Rex Ryan has coached in two AFC championship games, so, no, Sunday's game between his New York Jets and the San Diego Chargers isn't the biggest of his career. It's just the latest biggest game of his career, nearly as important as any playoff contest. And no one realizes that more than Rex.
Want proof? Ryan ran his mouth this week like it was January.
The Jets need a win, or more accurately, they can't afford a loss. Sitting at 3-3, they're walking a tight rope for the playoffs in a season when the coach again predicted a Super Bowl title and made the immediate focus on winning the AFC East. Lose Sunday and a division title is all but gone with New England at 5-1 and Buffalo at 4-2.
As he tends to do in these situations, Ryan stepped up to the microphone and made the focus squarely on his big shoulders (or big mouth) by taking unprovoked shots at his opponent.
Ryan had interviewed for the Chargers' job in 2007, losing out to current San Diego coach Norv Turner, who has yet to get the Bolts over the top in the playoffs. Asked how things would've been different had he been in charge, Ryan didn't hesitate.
"Well, I think I would have had a couple rings," he said before laughing. "I'm telling you, those teams were loaded. There's no question about it."
This is what Rex Ryan does, for big games he makes big statements and gets all the hype and hysteria and pressure placed on him. Some believe it's orchestrated. Ryan claims, "It just happens."
Well, it sure is something that just keeps happening.
Ryan called and apologized to Turner and has offered a meek, "I hope it doesn't take away from this game." Yeah, sure. Turner didn't sound impressed either.
"I hadn't seen his quote [at the time of the phone call] and I was a little surprised by the call," Turner said to reporters. "I didn't have a chance to ask him this, but I was wondering if he had those rings with the ones he's guaranteed the last couple of years."
Turner went on to downplay the dispute and all but ruled out a Jim Schwartz-Jim Harbaugh-esque postgame handshake scene. Although, with Ryan involved, you don't want to rule anything out. And don't think for a minute Turner isn't seething.
This is part of Ryan's blueprint. By slamming Turner, Ryan is taking all the criticism. "No-Ring Circus" the New York Daily News back cover mocked of Rex's lack of titles as a headman.
What isn't happening is a discussion of the Mark Sanchez's(notes) sporadic play or the role of Plaxico Burress(notes) or what happened to the Jets' running game or why the defense appeared to take a step back or anything else that could be dissected.
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It's all Rex, all the time.
In the past this has worked and there is no reason to believe Ryan didn't look at this game as a pseudo playoff game. It's only mid-October, but it's a near must-win. Monday's victory over the hapless Miami Dolphins didn't change the fact the Jets are struggling and walking into a pressure cooker against the 4-1 Chargers.
He's routinely done this bit in January. He's declared a game against the Indianapolis Colts was about him vs. Peyton Manning(notes) (not Sanchez vs. Manning). He's taken potshots at Tom Brady's(notes) commitment level (less than Manning's). And he's forever tried to bait Bill Belichick into some silliness.
It's the method to his madness. The Jets are forever volatile, forever on the edge, but other than failing to reach a Super Bowl, Ryan generally pushes the proper buttons. They tend to thrive on chaos.
Only this season it hasn't worked quite as well.
Falling to 3-4 heading into the team's bye week never crossed Ryan's mind when the schedule came out. He talked about finally winning the AFC East and avoiding the daunting path of playing three road games to reach the Super Bowl.
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Coming out of the bye, the Jets are at upstart Buffalo and then host New England. The whole season could be up in smoke by mid-November. First come the Chargers, who now have a reason to rally around their coach and not overlook the Jets. The game is in the Meadowlands and if things go sour, you can expect the fans to follow.
It's a huge game. It's essentially a must-have game.
Rex Ryan has made a name for himself in this league with bold talk and dramatic wins when he most needed them. They've been back against the wall before – in 2009 New York became the only team to twice have a three-game losing streak and still make the playoffs.
Ryan has never stopped talking and talking and begging for the storm to swirl faster and faster around him. He's never backed down.
He isn't now either. It's only mid-October and even as the Jets have struggled, their coach's mouth, at least, is in playoff form.
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- Rex Ryan