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ORCHARD PARK, N — The brotherly bond between Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine goes only so far, especially now that the two are at different ends of New York.
After leaving the Jets, in part to come out of Ryan's imposing shadow, Pettine is itching to see how his new-look, Buffalo defense matches up against his long-time mentor on Sunday.
Following four years as Ryan's defensive coordinator in New York — and 11 years together with the Jets and Baltimore Ravens — Pettine will return to New York this Sunday as the Bills (1-1) take on the Jets (1-1).
Both teams are looking up at Miami (2-0) and New England (2-0) in the AFC East. So — though it's still early — the urgency is present on both sides.
"I'd be a liar if I said this game didn't mean more to me, or I didn't want to win it," Pettine said. "It's like going against your brother."
Pettine is hoping to break out on his own with the Bills. Using an aggressive, attacking style of defense — not much different from the Jets — Buffalo played well in a two-game homestand to open the season. There will be tougher tests out there for the Bills than banged-up New England and Carolina in Orchard Park, but it's a start.
Pettine is proud of it, either way. The 46-year-old took an unconventional route to the NFL, joining the Ravens as a low-level assistant in 2002 after 12 years of coaching high school football. Like Ryan with his father, Buddy, Pettine grew up in the presence of a football coach. Pettine's father, Mike Sr., is the winningest high school coach in Pennsylvania history.
"You talk about coming in from the ground floor with no expectations but just thought that people would see his abilities," Ryan said. "Well, I clearly saw his abilities and the more I talked to him, the more I realized that. His background is very similar to mine.
"And it was clear that this guy really knew football, and we weren't really utilizing his talents. So when I had the opportunity, we had a quality control job open, there's only one guy that I wanted and that was him. From then, he did a tremendous job. He was my right hand man."
Pettine would earn a handful of promotions over the years, moving up from a coaching and video assistant role to outside linebackers coach. When Ryan was named coach of the Jets in 2009, he brought Pettine with him to New York as his defensive coordinator.
Pettine helped mold the Jets into one of the best defenses in the league with New York making the AFC Championship game in his first two seasons. The Jets struggled over the next two years, and Pettine elected to move on to Buffalo where he could start fresh and step out of Ryan's shadow.
"These things happen," Ryan said. "Mike Pettine can stand on his own."
Pettine insists that there was no falling out between the two. Instead, he says it was just time for a change.
"I was given some good advice a long time ago by (former Jets GM) Mike Tannenbaum," Pettine said. "He said you're in a team business where team and loyalty is preached. But at the end of the day you have to be the CEO of yourself.
"I know a lot of things were made of it and people just kind of tried to fill the holes in and put negative things in it and it was upsetting because that wasn't the case. Rex and I, our relationship today is just as strong as it was before."
Still, there will be no love lost when the two reunite at MetLife Stadium Sunday.
"Coaches in the NFL are born with a competitive gene, and you want to win at everything," Pettine said. "When I went on vacation with Rex and we were throwing washers on the beach I wanted to beat him just as bad as I want to beat him on Sunday."