FOXBOROUGH – For a moment, Rex Ryan allowed himself that familiar beaming glint, the enjoyment of the spotlight apparent. Asked about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s invocation of his name – “Rex Ryan! Rex Ryan!” – in a pre-snap call during the first drive of the game, a caught-off-guard Ryan, seemingly unaware of Brady’s nod, allowed a chuckle.
“He likes me, I know that,” Ryan smiled. “I was calling him Brady, too.”
Yet the typical mix of humor and assertiveness offered by Ryan in his media sessions was otherwise absent on Monday night. For Ryan and the Bills, there was little satisfaction in the slightly shrinking margin of defeat.
Instead, in the wake of Monday night’s 20-13 loss to the Patriots, Ryan offered little more than soft-spoken praise for his opponents and acknowledgments of the gap that exists between his longtime rival and his new team.
“That’s an outstanding football team we played. They proved it again tonight,” said Ryan. “We just weren’t good enough. We’re not quite there. … It’s tough to match with them, personnel-wise. They did a great job. That’s a good football team. They deserved to win. We know right now we’ve got to find a way to get better – as players get better, as coaches get better. If we do, we’ll see if there’s a different outcome.”
Buffalo edged closer, improving from a deceivingly close eight-point loss in the 40-32 Week 2 defeat to a more competitive loss by a touchdown nine weeks later. The score accurately indicated a change in the tone from one contest to the next, with Buffalo’s defense proving far more formidable on Monday than in the first meeting between the teams, albeit with a severely depleted group of Patriots receivers.
Even though Ryan permitted himself a small measure of pride in suggesting that the game was an exercise in “Bills defense,” he still identified critical areas in which the New England executed and his team did not.
The end of the first half weighed heavily on Ryan’s mind, when Bills kicker Dan Carpenter’s kick tailed off the right upright with 46 seconds remaining. On the cusp of concluding the half with a 6-3 lead, Buffalo instead saw the Patriots take a 10-3 lead that was punctuated by a James White 20-yard touchdown reception in which a missed tackle permitted the score.
Even on a day when Brady completed just 20-of-39 passes, Ryan recognized that he’d been bested by a longtime nemesis.
“It was better than some of the days he’s had against us,” said Ryan. “The guy is a stud. He’s 20-of-39 passing, but you know the guy is smart. He gets rid of the ball when he needs to. He doesn’t take risks. Sometimes the best plays you make are the ones you don’t make. He knows what to do with the football. He’s obviously one of the best ever.”
Pivotal sequences such as the one at the end of the first half underscored, to Ryan, why the Patriots have once again defined themselves as the team that he and other teams must chase.
“That one [touchdown by White] really, really hurt us. But like I said, to their credit they make that play,” said Ryan. “We’ve come up short many times, being here where you think you’ve got them by the ropes, but at the end of the day, they find ways to win. That’s what championship teams do. We’re not at that level right now. But I can promise you one thing, we’re going to work our tails off to get there.”
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.