EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Things will appear awfully familiar when Rex Ryan looks across the field at the Buffalo Bills' defense Sunday.
Sure, Mike Pettine has put his own tweaks on that unit as Buffalo's coordinator under new coach Doug Marrone. But he learned a lot from being the New York Jets coach's right-hand man for years.
"I think it makes for a good story," said Pettine, who worked with Ryan in Baltimore for seven years before spending the last four together in New York. "It's like going against your brother, as I've referred to it before. Brothers who fight a lot."
Pettine and Ryan are as competitive as they come, and they'd love to walk out of MetLife Stadium on Sunday with bragging rights.
To do that, each will have to stop a rookie quarterback, the first two taken in April's draft. Buffalo's EJ Manuel went 16th overall, while New York's Geno Smith slid into the second round at 39th overall. Facing a rookie quarterback has both Ryan and Pettine licking their chops.
"Maybe a little bit," Ryan said with a sly smile. "We've still got to go out and execute and things, but, yeah, I'd much rather face a rookie quarterback than Tom Brady."
The Bills (1-1) and Jets (1-1) have both called this a critical game; the loser falls to 0-2 in the AFC East.
"It's definitely a game we need to win," Manuel said. "We both lost to the Patriots and, early on, you don't want to get behind in the season. It just adds even more urgency to this game."
Here are five things to watch in Bills-Jets:
TEACHER VS. PUPIL: There's certainly plenty of familiarity between Ryan and Pettine; the two even vacationed together with their families over the years. But some wondered how much of the play calling was Pettine's and what was Ryan's during their time with the Jets. Now, Pettine is out of Ryan's shadow. Buffalo's defense has quickly adapted to Pettine's attacking scheme, something Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is preparing for. But, does the fact they know each other so well cancel out any advantages?
"Probably," Ryan said before laughing. "But I'll probably cheap-shot him before the game or something."
MANUEL MAGIC: Manuel is off to a solid start with three touchdowns and one interception and a 95.9 passer rating. He also showed he can come through in the clutch, connecting with Stevie Johnson on a 2-yard touchdown pass with 2 seconds left to beat Carolina 24-23. He became the fifth NFL quarterback since 1960 with a fourth-quarter comeback in either the first or second game of his career, so he won't be easily rattled. Manuel also looks fairly comfortable running the no-huddle, up-tempo offense.
"We can huddle, we can slow it down," Marrone said. "There's a lot of different ways we can do it. Right now, we're just trying to do it the best we can to score points."
GENO'S BOUNCEBACK: After pulling off a fourth-quarter comeback of his own in the season opener, Smith tried to do a little too much on his own at New England. He threw three fourth-quarter interceptions in a 13-10 loss. Smith, still dealing with improving his footwork and mechanics, must put that poor performance behind him.
He also insists Buffalo choosing Manuel over him won't provide any extra motivation. "That's definitely not going to be on my mind this week or in the game," he said, "because I feel that's a distraction and it can only be hurtful."
STOPPING MARIO: The Jets' offensive line has a tall task trying to keep Mario Williams out of the backfield and from slamming Smith to the turf. Williams, showing flashes of his "Super Mario" days in Houston, had a single-game team- and career-best 4 1-2 sacks against Carolina. He had 3 1-2 on third down, and four came in Bills territory.
DROPSIES: Smith's numbers in the loss to the Patriots were a bit skewed because the Jets had — unofficially — six dropped passes, including three by Clyde Gates and one each by Stephen Hill, Bilal Powell and Ryan Spadola. The outcome could have been a lot different for Smith and the Jets if a few of those catches were made — especially on a touchdown to Gates reversed by replay. Santonio Holmes had a simple solution: "Yeah, catch the ball," he said. "I don't see any other way to correct it."
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