Suddenly, the New York Jets have won over the crowd. The Gotham gang transformed from outlaws into good guys faster than you can swap a black hat for a white Stetson. It's like when Hulk Hogan turned heel and suddenly became the beloved grappler.

New York is following former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali's credo. It's not bragging when you back it up. The Jets now enter the AFC title game coming off consecutive knockdown wins over Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Tom Brady in New England.

Suddenly, the Jets are in the AFC Championship for the second straight year. This time, they're aiming for Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. The Jets shouldn't win, but they weren't supposed to last a round after sneaking into the playoffs as the sixth seed. Now New York is one more upset away from its first Super Bowl since Joe Namath guaranteed victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in 1969.

"We're not afraid of anybody," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Maybe people take it the wrong way. We respect every opponent, but we're not in fear of anybody."

Not that everybody now fears the Jets. Pittsburgh is a three-point favorite over New York and has the advantage of playing at Heinz Field. The Steelers advanced by beating rival Baltimore so the Jets serve as an emotional breather.

But New York beat Pittsburgh 22-17 on Dec. 19 at Heinz Field so the Jets aren't worried over doing it again.

"Maybe everybody else never believed, but we believed," Ryan said. "We're moving on. Same old Jets, back to the AFC Championship. The only difference is this time we plan on winning."

The Jets have stolen the Oakland Raiders' role as anti-social outsiders nobody believed could win. Actually, the Jets were the early frontrunners until they were eclipsed by New England's 8-0 regular-season finish. But New York's official angry spokesman Bart Scott can't keep playing the disrespected card too much longer. Then again, there are only five more days until the AFC Championship.

Scott and teammates certainly will extend their media circus on Wednesday, filling Pittsburgh's locker room with more bulletin board material than a high-speed printer. The Steelers simply should ignore the tidal wave of taunts coming from New York. It gets old after awhile.

Surprisingly, the tone of the Jets postgame locker room toward the Steelers replicated none of the previous bitterness against the Patriots. But cornerback Antonio Cromartie promised the Jets will remain highly spirited.

"Our whole thing is to always be ourselves," he said. "Either people are going to like it or not. Rex is always about guys being themselves, being loose and just going out and having fun. That's the motto that he has throughout the whole organization. Our whole thing is just to go out and have fun and do the things that we know how to do and just play at a high level."

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more at and on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or e-mail