EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- LeSean McCoy looked around the field during the pregame and didn't see his head coach.
That's unusual, because Rex Ryan is usually out there shaking hands, pumping up players and just generally checking on his Buffalo Bills team as kickoff approaches.
On this night, there was no sign of Ryan while the players warmed up.
"I was asking myself, 'Did I miss Rex?' When I came in after the warmup, I saw him and I realized after the fact that he wasn't out there," McCoy said after the Bills came into MetLife Stadium and picked up a big 22-17 victory over the New York Jets. "We're professionals. It's not a big deal if your head coach isn't out there while you warm up.
"Now, if he wasn't out there while we were playing the game, that would be a different story."
Ryan was out there, all right. He was on the sideline, wearing a vest over a white, long-sleeved shirt, as he's worn so many times in this stadium. Except this time the vest was red and the sideline was the south one, opposing the north one now occupied by Todd Bowles.
From the moment it became clear Ryan would be skipping pregame warmups to his spiking his hat and headset in celebration and bear-hugging running back Boom Herron after safety Bacarri Rambo sealed the win with an interception with 17 seconds left, it was clear this was more than just a big win with playoff implications for Ryan.
Even if he tried to downplay it with his pregame absence.
"This game, you guys made it all about me, and that's why I stayed in," Ryan said. "It had jack s--- to do about me."
Sure it did. But that's OK.
Much as Ryan, as well as McCoy and other players tried to downplay it, McCoy's "Yeah, Rex! Yeah, (bleeping) Rex!" greeting when he saw his coach outside the postgame locker room revealed how good this one had to feel for the former Jets coach.
"You know what, now I can say the truth," Ryan said.
He paused, and every person with a recorder, notepad or microphone leaned in.
"It's kind of like being dumped by some girl that you had the hots for and all that stuff," Ryan continued, a smirk crossing his face as he realized this would be the sound bite that made the airwaves and the quote that would fill the columns and game stories. "And you guys can (relate). Every guy in the room has been dumped by some girl before."
A few chuckles from the assembled media now.
"That's really what it feels like. And you know, hey, you move on. And every now and then, they call you back. But they can't get you back."
That's roughly what was going through Ryan's mind during this press conference-slash-comedy routine.
He made jokes -- some that hit their mark and some that fell flat. He singled out writers and jabbed them. He chided the local papers for putting him on the cover ("You know I love that, but...") instead of "your coach." In the next breath, he added, "And I'm still smiling, New York Post." Then, given a chance to discuss his decision to make IK Enemkpali a captain a few months after Enemkpali broke Geno Smith's jaw with a punch, Ryan passionately defended his player.
"The young man made a mistake. You don't think he thinks about that every single day?" Ryan said. "But he's on our football team, and I'm proud of him. ... Nobody's perfect, including every single person that's pointing a finger."
Ryan closed by telling the media that, after he received the game ball from center Eric Wood, he told the team "something immature, like I always do."
It was a victory lap of sorts for a coach whose bravado won over this market and also helped feed the fire for the critics when things weren't going so well. When the Jets went to back-to-back AFC Championship Games in Ryan's first two seasons, they loved him here in New York and New Jersey. When the team took a turn for the worse and the quarterback was fumbling while running into his guard's butt, Ryan was deemed a buffon.
This week and this night, though, he was the savvy one while Bowles and his coaching staff struggled with play calls and decisions, such as not going for the 2-point conversion when they pulled within 13, a decision that forced the Jets to go for a fourth down (and fail to convert) instead of kicking the field goal on their next scoring opportunity.
Ryan shoved it in the Jets' faces last night. And he got the win.
Celebrate, he should have. And did.
"You can't buy what you go through and what you experience as a coach and a player. The ultimate competition," Ryan said when asked what he was feeling when he threw down his headset and hat. "I forgot I did it.
"But you know what? it's real."