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Kerry can kick Rex when he's down

This is Rex Ryan's worst nightmare:

Mark Sanchez drops backs to pass … looks into the end zone … throws to Dustin Keller for the game winner … intercepted by Kerry Rhodes.

And you thought the butt fumble was a lowpoint for the New York Jets?

Make no mistake, Sanchez's slapstick turnover will forever have a place in team lore, but an interception Sunday at MetLife Stadium by the former Jets safety -- or any game-changing play, for that matter -- would signal a different kind of low.

The embattled Ryan-Mike Tannenbaum administration can't afford to get beat by a ghost, especially not this ghost.

Ryan, who never trashes players and rarely demotes them, did both to Rhodes, who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals after the 2009 season. Rhodes was a productive player for the Jets from 2005 to 2007, but he clashed with Ryan and his staff and ended up in the dog house during his only season under the current regime.

A year after the trade, Ryan unloaded on Rhodes in his book, "Play Like You Mean It," delivering perhaps the harshest criticism of any player or coach in his three-plus seasons as the Jets' coach.

"He was a selfish-ass guy," he wrote. "He wouldn't work, and he was a Hollywood type, flashy and needing attention. I don't mind flashy, but your work ethic had better back it up. He was a talented SOB, that's for sure, but he wasn't one of us."

Rhodes started 14 games for the league's top-ranked defense in 2009 (he reclaimed his job late in the season), recording three interceptions in what was deemed a down year. It should be noted that no starting safety since Rhodes has made three interceptions in a season, providing fodder for those who feel Ryan gave up too soon on him.

The ever-confident Ryan believes he can coach pretty much anybody (he kept Vernon Gholston for two years, didn't he?), so you know he must have been fed up with Rhodes to send him packing.

The Jets received fourth- and seventh-round picks for Rhodes, using the choices on kick returner Joe McKnight (2010) and quarterback Greg McElroy (2011), respectively. You'd have to say the Cards got the better of the deal, as Rhodes has been a solid starter on a pretty good defense. But this was an addition-by-subtraction trade for the Jets, whose defense survived quite nicely in 2010 and 2011 without him.

Rhodes probably won't say too much this week as the reeling Cards (4-7), losers of seven straight, prepare to play the reeling Jets (4-7) in the House That Fireman Ed Abandoned. Rhodes expressed his feelings toward Ryan when the book was released in 2011, tweeting a one-word response: "Classless."

Rhodes also did a post-trade TV interview in New York, indicating he never felt embraced by Ryan's staff. He claimed the coaches built the '09 defense around the players they brought with them from the Baltimore Ravens, adding, "I was an easy scapegoat."

Oh, really? Why would they need a scapegoat after a season in which they owned the league's top defense?

Players say the craziest things when they're shipped out. It was a swift decline for Rhodes, who received a five-year, $33 million contract before the '08 season. Then-coach Eric Mangini later told friends it was one of his biggest regrets in New York.

To Rhodes' credit, he has done more than salvage his career. In 33 games with the Cards, he has six interceptions, six fumble recoveries and four sacks. He also has maintained a relatively low profile, toning down his Hollywood image -- although he did receive a visit from actor Channing Tatum during training camp.

In New York, Rhodes irked people in the organization because, at times, he seemed more interested in his fledgling acting/modeling career and the trappings of the NFL -- fame, wealth -- than the game itself.

He managed to get on Ryan's bad side, which is hard to do. Aside from Rhodes, the only other player to be removed from a starting job was wide receiver Derrick Mason. That was last season and he, too, was traded.

It's one of the criticisms of Ryan's coaching style, that he's too lenient with the players. Maybe he should give more players the Rhodes treatment.