FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Two years of bad football have taken their toll on Rex Ryan, so there was no gabfest Tuesday when the Jets coach was asked about the Patriots' move to sign Tim Tebow and add him to the already potent mix of the Jets-Pats rivalry.
About the best line Ryan offered up when he was asked a handful of questions about Tebow's relocation to the AFC East penthouse in New England was this, in response to whether he was curious about how the Patriots will use Tebow: "If they want to replace Brady with him, that's fine," Ryan cracked.
But even by Ryan's standards, it was a tame reaction, indicative of the reality that the once bombastic coach can't really talk big anymore because his team hasn't played big since going to a second straight AFC Championship Game after the 2010 season. It was during the latter stages of that season that Ryan told me how he viewed his Hall of Fame coaching counterpart: "As much as I respect and admire Bill Belichick, I came here to kick his [butt], and that's the truth. That's just the way it is."
That seems like a million years ago, back when Ryan had captured the imagination of New York like few coaches before him and when the Jets talked in realistic terms about contending for a championship.
But after last year's 6-10 clunker, a miserable season that was underscored by the Jets' inability to find a meaningful role for Tebow, Ryan was reduced to speaking in mostly hushed tones about Belichick's latest move to solidify his team. No poking the bear this time. When you lose, you can't talk.
And it's not even that Tebow is the missing piece for a New England team that has been to five Super Bowls during the Belichick-Tom Brady era. Far from it. In fact, if Tebow sees the field for more than a handful of plays each week, it will be a surprise. He's more likely to serve as a backup not only to Brady, but to Ryan Mallett as well.
And if Belichick decides to dabble with Tebow as a situational running back, tight end or H-back, then there's that. But there's no way Tebow is taking away meaningful time from any of the Patriots' marquee players, from Brady on down to tight ends Rob Gronkowski (once he's healed from back surgery) and Aaron Hernandez, to running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
Right. How'd that work out?
Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano couldn't figure out a way to get Tebow into the offense in a meaningful way, and it became downright embarrassing by the end of the season just how little Tebow played. He threw eight passes, ran for 102 yards, didn't score a single touchdown and messed with Mark Sanchez's head just by being in the same locker room.
"It's not a surprise Tim would be picked up," Ryan said. "Obviously, a tremendous young man, very competitive. I'm happy for him and look forward to competing against him."
And Tebow, who last year wore a suit and tie and spoke for about half an hour in front of a horde of New York reporters after being traded from the Broncos, spoke for about half a minute Tuesday and then walked off the practice field.
Just the way Belichick likes it -- free of distractions. Rest assured there won't be the same kind of tumult in New England that there was in New York; Belichick will see to that. This will be strictly about football, and Tebow understands he is meant to be seen and not heard. That's the Patriot way.
This will not be the kind of dog-and-pony show Tebow turned into with the Jets, where his well-documented failure led to his release in April. And if anyone will have the final word, it will be Belichick, especially if he decides to keep Tebow on the roster.
Best to tune in the evening of Sept. 12, when the Jets visit the Patriots. If the situation warrants, then Belichick will not hesitate to put Tebow in the lineup at just the right moment and show Ryan how it's done.