Rex Ryan was in fine form after his Bills' 22-17 win over his former Jets Thursday night, as you would expect.
There was the flash of defiance in his eyes, that I-told-you-so dander we got to see so often in his six years with the Jets. He cited individual writers for their assorted criticism in recent days -- even looking in this direction and saying, "I'm not even gonna start with you."
Ah, Rex. The larger-than-life personality who coaches with a chip on his shoulder the size of the stadium he used to coach in. The best trash-talking wordsmith the NFL has ever seen on the sidelines. Especially when he has something to brag about, something with which to prove his doubters wrong.
He ripped one writer for criticizing the coach over giving his team too much time off during the bye week. Told another that he was still smiling, a reference to a New York tabloid showing a picture of Rex grinning ear-to-ear with the headline suggesting the Jets ought to wipe that smile off his face.
He scolded a questioner who suggested the coach was setting a bad example by anointing IK Enemkpali, the former Jet who had slugged Geno Smith in the jaw in training camp, as team captain.
"It's a bad example to judge people," Ryan said. "The young man made a mistake."
Ryan even offered a metaphor for what he was feeling, telling a packed media room that getting fired and coming back to the place you used to work was like "being dumped by some girl you had the hots for. And you know, hey, you move on. And every now and then, they call you back, but they can't get you back."
Ryan's Bills had survived some harrowing moments in the fourth quarter, nearly blowing a 22-3 lead with some colossal blunders, including a dropped snap by the punter deep in their own territory. But they survived the Jets' furious comeback attempt to pull into a second-place tie with the Jets in the AFC East. With both teams 5-4, it is looking very much as if they'll have a shot at a wild-card berth.
And there's a decent chance that their next meeting -- the regular season finale in Buffalo on Jan. 3 -- might be a winner-take-all scenario.
"I wouldn't be surprised if that last game decides who goes ," he said. "We're going to keep fighting."
Ryan sent a message even before the game that he wanted his players to think about the game, and not the fact that the coach was facing his former team. For the first time as a head coach, Ryan didn't show up on the field for pregame warmups.
Why the no-show?
"The game, as you guys made it all about me, and that's why I stayed in ," he said. "Has jack [expletive] to do about me."
His players suggested that Ryan wasn't obsessed about whom he was playing. At least not to them. "Rex really didn't make it about him," guard Richie Incognito said. "We made it about the playoffs and a big division game. Rex did a really good job coming and saying, 'Listen, there's a past there, obviously, but there's bigger things at play here. Let's focus on that."
The Bills proved to be the better team on this night, thanks to a series of mistakes by the Jets that led to 12 Buffalo points. And the Bills held on despite a frantic attempt by the Jets, who were doomed by poor play-calling from offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. He inexplicably called for a crucial fourth-down pass to go to seldom-used tight end Kellen Davis.
Ryan will take it. Especially after the controversy-filled week he helped stoke.
"It doesn't feel that good," he said, breaking into a grin. "How do you think it feels? It feels great."
Good win for the former Jets coach. Bad loss for the current Jets coach, as Todd Bowles conceded.
The rematch awaits on the first Sunday of January, and that one figures to be less about the coaches than the stakes of the outcome. That one could decide which coach gets to keep playing for the chance to win it all in February.