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Bob Ryan

Not going with flow — it’s all about the players

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 11, 2011

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From a writing point of view, I’m certainly happy the Jets beat the Colts.

No offense, but Jim Caldwell vs. Rex Ryan? On a Bombastic Personality Scale of 1 to 10, Caldwell is somewhere between zero and 1. Rex buries the needle. I wish I could say we’re related.

The ever-quotable coach of the Jets was at it again yesterday, setting the table for Sunday’s game against the Patriots as only he can. It’s personal, he says. Forget Tom Brady vs. Mark Sanchez. Forget Revis Island vs. Hapless Patriots Receiver. It’s all about Bill Belichick and me.

“I recognize that this week, this is about Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan — there’s no question it’s personal, it’s about him against myself, that’s what it’s going to come down to,’’ said Ryan.

Amazingly, Ryan was even able to draw Bill Belichick into the quip battle, however briefly.

“Well, I might have a little quickness on him. He’s probably got a little more strength and power on me,’’ joked Coach Bill, in a rare departure from his workplace M.O.

Ryan was extremely self-deprecating, attributing the infamous 45-3 loss to the Patriots Dec. 6 to being outcoached by the man he claims “will go down . . . as maybe the greatest football coach in the history of the game, or going to be close to it.’’

Continued Ryan, “He was at that level that week, and I was not. For whatever reason, I never had my team prepared the way it should’ve been prepared. That falls right down on me.’’

But Ryan also explained that he began planning revenge as soon as that game was over.

“I told Belichick after the game, ‘We’ll see you in Round 3,’ ’’ Ryan revealed. “He just looked at me.’’

Belichick’s rare rejoinder notwithstanding, don’t think for even a millisecond that Coach Bill possibly could be affected by anything Rex Ryan, or any other coach, has to say, unless he really does get personal. I’m sure Belichick is no different than any other red-blooded American male. If Rex were to take a shot at Linda Holliday — e.g. “she’s got ugly feet’’ — then we might have something. But as far as football is concerned, Rex’s pronouncements are like the proverbial trees falling in the forest. Bill’s not listening. He’s too busy preparing for the game.

Now there is one slight twist here. Belichick does not like the Jets. It doesn’t matter whom the party of the second part is, if he’s wearing Jets garb then Bill does care a wee bit more than if he were gearing up to play the Chiefs. He pretty much loathes all things J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. It wouldn’t matter if the coach were Rich Kotite, Pete Carroll, Eric Mangini, the exhumed body of Weeb Ewbank, or Rex Ryan. If he’s a Jet, he’s bad.

But Rex himself? C’mon. He might even be providing some much-needed amusement for the serious-minded mentor of your New England Patriots. When Bill Belichick thinks of Rex Ryan, he thinks of a man who is a pretty good defensive coach, a man who was the defensive line coach for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens under Brian Billick and later the defensive coordinator/assistant head coach under John Harbaugh. Belichick has the appropriate amount of professional respect for Ryan’s coaching expertise.

The Rex Ryan standup routine is neither here nor there, and the idea that Rex would take the occasion of that December demolition to announce his hope for a rematch doesn’t change anything. For all we know, Coach Bill had forgotten the incident until reminded about it yesterday.

It’s all foolish, of course. It’s a given that in order to win a game in the NFL a team must be properly prepared by its coaching staff, both technically and emotionally. Ryan says he was badly whipped in those departments when last they met.

“That game, I was outcoached in that game,’’ he confessed. “I said it then, I’m saying it now . . . he was at that level that week and I was not.’’

That all sounds good and noble and humble. But is it? Does it not puff up a coach’s importance in relation to the players who must execute their coaching vision?

In the matters of players vs. coaches, let there be no doubt: players ultimately matter more. Bill Belichick has a healthy ego, don’t you worry about that. But he seldom assesses a strong performance by his team without reminding his inquisitors that it was the players who passed, ran, caught the football, blocked, and tackled.

Take Belichick’s most famous triumph, Super Bowl XXXVI. In his must-read book, “The Games That Changed The Game,’’ Ron Jaworski says Belichick’s game-planning for that battle against the Rams, which featured a focus on stopping Marshall Faulk rather than Kurt Warner, was the greatest concept in the history of the NFL. But it was still 17-17 with the likes of John Madden up in the booth calling for them to play for OT when Brady & Friends moved into field goal range and Adam Vinatieri kicked them to a title. Players, players, players.

Was it Rex Ryan or Mark Sanchez who made that key sideline pass against the Colts Saturday night? Was it Rex Ryan or Braylon Edwards who made that leaping backwards grab at the other end of the play? Was it Rex Ryan or Nick Folk who kicked the winning field goal?

Great coaches can only put players in a position to win. But they’re coaches, not puppeteers. So Rex can babble on all he wishes. He likewise can stay up all night, every night watching tape in order to formulate the best possible game plan. Once the ball is snapped, neither Rex Ryan nor Bill Belichick has any more control over what will happen than you or me.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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