FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It’s probably a good thing for Rex Ryan that he’s now a year removed from his time with the Jets. After all, the emotions of going against his team are no longer the open wound that festered in the run-up to last season’s meetings, especially that first one in November at MetLife Stadium.
“So much was made of last year going back there, and I get it,” Ryan said Tuesday on a conference call with Jets beat writers in advance of Thursday’s game at New Era Field outside Buffalo. “Rightfully so, I guess, to some degree, because I spent six years there. I thought the world of the players, a lot of people in that organization — some, not so much — but most.
“When you put everything you had into a place and leave it, it was more emotional.”
The backdrop to his return was even more dramatic when Ryan announced that Bills linebacker IK Enemkpali, who had punched Jets quarterback Geno Smith in the jaw last August and forced Smith out of the lineup, would be one of his captains. The atmosphere was so intense that Ryan opted not to appear on the field for pregame warmups, something he’d never done during his entire coaching career.
“I get it. I think when you put everything you had into a place and you leave it, it was more emotional,” he said. “But right now, it’s been a year away that I’m firmly — well, firmly, maybe some people don’t think I’m firmly situated here — but I feel that I’m firmly grounded here and this is my new team and my new team in Buffalo. All the other stuff is not in play as much as it probably was last year.”
Then again, the emotions may have worked in Ryan’s favor, at least when he faced his former team. The Bills beat the Jets in both meetings, the second of which in Week 17 resulted in the Jets’ ouster from playoff contention. Ryan insists he took no extra delight in beating the Jets, 22-17, to eliminate them. (Editor’s note: Yeah, right.)
How long did Ryan revel in that win?
“About three minutes,” he said. “I’m serious. It had nothing to do with us. We were watching the playoffs just like they were. So it really didn’t. I’m totally honest with that. I have a lot of friends over there and I care about them. If we couldn’t go, it would have been fine [if the Jets went to the playoffs]. But I wasn’t going to not give the very best that we had, just to help them out. Quite honestly, I’d prefer seeing the Jets in [the playoffs] than a lot of teams.”
Ryan has plenty more to worry about on his own team than facing his former one. The Bills are coming off a desultory 13-7 loss to the Ravens, a game in which their offense produced just 160 yards.
“Other than not being able to run the ball with any consistency or pass the ball with any consistency, I’d say we had no problems,” Ryan cracked. “It was ugly. That’s about as bad as it gets. It was a terrible performance on our part, and now we have to go against a more talented defense. It’s going to be hard to get well on this team, but we have to find a way to be much better and we need to be much better in a hurry.”
The Jets had their own problems in a season-opening 23-22 home loss to the Bengals, failing to capitalize on seven sacks by their talent-laden defensive line. Jets kicker Nick Folk missed an extra point and had a field goal blocked, and Darrelle Revis had an abysmal game against Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green.
Asked if he believes Revis has slipped, Ryan said: “If he has, we know he’s coming from the mountaintop. He hasn’t slipped in my opinion. I think he’s a hell of a football player. Still, if he’s coming down, he’s coming down from the very, very top.”
Will Ryan throw in Revis’ direction?
“I personally will not throw in his direction,” Ryan joked. Of course, it remains to be seen if he’ll have quarterback Tyrod Taylor throw passes at whichever receiver Revis is covering.
As for defending the Jets, Ryan can take comfort in his exceptional track record against Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. In nine career starts against defenses coached by Ryan, Fitzpatrick is 1-8, including last year’s losses. In the season-ending defeat, Fitzpatrick had two touchdown passes and three interceptions, with all the picks coming in the fourth quarter.
Ryan won’t say he has Fitzpatrick’s number, even if the numbers suggest that’s precisely the case.
“I think there’s a lot of circumstances that go into it,” the coach said. “[Fitzpatrick] is a good football player. Last year, he broke almost every [Jets] record. I think it’s just one of those things, I guess.”
That’s no guess, folks. Say what you will about Ryan as a head coach, but he’s always been an ingenious defensive coordinator, and some of his best work has come against Fitzpatrick. He’ll need another tour de force to get the Bills their first win. And he’ll need a bunch more to get to the playoffs for the first time in what seems like an eternity. His last trip to the postseason came in 2010, his second year with the Jets.
“I appreciate you bringing it up,” Ryan said when someone asked about the playoff drought. “But the fight’s always been there. You keep competing for it. Even when we made it, it’s hard as heck to get in there.”