By David Willis
FOXBORO — Rob Ryan's unruly mop of shoulder-length, seemingly unkempt, silver hair says everything that needs to be said about his personality.
The Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator yelled at opposing players, barked at fans and jawed with referees yesterday during the New England Patriots' 20-16 victory over the Cowboys.
He pumped his fist and jumped for joy for big Dallas plays, stomped his feet and threw his headset when plays went wrong, and always drew attention to himself.
But Ryan did what his twin brother, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, could not a week ago with the Jets. Rob gave the his team the chance to beat the Patriots.
"Rob is awesome," said Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears. "We play defense the way he coaches it. We love him, absolutely."
The kindest of people could compare Ryan to a swashbuckler, an anti-establishment rebel in the mold of late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.
To others, Ryan better resembles a professional wresting heel — or bad guy — with his over-the-top sideline antics.
Rex is more fun and silly. Rob more has the feeling of a villain.
But love him or hate him, Ryan prepared the Dallas defense well and had the Cowboys in position to earn the victory yesterday.
Despite the late drive, it was not the defense that lost the game for the Cowboys.
What doomed Dallas was the tremendously tentative offense, run by head coach Jason Garrett, that looked more concerned about not making mistakes than making plays.
Ryan could not call the offense, but maybe his risk-taker mentality was exactly what the Cowboys needed.
The Dallas defense made life tough for Tom Brady all game. It forced him into a pair of interceptions, at times confusing him with coverages and causing plenty of pressure, resulting in three sacks.
Brady may not have been shut down, but he was certainly slowed. That is more than brother Rex can boast, as Brady threw for 321 yards in a far more convincing victory a week ago.
"We love playing for him," said Dallas defensive back Frank Walker. "We love his personality. We wish we could win more games for him."
With his fiery personality, attention-grabbing routines and the way he embraces the fun aspects of football, Ryan seems the antithesis of everything the stoic Patriots coaching staff stands for.
So it's easy to forget he actually spent three seasons as linebacker coach for New England (2000-03).
Now, he seems to want nothing more than to beat the Patriots and Brady, who he appeared to have (unkind) words with him during the game.
He loved shocking Bill Belichick and the Patriots a season ago as defensive coordinator of the Browns, and seemed to take the heartbreaking loss yesterday personally.
Following the game, as he left field toward tunnel, Ryan looked up and said "(bleep) you!" at least six times to the fans.
When asked about Ryan's conduct after the game, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones shook his head and said, "I won't comment on that right now."
There was plenty for him to shake his head at, such as Ryan's Lou Piniella-worthy tirade on the officials following a pass interference call.
With all the focus he draws, it would be easy for a casual viewer of the sport to assume Ryan, who was not available for comments after the game yesterday, is the Cowboys head coach, not the unassuming Garrett.
It is to be seen if his personality will allow him to follow in the footsteps of his father Buddy Ryan and brother Rex to earn the head coaching job he desires.
But again yesterday, Ryan proved he can coach defense, regardless of whether he is liked.
"I just looked at him and say, 'Well, that's Rob Ryan," said Patriots defensive lineman Andre Carter with a smile. "Rob is a passionate coach. Everyone knows that. That's his style. But he has been around the game for a long time so I can't downgrade him for being passionate."