FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Add yet another chapter to the long-running saga that is the New York Jets-New England Patriots rivalry.
But, here’s a new twist: Rex Ryan actually defended Bill Belichick.
Wait. Say what?
Well, it started Thursday when a profile on Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine published on Sports Illustrated’s theMMQB.com site included a revelation from the former Jets defensive coordinator that suggested New England might have obtained a copy of New York’s playbook a few years ago.
Pettine said Ryan, his longtime buddy, once gave Alabama coach Nick Saban a playbook — and Pettine warned that Belichick and Saban are close friends.
At the wedding of then-Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker a few years ago, Tom Brady bragged to former Jets assistant Mike Smith that New England might have gotten its hands on one of its rival’s playbooks.
“It didn’t shock me,” Pettine told the site, “because Rex would give them out like candy anyway.”
After the Jets completed their final minicamp practice, Ryan became agitated at times when asked about the story. The Jets coach refuted the suggestion that Saban — who is also friends with Ryan — might have given Belichick and the Patriots a sneak peek.
“One thing I know for a fact, No. 1, I think it’s disrespectful to New England to say, ‘Oh, they did this,’ ” Ryan said. “I can tell you every single game we’ve ever had with New England has been decided on the field. Nobody’s had a competitive advantage. Nobody’s had anything else. And that’s a fact.”
The Patriots have won seven of the 11 games against the Jets since Ryan became New York’s coach in 2009.
Ryan said in the Jets’ losses, Belichick’s bunch simply “outperformed us.”
So, this is, of course, not quite a scandal such as Spygate.
Then, came the bombshell moment.
“To discredit somebody like Belichick, who is a real coach, studies his butt off,” Ryan said, “is ridiculous.”
Ryan explained that every team frequently changes its playbooks, tailoring plans to specific opponents. They’re also coded in ways that would be difficult for opponents to completely decipher.
“To me, I think it’s ridiculous,” Ryan said. “But I think it sounds like everybody needs to talk to Pettine, because apparently he’s got all the information.”
Alabama associate athletic director Jeff Purinton confirmed that Saban has a copy of the playbook Ryan gave to him — and it has remained in his office at the school.
Belichick opted to not comment after the Patriots’ practice.
“Talk to Mike Pettine,” Belichick said. “I don’t know.”
In the interview, Pettine used the anecdote to explain why he doesn’t have thick playbooks — just in case they end up in the wrong hands.
Ryan acknowledged he wasn’t sure if Pettine was just displaying his dry sense of humor, but was clearly irked by the whole situation.
“I don’t understand what he’s trying to gain by it,” Ryan said. “That’s up to Mike and he’s certainly free to do whatever he chooses.”
Pettine and Ryan have been friends for years, dating to their days together in Baltimore. Pettine was Ryan’s defensive coordinator in New York before he left to take the same position in Buffalo in 2012. Cleveland hired Pettine as its head coach this offseason.
Ryan was asked if a first-year head coach such as Pettine might consider staying out of the spotlight.
“Yeah, he needs to learn to be quiet,” said a smiling Ryan, whose mouth certainly has gotten him in trouble over the years. “Absolutely.”
The Jets coach then continued to lighten the mood, saying the story was being “a bit overblown” and analyzed his relationship with Pettine.
“It’s in a bad spot right now,” a laughing Ryan said. “Like, really dude? Seriously?”
Ryan later praised Pettine for his work by his side for so many years and acknowledged that he was proud of him for becoming a head coach in the NFL.
So, will Ryan reach out to Pettine to smooth things over?
“I don’t need to,” Ryan said with a grin. “I’m going on vacation.”
Hmmm. Picture it: Ryan and Belichick having fun in the sun on Cape Cod.
Now that would be some plot twist.