MIAMI (Reuters) - The New York Jets-Miami Dolphins rivalry does not require much additional spice but the temperature has risen for Sunday’s AFC East divisional encounter after a week of sharp insults and jibes.
In the build-up to their first meeting of the season last month, Jets head coach Rex Ryan said he wanted his defense to put some “hot sauce” on Dolphins running back Reggie Bush.
That comment was noted by Miami at the time but the temperature heated up in the game, which Miami won 23-20 in overtime, when Bush was taken off injured.
The running back injured his knee at the close of the second quarter after a helmet-to-knee tackle from Jets safety LaRon Landry.
A few days later, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was ruled out for the season and Bush chimed in with a “what goes around comes around” comment.
Ryan this week said that his “hot sauce” comment merely meant that he wanted his defense to keep a close eye on Bush and said the Dolphin should apologize for inferring otherwise.
“I never want to hurt a player,” said Ryan, who apologised for the phrase, but Bush was skeptical over the Jets coach’s sincerity.
“I don’t believe that, I don’t believe that at all,” Bush said.
“The great thing about divisional games is that you get to play them twice.”
That might have been enough for the two clubs and no doubt for the NFL league office which, after the ‘bounty’ scandal involving the New Orleans Saints, is particularly sensitive these days to ‘trash talk’ that hints at violence.
But in stepped Landry to reignite the flames by saying of Bush: “Whenever he sees me, he will remember that hit.”
Inevitably Dolphins center Mike Pouncey fired back at Landry: “He’s done nothing in this league to even open his mouth. He’s a joke. If he’s in there I’ll have to be on punt-block or something to say something to him.”
Tough-talking aside, the game has genuine extra significance this season given the inconsistent performances of the teams in the AFC East.
The New England Patriots were expected to run away with the division but they are only 4-3 while Miami are 3-3 with the Jets and Buffalo Bills both at 3-4.
Miami’s mild-mannered head coach Joe Philbin is certainly not interested in talking up the chances of tempers spilling over.
“I go back to the game I saw on September 23 -- a hard fought game by both teams. I didn’t think it was a dirty game. Players played hard and I suspect that will be what happens this time around,” he said.
An even greater divisional rivalry resumes in Dallas on Sunday with the New York Giants heading to Texas to face the Cowboys.
The Super Bowl champion Giants lead the NFC East on 5-2 and are looking strong contenders to go all the way again but they need no reminder of the toughness of the task facing them having lost 24-17 to the Cowboys in the opening game of the season.
The unbeaten Atlanta Falcons (6-0) return from their bye week to face a Philadelphia Eagles team who, at 3-3, are facing the season-defining stage of their campaign.
Todd Bowles takes charge as defensive coordinator for the Eagles after the firing of Juan Castillo while quarterback Michael Vick comes up against the team where he made his name.
Neither the Denver Broncos (3-3) nor the New Orleans Saints (2-4) have winning records but the face-off between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees is an appetizing one and both sides have the potential to make surges towards the playoffs in the second half of the season.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes