Playing the blame game? Start with Rex

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was closing in on midnight, and the funny man did not sound so funny. The braggart did not sound so bold. The prophet did not sound so sure.

At the postgame podium, with the New England Patriots' 45-3 conquest frozen in the Gillette Stadium lights, Rex Ryan looked and sounded like he had seen a ghost.

Ryan has been everything to everybody as coach of the New York Jets. He's been a standup comic for the press, a tough-talking advocate of a long, lost franchise and, more than anything, the first Jet with the nerve to promise a Super Bowl title since Joe Willie Namath answered a banquet heckler with the most glorious guarantee in sports.

But in the bitter cold and blustery wind Monday night, Ryan resembled none of the characters he's played to rave reviews. In fact, Ryan came across as clueless, overmatched and entirely unprepared to deal with this beating Bill Belichick's Patriots had planned for him.

As his hour of reckoning approached, Ryan trotted to the visiting sideline under the kind of pregame reception LeBron James got in Cleveland. The Jets coach answered the boos in villainous pro-wrestler style, lifting his cap toward the black sky. If he could have, Ryan surely would have grabbed a microphone and barked:

I'm not here to kiss your coach's rings. I'm here to kick your coach's rump.

And yes, a coach's rump would be thoroughly kicked before a national ESPN audience, kicked from Foxborough all the way back to Florham Park. Only Ryan was on the wrong end of the foot, the Rich Kotite end, and he managed to live the Yankees' side of Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the 2004 ALCS all in one night.

"It's the biggest butt-whipping I've ever taken as a coach," Rex confirmed.

Yes, his Jets were a complete embarrassment, exposing themselves as a counterfeit contender at the worst possible time. This was supposed to be the regular-season game of the century, a clash of 9-2 titans fighting for the AFC East title, a No. 1 seed in the postseason and a chance to take command of a rivalry trying to generate some of that old Yankees-Red Sox heat.

But Mark Sanchez was just as awful as his coach, just as awful as he was as a rookie on this very field, where he kept throwing spirals to the home team. On the other side of the ball, the Jets couldn't tackle or cover anyone, most notably the little whippet Ryan cut before the Week 2 game against the Patriots, Danny Woodhead, who made all those Jets employed instead of him look silly and slow.

Ryan saw Woodhead as an expendable walk-on who couldn't keep up with the immortal Joe McKnight. Belichick? He saw Woodhead as a cross between Barry Sanders and Red Grange.

Woodhead hardly embodied the only indictment of Ryan, who had about as bad a day as Belichick's former aide, Josh McDaniels. Ryan had a week and a half to prepare for the Patriots, and it appeared he slapped together his game plan in half an hour.

Sure, Jim Leonhard's season-ending injury didn't help, especially when Eric Smith was responsible for the pass interference call that set up New England's first touchdown. But as Ryan conceded, "Jim Leonhard's not going to make a 45-point difference."

Some better coaching would have made a bigger dent. On the Jets' first possession, Ryan wasted a timeout with a dumb challenge of a spot on a Sanchez sneak. He compounded that mistake by going for it on fourth-and-1 at his 46, and never mind that Shonn Greene picked up the first down.

It was a reckless gamble, anyway. Had Greene been stopped, Tom Brady would have likely used the benefit of a short field to make it game, set, match.

Ryan outdid himself five plays later, when he asked Nick Folk to nail a 53-yard field goal through the swirling gusts rather than ask punter Steve Weatherford to pin Brady against his goal line. Folk's kick made like a duck-hooked 4-iron, and soon enough the rout was on.

When Weatherford wasn't shanking punts, Sanchez was shanking passes, finishing with three interceptions and a brutal 27.8 rating. Meanwhile, Brady was good for four touchdown passes, no interceptions and a rating of 148.9 in securing his 26th straight regular-season victory at home.

The last time Sanchez and his teammates were manhandled like that? "Maybe Pop Warner or something," the losing quarterback said.

The Jets had culprits all over the field, including Antonio Cromartie, who should have called in sick. But the worst loss for this franchise in nearly a quarter century doesn't belong in any player's locker.

It belongs on Rex Ryan's desk.

His defense had Bart Scott covering Wes Welker and had 305-pound Mike DeVito chasing Woodhead through the secondary. His offense couldn't manage a touchdown against a Patriots defense ranked last in the league in more categories than Belichick could count.

"I came in to kick his butt," Ryan said, "and he kicked mine."

This was Rex's most humiliating moment since he gave a mixed-martial arts crowd in Miami the middle finger, or since he counted the Jets out of last year's playoffs before, you know, they made the playoffs.

"Humiliating for one night," Ryan insisted.

He launched into some more of his trash talk, swearing he was ready for a rematch with Belichick and Brady right then and there. Only this time Rex sounded less like a tough guy and more like a clown.

His players barely tried in the second half, and Ryan refused to acknowledge it. He claimed the gathered reporters weren't giving enough credit to the Patriots.

Oh, they were crediting the Patriots plenty. Late Monday night, Bill Belichick's team was entered into the record as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and Rex Ryan's team was duly noted as a hoax.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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