FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said Monday that he did not agree with Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams' claim that Jets right tackle Austin Howard consistently used illegal hands to the face to block Williams during the Jets' 48-28 win Sunday. The $100 million defensive end was held without a sack in his first game with Buffalo after signing with the Bills in the offseason.
"I'll say this: Mario Williams is a great football player," Ryan said Monday. "There's no question, he's a tremendous player. But I disagree with him on this."
After poring over the tape, Howard, not surprisingly, didn't come away believing he had consistently used illegal tactics to gain the upper edge against Williams. He estimated that he faced the defensive end in one-on-one protection about 50 percent of the time.
"From what I saw from the film, and what I know from the game, the game is moving so fast and people are moving so fast you can't purposely put your hands anywhere every single time. It's impossible" Howard said. "Me and him had really good battles last night and if he feels that way, I don't know what to say about that. I didn't see any flags or as much on the film either."
He added: "I'm not really going to step into that too much. All I know was that there were no flags thrown. Didn't hear too much during the game either. It is what it is. Regardless. We got the win."
Going into the game, the Howard-Williams matchup was thought to be the critical battle in the trenches. Howard was making just the second start of his career and was facing one of the premier pass rushers in the league. Despite Williams' contention that Howard used illegal tactics, the tackle made it look like he was the cagey veteran and Williams was the one making his second start.
Williams had just one quarterback hit and he and the Bills did not record a sack. There was talk that the Bills, who also signed pass rusher Mark Anderson in the offseason, could have one of the best defensive lines in football. Instead, Howard won the battle against Williams (they faced each other one-on-one on 13 snaps), and the rest of the line did its job in a blowout win.
"Pass blocking doesn't consist of illegal hands to the face just about every play, which, when somebody tells you that, and you're five yards away from it, and you walk away like you don't see him telling you you're getting punched in the face every time, then that dictates somebody like myself having to take care of that on my own," Williams said after the game.
Ryan commended Howard for being able to battle Williams without help for a good amount of the snaps and for keeping his quarterback clean. Teammates helped him at times with slide protections and chip blocks.
"I thought Austin Howard had a great game," Ryan said. "There's no two ways about it: He had an outstanding game. He gave up that one hit against Mario Williams; that was impressive."
There had been concern entering the season about the right tackle position, as Wayne Hunter struggled before being traded, leading to Howard getting the starting gig. While the team had seen Howard play well in practice, it needed to see him do it on the field. In his first opportunity, Howard stepped up to the challenge.
"I think Austin Howard, when we put him in against Cincinnati to start at left tackle, he performed extremely well, and in other games he played in. He did a nice job in those games," Ryan said. "We were confident in him. Did I think that he would have that kind of game against Mario Williams? I don't know if I could say that, but I thought our plan was good."
While Howard's linemates didn't give their takes on Williams' claims, they all praised the play of their right tackle. Left guard Matt Slauson said Howard played "great" and he didn't expect anything less. Tackle Jason Smith, who was recently acquired in a trade and helped Smith block Williams during certain packages, believes Howard's performance was a culmination of a good week of preparation.
"I think that from what I saw is that he was focused all week with his practice, his preparation, his film study. What he did was off what he has been preparing himself for," Smith said. "Did he do anything surprising? Not to us, because from what I saw out of him is what I see out of the whole team since the time I've been here. It's guys who are teammates and guys who are committed to a vision here of the Jets. At the end of the day, Rex Ryan always says go out and play like a Jet and that's what he did. He played like somebody who was focused and he played consistent."
Howard, who will face another challenging test this week when the Jets head to Pittsburgh to face a vaunted Steelers defense, appreciated that his coach publicly supported him.
"That's who Rex is. He has our back always," Howard said. "He's a player's coach. We play hard for him and want to go out there and do good things for our coaching staff and how they prepare us and how they consistently have our backs."
Matt Ehalt is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.