Rivalries don’t die quickly. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich is retired, no longer playing for the New England Patriots. Rex Ryan is no longer the head coach of the rival New York Jets or the rival Buffalo Bills – or any NFL team. He’s in the booth for ESPN.
Even so, Ninkovich couldn’t resist a shot at Ryan when he had the chance.
Ninkovich was talking about cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He used to play for Ryan in Buffalo, where he was regarded as a very good defensive back. He got a huge contract to joint the Patriots for 2017, and he’s been underwhelming. He struggled a lot when he first got to New England.
Ninkovich was not shocked by that at all.
“If you go from Rex Ryan to Bill Belichick, it’s like night and day,” he said on WEEI, per Ryan Hannable.
Ryan was thought of as a great defensive mind in the NFL, and his work as a defensive coordinator got him both head coaching jobs. He was ultimately never that successful as a head coach, while Belichick just reinforced his position as the best head coach in the NFL, year after year.
It’s possible that Ninkovich is still thinking of some of the old barbs Ryan and his team used to throw their way.
“I can’t wait to see what our fans are going to be like when you have the hated Patriots – I mean this kind of rival – coming into our stadium,” Ryan said in 2015, per Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today.
“I don’t like New England so yeah, it’s definitely personal for me,” added safety Aaron Williams.
“Don’t nobody like the Patriots,” chimed in defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. “Let’s be honest about it.”
Without Ryan, the Bills are sitting at 5-3. There’s a lot of season left, but they may wind up in the playoffs. The Patriots still lead the division at 6-2.