Rex Ryan may be sporting new colors in his first season as the head coach of the Bills, but the former Jets boss clearly hasn't changed his stripes.
Emboldened by Buffalo's impressive opening day win over the Colts, Ryan's bluster was in full blown force on Monday as he kicked off preparations to host the Patriots this Sunday in a battle of early-season unbeatens at Ralph Wilson Stadium. As is so often the case when Ryan is winning games, the coach had a lot to say.
He's always held a special spot in his heart for trying to beat Bill Belichick's Patriots, and made it clear that still very much the case despite his new locale.
"I don't know if much has changed. They're still the hunted in my mind," Ryan said. "They're the world champions, the ones you want to knock off. That hasn't changed a whole lot. ... It's a tough Sunday because of their skill. Great coach, a Hall of Fame quarterback, that's what makes it more difficult than anything else. We don't have to worry about getting our team ready to play. The Patriots are the ones you want to beat. It's not like we're just now preparing for them."
In fact, Ryan says a lot of the preparation for this week is already done.
"Heck, I'll go home early," he joked.
Another Ryan go-to tool in his quasi-successful coaching arsenal is a reliance on the fans to provide a true home field advantage. After praising the atmosphere in Sunday's win over Andrew Luck and Co., the coach thinks the so-called Bills Mafia will be frothing at the collective mouth this week.
"I can't wait to see what our fans are going to be like when you have the hated Patriots — I mean, this kind of rival coming in," Ryan said with a seemingly intentional slip of the tongue. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm so glad that we play the game here. So that's gonna be fun."
As is also so often the case when Ryan gets rolling with his rhetoric, the coach seemed to be a bit dismissive and disrespectful of some of the weapons his impressive defense may have to deal with this week. For example, don't expect him to worry too much about Dion Lewis after the third-down back's impressive New England debut last Thursday night.
"I don't care, put anybody back there," Ryan said, emphasizing that it all starts with stopping Tom Brady. "You can do good there. All right? Nah, I mean they're decent backs in their own right. But I don't think we're gonna focus on that kid. I can't even tell you that kid's name."
Lewis responded to Ryan's comments in true Patriots fashion.
"He's a great coach. He has a great defense, great team," Lewis said. "So you just have to go out there and get ready for his team and try to help your team win."
Would Lewis like to remind Ryan who he is with his performance on Sunday?
"I'm just going to do whatever my coaches ask me to do to help my team win," Lewis maintained.
Ryan is feeling so confident after his team's 1-0 start, the coach doesn't even sound worried about dealing with Rob Gronkowski after the tight end's three touchdowns on opening night.
"I think we'll stand by our record against him," Ryan said before acknowledging No. 87's greatness, including as an actor who shares time with the Bills boss in Madden video game commercials. "He's tough. There's no question. He's huge. He's a hell of an actor."
A quick check of the stats shows that Gronkowski has played eight games against Ryan's Jets defenses. He was held very much in check as a rookie in 2010, with just a single catch in each meeting. He broke out in the second meeting at New York in 2011 with eight catches for 113 yards and two scores. He had another pair of scores on six catches for 78 yards in Foxborough the following season. Gronkowski had eight catches for 114 yards in New York in 2013. Last fall he tallied five catches for 68 yards and then six for 31 and a score in the two meetings.
So, like much of what Ryan says, there is some truth mixed in with some hot air. After dominating Gronkowski as a rookie, Ryan's defense has allowed the tight end to put forth 37 catches for 435 yards and five scores in six games played since.
Ryan is talking a good game and feeling good thanks to the strength of an impressive first victory in Buffalo.
He's stirring up the AFC East rivalry in his new home.
But will he still be talking the talk a week from today?
Dominique Easley was the lone Patriots player absent from the practice field on Monday during the media viewing period. Easley left last Thursday night's opener in the first quarter with what was announced as a hip injury and did not return. He seemed to grab for his left hip after being engaged by a Pittsburgh lineman and then walked off the field rather gingerly.
Blount back to work
LeGarrette Blount was in shells and shorts with the rest of his New England teammates for the Monday practice session, having returned from the one-game league suspension that had him sidelined for the Steelers game. To make room for Blount's return to the roster over the weekend, the Patriots released veteran linebacker Eric Martin.
Solder's good fortune
ESPNBoston.com passed along some of the details of Nate Solder's recent contract extension. The left tackle reportedly got $20 million guaranteed on the deal that will keep him in New England through 2017. That includes a $12.5 million signing bonus and fully guaranteed salaries for 2015 ($1.438 million) and 2016 ($6 million). Solder's salary cap charges over the next three years are $5.61 million, $10.697 million and $11.187 million. The deal also includes an agreement that New England cannot place either the transition or franchise tag on the tackle when he hits free agency after 2017.
Practice makes perfect
New England had five practice players of the week thanks to the opening day win over the Steelers. Jimmy Garoppolo, Logan Ryan, Jerod Mayo, Kenbrell Thompkins and Tavon Wilson all earned the honor thanks to their work preparing their Patriots teammates for the battle with Pittsburgh. A little deductive reasoning might assume that Garoppolo portrayed Ben Roethlisberger on the practice field, while Thompkins may have been tasked with mimicking Steelers All-Pro Antonio Brown.
"It's cool. The black jerseys are just something they do here and I'm honored to wear it," the practice squad wide receiver Thompkins said. "I was just doing what they wanted me to do. I was out there every chance that I was able to give our defense a look. I made sure that I was giving them the look that they needed."
Thompkins went on to say that landing back in New England, even just on the practice squad, after being released by Oakland this summer was something he's very much grateful for.
"This place is like home to me," Thompkins said. "These guys, this organization took me in as an undrafted rookie. Just to be here and develop that relationship with the people in the organization, a tremendous organization, when I had the opportunity to come back it was something that I couldn't turn down."
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith was at Gillette Stadium on Monday visiting with Patriots players. Smith was also in attendance at the team's opening night victory. Smith walked through the locker room during media availability. Part of his travel party included former Patriots special teams ace and current NFLPA regional director Don Davis. … The Dolphins released former Patriots running back Jonas Gray. …* Forbes* magazine came out of with its list of the world's most valuable sports franchises and the Patriots came in tied for No. 3 overall with the Yankees at $3.2 billion. The Cowboys took over the top spot on the list overall with an estimated value of $4 billion. .. Want to know how big, figuratively, Gronkowski is? ESPN's SportsNation debuted a "Wheel of Gronk" game this week in which guests spin the wheel to catch, spike, dance, read and party like Gronk. Former Chargers star Shawne Merriman was the first guest to spin the wheel – landing on dance like Gronk.