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Reeling Ryan turns to damage control

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- One day after cursing out a heckler, throwing his quarterback under the bus and all but conceding the AFC East, Rex Ryan faced Damage-Control Monday.

It was the worst kind of Monday for the New York Jets' coach, because not only did he have to answer questions about getting schooled by the lord whose rings he refuses to kiss -- Bill Belichick -- Ryan was forced to explain emotional outbursts from Sunday night's debacle.

Our advice to him: Stay classy, Rex.

A contrite Ryan apologized for firing an F-bomb at a loudmouth fan during halftime of the 37-16 loss to the New England Patriots. It was wrong and embarrassing, and he should've known better after his bird-flipping incident from two years ago in Miami.

There was video from Sunday night, so there was no way Ryan was going to talk his way out of it. But that's what he tried to do with his other outburst, the one where he told NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya that Mark Sanchez's premature timeout at the end of the first half was "the stupidest thing in football history."

The entire nation saw Sanchez signal for that timeout with about 17 seconds left on the play clock (1:24 on the game clock) -- he should've waited another 16 seconds -- so when Tafoya reported Ryan's quote on the air, it seemed like a shot at his quarterback. It wasn't hard to connect the dots.

After the game, Ryan said the timeout was his fault, employing the buck-stops-with-the-head-coach explanation even though his rage on the sideline -- caught on camera -- didn't seem to be directed at himself. He ripped off his headset and muttered the same expletive he used on Joe Obnoxious Fan.

Ryan didn't offer any specifics until Monday, letting his damning quote hang in the air for about 16 hours -- not cool. It was a low blow, so out of character for Ryan, who usually is fiercely protective of his players.

Told that his "stupidest" quote could be perceived as a harsh assessment of Sanchez, Ryan said, "I was basically saying that about myself ... Yeah, OK, he physically called the timeout, but through my communication, it wasn't clear enough to Mark, so that's why it was my mistake."

Ryan explained that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh were discussing a possible timeout on the sideline, and that Sanchez inadvertently overheard part of the conversation via the headset.

Obviously, they wanted him to run some clock, leaving Tom Brady with a minute or less, but Sanchez evidently didn't hear that part of the chat.

Weird, right? It made you think of Tony La Russa and his botched call to the bullpen in Game 5 of the World Series, another communications gaffe.

This sounded like some serious, day-after spinning by Ryan. Even if Sanchez heard what he heard, he should've known better than to call time with 17 seconds on the play clock. He's not a rookie anymore, and he owned up to his blunder after the game, calling it a "horrible mistake."

Sanchez wasn't asked specifically about the "stupidest" quote, and he wasn't available to comment Monday because he's never available to the media on Mondays. Twice a week apparently is all he can handle, but he couldn't have been thrilled with Ryan's jab.

Or how about this zinger from Ryan's postgame news conference?

"You see the difference a great quarterback makes in this league," Ryan said of Brady, not his own quarterback.

Now he has to try to rebuild Sanchez's confidence and perhaps their relationship.

Ryan isn't nearly as effusive about Sanchez as he used to be. When asked for a progress report, he'll defend Sanchez by reminding everyone he has four road playoff wins on his résumé. Ryan raves about Sanchez's past, but rarely his present or future.

"I don't think he's regressed," Ryan said. "I just think that obviously you're coming off a loss where the whole team ... we lacked consistency. But I think I'm glad Mark is our quarterback."

Ryan called the mishandled timeout the biggest mistake of the game, which is saying a lot. He made his share, too, including his quasi-concession. Trailing the Patriots by basically two games in the standings (factoring in the tiebreaker), he said it's "doubtful" the Jets can win the division.

"I still think it's doubtful," he said Monday.

A coach shouldn't admit that publicly, not with seven games left in the season. Things can change dramatically, week to week, and it sends a bad message to concede anything, no matter how bleak it appears.

But Ryan went all-in for the Patriots showdown, and got his team to invest so much emotionally, that now he has to deal with the fallout and a possible hangover as it prepares for the Denver Broncos on a short week.

The damage control will continue.