Even after a little ribbing from Jets coach Rex Ryan, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan — who’s loving life with a winner in New Orleans — isn’t worried about scoring his first NFL victory against his twin. The Saints moving to 7-1 is his focus.
Rex Ryan gave his twin brother two days to dream up some kind of retaliation.
When he met with reporters Wednesday, the New York Jets coach held up a piece of paper with a picture of Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan grimacing after his unit surrendered a last-second, game-winning touchdown to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Oct. 13.
A caption under Rob, his goatee and his trademark set of flowing, silver locks read, “Sorry about that Jets” — New York would have benefited if the division rival Patriots lost.
On that same sheet was an accompanying photo of Rex grinning above the words, “I wish I could look as good as my twin.”
But when it was his turn to speak to the media Friday, Rob had no witty retort for the 50-year-old twin with whom he shares a famous rivalry that will be renewed when their teams meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. He held up a blank sheet and simply said, “I’ll be the bigger man (and) just walk away. We’ve got no pictures. We’re just trying to do our job and trying to win a game.”
The subdued reaction surprised the many folks who expected Rex’s jab to provoke a more colorful response. Instead, Rob used the occasion to send a clear message that his goals extend far beyond one-upping his twin, whom he has not managed to beat in four tries in the NFL.
He showed how badly he wants to make the most out of his partnership with Saints coach Sean Payton, who is in command of the best offense that has ever complemented Ryan in his career as coordinator. He showed he’s willing to tone down his brash persona, at least in public, to avoid upsetting Payton, who would not be amused if the boss of his defense diverted attention from winning a road game to add more flavor to the Ryan Bowl.
“When you go to an organization like this, it’s like winning the lottery,” Ryan said. “I was fortunate to do it.”
There’s no doubt about that. Ryan spent his first seven seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator with Oakland and Cleveland, neither of which won more than five games in a season while he was there. He subsequently worked a couple of 8-8 seasons for Dallas before he was fired at the conclusion of 2012.
Ryan then boldly predicted he’d be unemployed “for like five minutes.” He was widely mocked because it was five weeks until he was offered his next assignment: resurrecting a defense in New Orleans that had just yielded more yards than any in the NFL ever had.
No one’s mocking him now. Seven games in, Ryan’s charges are allowing fewer points per game (17.1) than all but three teams in the league. They’re sacking quarterbacks, picking off passes and stripping away balls at a furious rate.
They’re seeing the offense reward that effort with gobs of points, prompting fans of the 6-1 Saints to wonder whether they’re watching the sequel to the movie from four years ago that ended with Drew Brees raising the Lombardi Trophy under a shower of confetti in Miami.
The next chapter of the comeback story Ryan is writing leads him to a sideline opposite his twin, and the opportunity to crank up the smack talk was there.
Ryan, though, didn’t fool with the dial much. Sure, on Friday for the umpteenth time, Rob reminded everyone that he earned two Super Bowl rings when he was New England’s linebackers coach from 2000-03, and Rex has but one from his days mentoring the 2000 Baltimore Ravens’ defensive line.
Asked whether he got any grief from Rex after not yet being able to defeat him in the pros, Rob sneered, “We’ll find out Sunday if he can make the same statement.”
But Rob otherwise spoke about how much he and Rex were influenced by their father, legendary NFL coach Buddy Ryan, whom they worked under in Arizona in the mid-1990s. Rob said he remained “tight ... as can be” with Rex, with whom he split a single wallet, living space and duties on defense at Southwestern Oklahoma State.
Any other sort of declarations would’ve created the type of sideshow Payton loathes, and Rob knows his odds of finally making it to the playoffs as a coordinator are too good for that.
So are his chances of returning to MetLife Stadium when it hosts Super Bowl XLVIII in February.
“Right now,” Rob said, “our season’s too important to have any little distraction.”