Though Rex Ryan says he wants to downplay facing the New York Jets for the first time since they fired him after last season, he couldn’t help but draw at least some attention his way.
All that ultimately matters to Ryan’s Buffalo Bills and the Jets, however, is trying to build on their respective much-needed victories in Thursday night’s matchup at the Meadowlands.
After Buffalo (4-4) avoided a third straight defeat with Sunday’s 33-17 win over Miami, Ryan offered the token "It’s just another game" line in regard to this contest. Then Monday, he said linebacker IK Enemkpali will be one of the Bills captains for this matchup.
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Buffalo signed Enemkpali shortly after the Jets released him for breaking quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw with a punch during a locker room confrontation in August.
”Yeah, I’ll get ripped,” said Ryan of a move defended by noting that he selects captains based on their ties to that week’s opponent. "You know, if IK went out there by himself, maybe that would be a different statement. But that’s not what we do.”
At least one Jet didn’t mind the decision.
”Love it,” receiver Brandon Marshall said. ”That’s a Rex Ryan move. I mean, are you guys surprised?”
Nothing should surprise either side about Ryan, who took the Jets to the playoffs in his first two seasons then failed to record a winning record in the last four to go 46-50 in an always-colorful and eventful tenure.
Ryan was dismissed after going 4-12 last season – a move not necessarily popular with the players.
"Coaches and players change teams all the time," New York coach Todd Bowles said. "The ones that are close to him, I’m sure they’ll give him a hug before the game, shoot the bull a little bit. When the game starts, it’ll be us against them."
However, Jets fans might have a different reaction.
”There’s going to be a lot of waving out there,” he said. "One fingered and all that stuff. That much is a given.”
New York (5-3) lost its last three to the Bills under Ryan, but should have even more incentive while owning its best record at the halfway mark since being 5-3 in 2011. Buffalo, meanwhile, is trying to win two straight for the first time this season.
”It’s going to be a passionate game. It’s going to be an exciting game, a whatever-type game, but not for the reasons that you may be thinking,” Ryan said. ”It has nothing to do with me or anybody else. That’s the reality of it.”
Ryan’s club will try to contain Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is considering surgery on his injured thumb as early as Friday but will be under center for this contest. Sporting a molded brace with a covered glove Sunday, the ex-Bill threw for 272 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the 28-23 win over Jacksonville.
”I’m kind of weighing different options right now,” Fitzpatrick said regarding surgery. ”I don’t want to miss any time or any games, so the decision is really going to be based off that."
The Jets were held to a season-low 290 yards Sunday but forced four turnovers and recorded a season-high six sacks to avoid a third consecutive defeat.
"Obviously, there were some sloppy things that we’ve got to clean up," Bowles said. "We’ve got to move on."
Bowles needs to get more out of Chris Ivory, who rushed for two 1-yard TDs on Sunday but has averaged 1.5 yards per carry while totaling 84 in the past three games. Ivory managed 74 yards on 20 carries in two matchups but did have a two-TD game last season against Buffalo, which has allowed an average of 112.7 rushing yards in the past three games.
It’s uncertain if New York center Nick Mangold will play after he left Sunday’s contest with a lingering neck injury.
Jets kicker Nick Folk will miss at least four weeks and perhaps the rest of the season with a quad injury, while the statuses of defensive backs Antonio Cromartie (quad), Dion Bailey (ankle) and Calvin Pryor (ankle) are uncertain.
Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy ran for a season-high 112 yards and a TD on 16 attempts against Miami, but is dealing with an injured right shoulder he suffered in the fourth quarter. Backup Karlos Williams, however, gained 110 yards and scored twice on nine rushes in that contest.
Tyrod Taylor was 11 of 12 for 181 yards and TD in his return from missing two games with a knee injury.
Also back from injury, Sammy Watkins caught eight passes for 168 yards and a TD against the Dolphins.
”We have a lot of talent, and unfortunately, we had so many injuries that we haven’t necessarily seen them,” Ryan said. ”So let us be healthy and then judge us for who we are.”
Watkins had three receptions for 157 yards, including a 61-yard TD, in last season’s 43-23 road win over the Jets. However, he could be in for a tougher day if Darrelle Revis is lined up across from him.