New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan reacts to a...

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan reacts to a call on the field during the first half. (Oct. 2, 2011) Credit: AP

Rex Ryan did his best to minimize the significance of returning to Baltimore for the first time since taking over as the Jets' coach in 2009. The former Ravens defensive coordinator, who spent a decade in Baltimore before joining the Jets, was unusually bland in trying to keep the focus away from himself.

And really now: How often have we used the word "bland'' when describing the colorful, controversial and chatty coach? No back pages from Ryan lashing out at the Ravens for passing over him as the head coach in 2008, when team owner Steve Bisciotti opted for John Harbaugh because he felt he'd create a more harmonious team atmosphere than the boisterous Ryan would. No bulletin-board quotes. No outlandish sound bites.

"After the defeat [against the Raiders a week earlier], our focus has been on our football team getting better," Ryan said the other day. "I love the people in Baltimore. They treated me great, treated my family great. Quite honestly now, I'm not concerned with them at all. I'm just worried about my football team."

Ryan not obsessed about putting on a good show in Baltimore, where he spent a decade as one of the NFL's great defensive minds? Nonsense. Ryan still is chapped about Bisciotti's decision to choose Harbaugh, and the owner's comments earlier in the summer only fanned the flames.

"From a chemistry standpoint, we really liked John and we thought it was going to be tougher for Rex to bring the whole team together after him spending 10 years on one side of the ball that was the dominant side of the ball," Bisciotti said.

So maybe there was another reason for Ryan's muted reaction in the run-up to last night's game. Maybe Ryan knew the problems on his own team were so acute that he didn't want to add any unnecessary fuel to the Ravens' pregame preparations. Baltimore clearly is one of the elite teams in the AFC, and Ryan knew there was a possibility of something like this happening.

"Something like this" was a 27-7 mauling at the hands of the Ravens midway through the second quarter, which ultimately concluded in a 34-17 loss. The Jets were horrid on offense, with Mark Sanchez losing two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns. And they weren't much better on defense, as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco marched up and down the field at will, picking apart a defense that suddenly had turned soft after two years of dominance under Ryan.

After a 2-0 start and then staring down the barrel of an early-season wobble, Ryan decided to shut his yap -- or at least tone down the rhetoric -- and keep Ray Lewis & Co. from deriving any extra incentive from bulletin-board material. It didn't save the Jets from enduring one of their worst early-game beatdowns since that 45-3 embarrassment in Foxborough late last season. But at least the Jets battled back and kept things from spinning completely out of control.

Thank Flacco's ill-advised pass attempt to Ray Rice that was picked off and returned 35 yards for a touchdown by linebacker David Harris to make it 27-14. The Jets' offense settled down to put up a field goal by Nick Folk to move within 27-17 at halftime.

At least they didn't play themselves out of the game after continued problems along the offensive line sent Sanchez reeling. With Nick Mangold missing a second game with his sprained ankle and fill-in Colin Baxter struggling early, the Jets tried shuffling things around by moving guard Matt Slauson to center and inserting second-year guard Vladimir Ducasse. After the second sack/forced fumble/touchdown return by the Ravens, the Jets got Ducasse out of there before Sanchez suffered any more damage.

A rocky start indeed, but at least the Jets made a game of it maintaining the kind of composure Ryan wants to see out of his team. Too bad they couldn't take more immediate advantage at the outset of the third quarter. After forcing a fumble by Flacco at his own 28, Sanchez threw a pick-6 on the next play, as Lardarius Webb returned the interception 73 yards for a score to make it 34-17 midway through the third quarter.

But at least the Jets have some institutional knowledge about these rocky starts to fall back on. After all, they were 3-0 in 2009, lost five of their next six, yet still made the playoffs and went to the AFC Championship Game. And that 45-3 beatdown of the Patriots last season was followed up by a stunning upset of the Pats in Foxborough in the playoffs.

So no matter how things turn out in this tumultuous early part of the season, the Jets can still consider themselves good enough to last over the long haul.

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