FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Kony Ealy is downplaying the obvious story line now.
Sure, the defensive lineman was a Super Bowl star with the Carolina Panthers two seasons ago — and then got traded last March. Ealy is with the New York Jets these days, and insists that his past won’t affect his approach.
No matter what team he’s facing.
“I’m going to go out here and play the same game I’ve been playing for about eight weeks now,” Ealy said Wednesday, “and try to focus on getting that ‘W.'”
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But that no-frills answer came a day after Ealy appeared on NFL Network and acknowledged that he was eager to get “a little revenge” against the Panthers on Sunday.
He opted to not reiterate any of that after practice Wednesday. When asked if it might be strange to see so many familiar faces on the other sideline at MetLife Stadium, Ealy nearly cut off the reporter in mid-question.
“No,” Ealy said. “No.”
But does he anticipate feeling any emotions when he takes the field against the team that got rid of him?
“No,” Ealy repeated sternly. “No.”
And, why not?
“At the end of the day, I’m worried about going out there and focusing on winning the game,” Ealy said, “and trying to get into the playoffs. I’m not worried about one team or anything like that.”
Ealy was drafted by Carolina in the second round out of the University of Missouri in 2014 and had four sacks in 15 games as a rookie. He followed that up with five sacks the next season, but really made a name for himself in the playoffs.
He tied the Super Bowl record with three sacks in the loss to Denver, and also had an interception and forced a fumble — the first player in the game’s history with multiple sacks and an interception.
Ealy had five more sacks last season, but was inconsistent with his production and started only six games. Two months after the season ended, Carolina traded him to New England — having not reached the potential he displayed in that Super Bowl performance.
“Kony’s one of those guys that he flashes his ability, and when he flashes it, the guy is tough to block,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said during a conference call with Jets beat writers. “He does a lot of good things. I think he’s a guy that continues to develop and grow, and when he gets there, he can be a really good player in this league.”
But it won’t be for Rivera’s Panthers. And, not even for Bill Belichick’s Patriots, who waived him during the summer. Ealy ended up being claimed by the Jets, who have made him a key piece of the defense.
“I think the young man still has some room to grow,” Rivera said. “I think he showed us what his potential could be when he played in Super Bowl 50 for us.”
While Rivera’s comments were mostly positive, Ealy brushed them aside.
“That’s his personal opinion,” said Ealy, who turns 26 next month. “I’ve moved on, as far as that. I’m focused on my team and the team I’m playing with and the guys that I’m out there playing with.”
Ealy has 15 total tackles, one sack and seven quarterback hits. He also has an interception and an eye-popping nine passes defensed, already a career best and a total that leads all NFL defensive linemen. Coach Todd Bowles attributed Ealy’s high number of passes defensed to “luck and skill.”
“You have to be in the right place to do it,” Bowles said. “Some people have that knack just to do that type of thing. But some guys I’ve seen bat down passes all the time and some guys don’t bat down any passes. It doesn’t mean you’re any less effective, but he has a feel for it.”
Ealy had a simple explanation for somehow always seeming to get his hands on the football. He played basketball a lot as a youngster, so he thinks that’s got something to do with it.
“I’m just going out there and reacting, and not thinking too much,” Ealy said. “I’m going out there and doing what I need to do, as far as being a pass rusher and trying to be disruptive.”
Bowles has seen Ealy’s play improve quite a bit since he first joined the team back in late August.
“Obviously, (he’s) getting a better grasp for the system,” Bowles said. “It took a while to get that down. He’s not thinking as much and he’s just going out and playing.”
If Ealy sheds a few blocks on Sunday, Rivera and the Panthers might get a familiar glimpse of the guy whose career appeared ready to take off for Carolina on the NFL’s biggest stage.
“That was two years ago,” Ealy said. “The experience I bring to the team is being a part of a Super Bowl, being a part of the run we had that year. But that was two years ago and I’m on to the next, which is this team right here.”
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