Rex Ryan Is a Formidable Foe for the Patriots

The Bills are talking a big game heading into their Week 2 matchup against the Pats.

Boastful Rex Ryan is back, and not a moment too soon. The AFC East is a better place when Sexy Rexy is full of braggadocio, and has a team that embodies his brand of bravado.

The Bills are riding high after dismantling the “AFC Finalist” Indianapolis Colts 27-14 in Week 1, and seem to be buying in heading into their matchup against New England. Defensive lineman Marcell Dareus said Tuesday, “Nobody likes the Patriots,” and safety Aaron Williams called the rivalry “personal.”

It’s pretty easy to tell who they’re getting their swagger from. When Ryan was first named Jets head coach in 2009, he proclaimed he wasn’t “there to kiss [Bill] Belichick’s rings.” The Jets won three of their first five meetings against the Patriots under Ryan, including a divisional round victory at Gillette Stadium in 2011. The Jets’ tenacious defense sacked Tom Brady five times in the loss, and forced him to throw an interception on the Patriots’ first drive of the contest. For the first time in the Bill Belichick/Brady era, the Jets had the Patriots’ number.

Ryan’s success against the Pats didn’t last forever, as the Jets went 1-7 against New England after that postseason win. But the final four games the Patriots and Jets played with Ryan on the sidelines were all decided by three points or fewer. Brady only completed 53.5 percent of his passes in those contests.

It’s true that Ryan’s act seemed to wear thin in New York. After reaching the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons, Ryan finished out the final four years of his tenure with a 26-38 record. The failure to develop a quarterback was his ultimate undoing.

But Ryan bounced back quickly, and signed on with the Bills less than a month after last season ended. He promised to “build a bully” in his introductory press conference, which is seemingly exactly what the Bills have done. The first major move of the Ryan era in Buffalo was the signing of embattled offensive lineman Richie Incognito, who missed all of last year after being the centerpiece of the Dolphins hazing scandal in 2013. This stuff just writes itself.

Ryan has always given scribes plenty of material to work with, and that tradition has continued in Buffalo. He said this week he still thinks of the “hated” Patriots as “the hunted,” and then dissed New England running back Dion Lewis.

“I don’t think we’re gonna focus on that kid,” Ryan said when asked if the Bills have a game plan for Lewis, who gained over 100 yards from scrimmage in the Patriots’ 28-21 win over Pittsburgh last Thursday. “I can’t even tell you that kid’s name.”

Ryan isn’t Belichick’s peer. He has a 47-50 career record, and occasionally struggles with some of the nuances of coaching such as clock management. But he is a worthy challenger, which is more than what you can say for most of the other sorry excuses for football coaches who have stumbled through the downtrodden AFC East recently.

No team has been more pathetic than the Bills, who haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 1999. Brady abuses Buffalo, dicing up the Bills to the tune of 58 touchdown passes in 23 victories over the years.

But after more than a decade of turmoil, the Bills appear to be on the up-and-up. Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula bought the club for $1.4 billion last fall, and seems invested in putting a winning product on the field. The Bills spent a boatload of money this offseason, landing running back LeSean McCoy and other high-priced weapons. Bills radio analyst Sal Capaccio says the excitement around the team is palpable.

“You have to understand what it’s been like for 20 years and not knowing whether the team is moving,” Capaccio says. “But people now feel good about buying in, knowing the team is going to be here forever and that there are owners who are willing to pay enough money to put a championship team on the field. It wasn’t always like this around here.”

A championship is a lofty goal for a franchise that has only had two winning seasons over the last 10 years. But ousting the Patriots would be a start, and they have the right coach to lead the way.

Ryan likes to talk a big game, and remarkably, sometimes even backs it up. If the Patriots aren’t careful, Sunday could be one of those days where Ryan gets the best of them.