- Ian O'Connor, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan concedes he has put the game, the season and the entire region on his own back. He knows he can be reduced to Saturday's biggest loser, the guy who ends up wearing floppy shoes, polka-dot pajamas and a giant red nose.
That would be Rex's safest guarantee of all time.
But as his spirited assault on the Giants somehow deleted the fact the Jets finally made Dream Teamers of the Philadelphia Eagles, another significant truth was lost in the fuss:
Tom Coughlin deserved better than this.
Monday, Ryan said he had "a ton of respect" for Coughlin. Tuesday, for the second straight day, Ryan had the funniest way of showing it.
If Rex truly had "a ton of respect" for Coughlin, and truly regarded him as "one of the great coaches in the history of the sport," then why did he spend the last 48 hours spraying graffiti all over Coughlin's work this year, last year and the year before that?
And why did Ryan do so when he knows Coughlin is fighting for his job?
Coughlin isn't your garden-variety Rex Ryan target. He isn't Norv Turner, an out-of-towner who so often wears a "Kick Me" sign on his back. He isn't the hooded Bill Belichick, a divisional Darth Vader and a necessary antagonist in the long-running New York-Boston blood feud.
Coughlin is a neighbor, a grandfather and a coach who's never publicly said a cross word about any opponent, never mind the one next door. Oh, and Coughlin is something else Ryan isn't -- a Super Bowl champion as a head coach, and one too dignified to expect a wannabe to kiss his ring.
Sure, it's Ryan's job to beat him and beat him good in MetLife Stadium, but does Rex really need to keep reminding everyone that Coughlin's done inferior work in the marketplace the last three years?
Rex on Monday: "Certainly we were the better team in [my] first two years. We made the playoffs, went to the championship game. To say a team's better than you that never went to the playoffs is ridiculous."
Rex on Tuesday: "I want to be the team that people talk about. I want to be the better team [in New York]. And when you look at it, the first two years, I love the deal where it's like, 'Well, we're just going to dismiss that.' Well, why would you dismiss it? Facts are facts. I've only been here three years now."
Translation: I've been kicking Tom's butt since the day I walked in the door.
And just because it might be true doesn't mean saying it, and saying it, and saying it again is the proper course of action.
Ryan's Jets have reached two consecutive AFC title games; Coughlin's Giants have missed two consecutive NFC tournaments. Ryan's 2011 Jets are 8-6; Coughlin's 2011 Giants are 7-7.
Only Rex doesn't believe in letting the record -- or anything else -- speak for itself. He got embarrassed in Philly, and apparently he figured the surest way to make everyone forget it was to embarrass Coughlin's Giants. Ryan's cold assessment of them would hold up a lot easier than, say, his cold assessment of Brent Celek.
"I'm not trying to take a run at the Giants, or a shot at the Giants," Rex claimed Tuesday.
Yeah, right. Ryan talked and talked about being the best team in the state, as if there's a second Lombardi Trophy handed out for that.
These aren't the Mets and Yankees playing the 2000 Subway Series for a championship. These are the Jets and Giants playing the 2011 Substandard Series for a possible trip to the wild-card weekend.
Rex swore that he'll be the first to congratulate the Giants if they prevail. "But do I believe in my heart that we're the better football team? Yes," he added. "Did I believe we were the better team two years ago, and last year? Yes."
Once again, Ryan needed to drag 2009 and 2010 into the conversation. Of course Coughlin will never drag 2007 into the conversation; he'll never respond to any of this. Back in the sunnier days of late October, in a quiet moment outside Coughlin's office, I asked the Giants coach what he thought of Rex's high-volume act.
"I don't read that," he said with a dismissive wave, "and it's none of my business. I've got my own issues, but I've never been involved with anything like that."
I asked Coughlin why. "Because that's the way I believe, and that's the way I was raised," he answered. "With the influences that were extended upon me and with the chance I have to be in this position as a head coach, that's the way I choose to do it. That's me."
Coughlin knows he'll be in serious peril if the Giants miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year. Rex Ryan knows it, too, which should've given him pause before he so eagerly painted the recent Giants as an unmitigated New York, New York failure.
Commentators and columnists -- not active coaches -- are paid to criticize Coughlin and the like. Though Ryan didn't rip his opposing coach by name, he didn't have to. By slamming the Giants, Rex violated the profession's protocol that asks for some common decency when a respected elder is in a weakened state.
It doesn't matter that Ryan, who takes great pride in his defense, was merely stating a fact when he offered -- without solicitation -- that the Giants' defense ranks 28th in the league. It doesn't matter that Mark Sanchez said the Jets "support everything that he says," or that Antonio Cromartie agreed with Ryan's take on the Giants ("We feel like we're better," the cornerback said).
It doesn't matter that many see this as just another Rex-being-Rex barrage. Sometimes it's a good idea to temper the act, stuff it in the closet for a week. You know, like when Tom Coughlin's on the other side of the field.
But the Jets coach couldn't deny his basic instinct. Rex Ryan said he didn't want to be second fiddle, and yet his approach turned out to be second-rate.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.
If Rex Ryan respects Tom Coughlin, he has a funny way of showing it.