If Rex goes, then '13 was playoffs or bust

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
9:20
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If Rex Ryan gets fired, it means his only chance of survival was to make the playoffs. It means his new boss, general manager John Idzik, never was interested in grading him on a curve.

Ryan has done enough with the New York Jets to justify a one-year contract extension. Seven wins in a rebuilding year is solid work, deserving of another chance. Clearly, the Jets are still playing hard for Ryan, evidenced by Sunday's 24-13 win over the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium.

But that's the view from inside the vacuum. Unfortunately for Ryan, the law of the NFL jungle isn't as forgiving. When you've missed the playoffs for three straight years and the new general manager has his first chance to hire his own coach ... well, it usually means you're done.

The word around the organization is that owner Woody Johnson would like to keep Ryan, but Idzik is undecided. After the game, Ryan was aglow, chirping about the team's bright future.

"I told you this team is on the climb, on the rise," he said, stating his case after what may have been his final home game. "It was pretty clear, at least to me, that's what we saw today."

Ryan, who has one year left on his contract, said he hasn't received any word regarding his status, which will likely be revealed the day after the season -- Black Monday.

Sources confirmed that Ryan mentioned his uncertain status Saturday night in the team meeting, as Fox Sports reported, but it wasn't a "Win one for me" motivational tactic. He used it in the context of how everyone in the room faced a cloudy future, how they could be scattered across the league next year and how they should go down fighting for each other.

It would've been a cheap ploy if Ryan had made it all about himself, but he was said to be "pissed" by rumors that the organization could be looking for a replacement.

Ryan wouldn't address the report, and neither did his players, who were told to keep it in-house. Obviously, it's on Ryan's mind. Ditto, the players.

"Rex is The Guy, and he needs to be The Guy," said linebacker Calvin Pace, one of the many players who expressed strong support for the embattled coach. "I think everyone rallies around him."

Guard Willie Colon, one of Ryan's most ardent backers, said, "I think Rex needs to be back. This team is headed in a great direction. He's our general. We love him. We bleed for him and he bleeds for us."

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Ron Antonelli/Getty ImagesRex Ryan high-fived fans after what might have been his final home game with the Jets.
Sunday was the ideal day for the Jets to hammer home the "right direction" narrative, considering the promising performances by quarterback Geno Smith and cornerback Dee Milliner, two of the most important rookies in Idzik's foundation.

Unfortunately for Ryan, he's probably developing this rookie class for the next coach -- unless Idzik pulls a surprise and opts for the status quo. If Ryan gets a pink slip, he can walk away knowing he did a credible job with a roster that included more holes than the FDR Drive.

"If he finishes 8-8, you could make a strong case to keep him," said an AFC personnel director, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I thought they'd win three or four games."

Pace echoed that sentiment, saying, "To have seven wins after we were predicted to be the worst team in the NFL, it says a lot about our character and the way we rallied around Rex."

But they didn't rally around him last month, when the Jets dropped three straight after the bye week. That, ultimately, could be what dooms him. They went from 5-4 to 6-8, rendering the final two games meaningless.

On Sunday, they rallied from a 10-0 deficit, showing heart. Colon noted that, in several previous games, there wasn't that fight-back mentality. Ryan used a colorful analogy, saying, "It kind of reminds me of that UFC fighter that's turning purple, he's choked out, but he still fought, found a way to get out and win."

It makes for a nice story and it speaks to Ryan's motivational skills (although, if the players were so fired up by his Saturday night speech, why did it take 23 minutes before they woke up?). But if Idzik is thinking the way most GMs do in his situation, he's not giving out medals for trying.

Idzik, joined with Ryan in a shotgun wedding, has spent almost a year evaluating the entire operation. It was a honeymoon year for the first-time GM, who must ask himself if he wants to be joined at the hip with Ryan. Firing Ryan wouldn't be a popular decision in the locker room, but we know Idzik isn't afraid of criticism. He traded Darrelle Revis, didn't he?

When it was over Sunday, Ryan made sure to milk the moment. He joined the players on a victory lap, exchanging high-fives with the fans. They did the same thing at the end of the 2009 season, when they clinched a wild-card berth by routing the Cincinnati Bengals.

"This was our AFC Championship Game," Pace said. "We play our Super Bowl [next week] in Miami."

But that isn't the Super Bowl that Ryan promised when he was hired.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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