bill Cowher as the Steelers coach. Tomlin's Steelers won four of the five games played against the Ravens during Ryan's tenure, including a win in the 2008 AFC Championship Game.

But in his remarks to open the week, Ryan instead chose to speak about a Monday night game at Heinz Field in 2007. With James Harrison recording three strip/sacks and an interception and with Roethlisberger converting every one of the takeaways with a touchdown pass, the Steelers took a 35-0 halftime lead in a game they eventually won, 38-7.

"They were up 30-something to nothing at halftime. They ran the ball every single snap in the second half," said Ryan, which is not exactly true, but the Steelers did pull Roethlisberger and go with backup Charlie Batch. "The one thing is we could stop the run, they got like a yard and a half a carry. It was like batting practice; he wasn't trying to rub our nose in it."

Whether this civility continues throughout the rest of the week remains to be seen, but in facing the Steelers Ryan doesn't have any of the ready-made hard feelings that existed between the Jets and the Colts, and then the Jets and the Patriots, to call upon.

With the Colts, Ryan could work up a lather about Peyton Manning, who always has played well against the Ravens, and who led the Colts to a win over the Jets in the 2009 AFC Championship Game. With the Patriots, well, it was nothing but an extension of Ryan's inaugural news conference after being hired by the Jets, during which he said he wasn't hired to "kiss Belichick's rings."

When it comes to the Steelers, Ryan is 1-0 against them as the coach of the Jets, and there really is no history of antagonism between the franchises going all the way back to the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. So instead, it's platitudes.

"He's got the heart, he's tough, everything you look for," Ryan said about Roethlisberger. "He's a competitor, a fierce competitor. He's everybody's kind of quarterback."

About Polamalu, whose 40-yard return of an interception for a touchdown iced the outcome of the 2008 AFC Championship Game, which kept the Ravens out of Super Bowl XLIII, Ryan said, "The guy is an amazing player. (He) and Ed Reed are the two best safeties I've ever seen. When they always say he plays like his hair is on fire, I think (it's true) and his hair is ridiculous. How don't you love watching the guy play?"

And finally, about Tomlin, Ryan said, "He's a man's man and his team plays like that."

So there you have it. No fireworks from behind the microphone, no material for the bulletin board. That's come to be expected from the Steelers, but it's a departure of sorts for the Jets. Still, Tomlin wasn't ready to concede that he is all that different than Ryan.

"I tell you, our styles are probably more similar than you would imagine," said Tomlin. "Rex just has more fun with you (media) guys. I think he's great for the Jets, and I think that's all he's concerned about being great for. He's got them in the AFC Championship Game. I'm sure he's not concerned about the National Football League."

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