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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Misunderstood Rex Ryan, AFC S-Ouch, San Antonio Spurs

Are the Patriots borrowing from the best dynasty in American sports?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Miami Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin, which means that all three of the New England Patriots competitors in the AFC East will have head coaches in their first season with the team. Four active coaches won their division in their first season:

Sean Payton of the 2006 Saints went 10-6, ahead of the 8-8 Panthers

Mike Tomlin of the 2007 Steelers went 10-6, beating the 10-6 Browns on tiebreakers

Pete Carroll of the 2010 Seahawks went 7-9, beating the 7-9 Rams on tiebreakers

Chip Kelly of the 2013 Eagles went 10-6, ahead of the 8-8 Cowboys

The first three head coaches later earned Super Bowl titles. Kelly is in the midst of a lot of trouble in Philadelphia. But it's fairly rare for new head coaches to win their division, and even when they did they capped at 10 wins. The Dolphins season is in dire straights, but the Jets seem to be a viable wild card candidate. The Bills?


While the Bills have a great defense and they have a ton of talent on offense, their coach remains under intense scrutiny. Contrary to popular opinion, Ryan teams have never had major issues with penalties. The Jets ranks 14th in the league in penalties over that span of time, with successful teams like the Seahawks, Ravens, 49ers, and Broncos picking up more flags.

After losing to the Giants, the media latched on to a Ryan soundbite declaring he was "proud of the way this team played." How could a coach be proud of 17 stupid penalties? While it's partially the work of selective coach poaching, Ryan comes across like he hasn't learned anything since his first season as the Jets head coach.

"Well, I'm going to tell you something. I'm proud of the way this team played," Ryan said. "Can we play a lot smarter? Absolutely, but I'll take a team that'll fight over a team that won't - that'll sit back and take it-  any day of the week. And bring on the next week. So that's how I look at it. Give me a team that's got some fight and will compete to the very end- right, wrong or indifferent, no matter how good the officiating is or whatever. It makes no difference to me. I'll take a team with some competitive fight and some spirit.

"Is 17 penalties ridiculous? Absolutely, 100 percent it's ridiculous, and so you say what you want, but I'll take a team that'll fight. I'm proud of this team, and we'll keep fighting. Eventually we'll find a way to win. Eventually we'll find a way to eliminate penalties."

I can kind of see what Ryan's doing here. He's trying to say that he's proud of his team for playing 60 minutes- it's something every single coach will highlight- but the issue comes when he conflates fighting the other team with fighting for 60 minutes. He's literally building a bully instead of a football team, a team that would rather win in the ring than on the field.

But as an audience, flip the order of the statements. If Rex led by calling the penalties ridiculous, and then followed that by saying he appreciated how his team fought until the end, then it would probably be better received. But if those statements were flipped, Rex wouldn't be Rex.

3. Speaking of dysfunctional divisions, how about the AFC South? The Indianapolis Colts were demolished by the Bills and Jets, but squeaked out victories against the Titans, Jaguars, and the Texans. These are not good teams (the Colts have won a record 16 straight divisional games), but kudos to 40-year old Matt Hasselbeckwho entered the league four years before the Texans were a franchise, for winning an ugly Thursday Night Football after going to the emergency room for a bacterial infection and requiring IVs right up until the start of the game. Those are some serious guts.

But the Texans look terrible (sorry Vince Wilfork), the Titans seem destined for another average season, and we all witnessed the Jaguars first hand. I'm pretty confident that any team from the East, North, or West, other than the Dolphins or Browns, could win the AFC South and I don't think fans of teams in that division would put up much of an argument.

4. On a positive note, congratulations to kicker Adam Vinatieri for scoring 1,000 points with the Colts franchise and becoming their franchise leader in points. The Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski passed Vinatieri for the points lead in New England, but it's extremely impressive that Vinatieri was the all time leader in points for two different franchises. He needs to get into the Hall.

5. I understand the issues of having a week 4 bye week, but is it really the worst thing ever? I mean, of course teams would want a bye closer to the middle of the season, but it seems that Bill Belichick has been doing everything within his power to limit injury potential. He's been holding players out with the smallest nicks and he's been rotating positions to get everyone experience. This is a deliberate approach to ensure the healthiest post-bye possible.

And Belichick is the master of the second-half of the season and it's all downhill after the bye week. Part of me wonders if the Patriots are adopting the San Antonio Spurs approach to rotations, by reducing the snaps certain players to keep them more fresh during regular season games and, if and when it comes time, for the playoffs.

Oh, and side note, with a victory over the Cowboys, the Patriots will pass the Spurs for winningest franchise in American Sports since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994.