“I’d be a liar if said this game didn’t mean more to me or I didn’t want to win it,” said Pettine. “Coaches in the NFL I think are born with a competitive gene, a hyper-competitive gene and you want to win at everything. When I went on vacation with Rex and we were playing, throwing washers on the beach I wanted to beat him just as bad as I want to beat him on Sunday. But it’s a team thing. I can’t get drawn into the emotion of that that I have a job to do to put my players in the best position to be successful and that’s what we’re going to do.”
For Ryan it was difficult to see Pettine leave his staff and land a job in the same division. Outsiders might believe they’ll be able to read each other’s tendencies with play calling like a book and thereby help their offensive coordinators. Both Ryan and Pettine dismiss it.
“Rex has 10 years worth of material to draw from and tighten that down into a 30 or 40-call game plan and it’s just hard for me to even try (to help),” said Pettine. “You’re just chasing ghosts when you say, ‘You might see this or you might see this.’ To me, it comes down to execution and you’ve got to get your players lined up and play sound and hope that your guys can out execute their guys on a given day.”
“We do know each other well. There’s no question about it,” said Ryan. “But we’re not playing against each other. If we were it’d probably be a pillow fight. It’s two good teams going against each other.”
Ryan, who was with the Ravens when Pettine was first hired as a video assistant, was intrigued by his knowledge of the game and requested him for his quality control coach on defense when the job was vacant.
“This guy came in on the ground floor with no expectations and hoped that people saw his ability,” said Ryan of Pettine. “I clearly saw his ability and the more I talked to him the more I realized that his background is very similar to mine.
“His dad is a coaching legend. It was clear that this guy really knew football and we weren’t really utilizing his talents. When I had the opportunity with a quality control job open there was only one guy that I wanted and that was him. He did a tremendous job and was my right hand man. It won’t be long and this guy will be a head coach on the sidelines in the near future.”
Pettine admits that part of the reason he chose not to sign an extension with the Jets following the 2011 season was to see if other opportunities presented themselves, but it wasn’t due to any falling out with the Jets’ head coach or to primarily step out from behind his shadow.
“I wouldn’t say it was a key part, I think it was maybe a benefit of it just because, and I used to joke that Rex casts a large shadow literally and figuratively, obviously not so much now that he’s slimmed down some but I never wanted to get caught up in that and I was never looking for credit and I was never looking for that,” said Pettine. “I just wanted to win football games and to me that competitive nature, that part of me I didn’t want to get caught up in that. But again, it was not a big motivating factor in the move. It was just a situation where I let it play out and wanted to see what opportunities are available for me and Buffalo presented itself and I haven’t looked back.”
On Sunday the two will square off for the first time with a scheme that has forged an unbreakable bond between them and made both of them very successful in the process.
“The strength of the system is the ability to make it player driven as we’ve done here,” Pettine said. “I wouldn’t say we’re significantly different from where we were in New York but we are different based on the personnel that we have here just as his personnel has changed slightly in New York and he’s adjusted his system accordingly.”
“I just think the proof is in the pudding,” said Ryan. “When you look at it from a statistical standpoint it’ll bear out at some point. We lead the AFC in defense and Kansas City is second and it won’t be long before Buffalo joins those ranks. So the system is good, but the players make it and you focus on what the players can do and obviously Mike knows it. But there’s a lot of work involved. It’s a challenge to the players, but any player that plays defense wants to play in this system.
“That my defense, that’s his defense. Certainly we were together a long time. He’s somebody that I’m extremely proud of.”