FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan raised the stakes for the season finale against the Miami Dolphins, essentially making it a referendum on his job performance.
"I see this team going in the right direction, and I think this is an opportunity to see how accurate that statement is," the embattled New York Jets coach said Tuesday.
It's a risky play by Ryan. If he's truly coaching for his job, he's basically telling his bosses -- owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik -- to place extra weight on an otherwise meaningless game. If the Jets get blown out, what then?
The pro-Ryan platform is built on progress, demonstrating late-season improvement with a young team. Ryan has been hammering that theme for several days, describing the Jets as an "ascending" team.
On Sunday, the Jets (7-8) face the team that crippled their playoff chances in Week 13. It was a complete meltdown, as the Dolphins won, 23-3. Ryan called it the lowpoint of the season. Now his team has a chance to the return the favor, as the Dolphins (8-7) need a win (and help from other teams) to make the playoffs.
"We'll see if we're better, and we'll see how much better we are," Ryan said.
Ryan is trying to convince Woodzik he's still the right man for the job. Naturally, it's possible that Ryan's fate already has been determined. If not, he's making a strong push.
The Jets have exceeded outside expectations and it's possible they could finish in an 8-8 tie for the final wild-card spot -- although we all know they're mathematically eliminated because of various tiebreakers. Anybody who knows anything about football recognizes he's done a nice job with this team, considering he has a turnover-prone rookie at quarterback and a roster in transition.
There are two primary factors working against Ryan: Idzik, hired last January, may want to bring in his own coach. The Jets have missed the playoffs for three straight years, going 21-26 in that span.
"That's a huge thorn in my side and everybody else's," Ryan said of the playoff drought.
Ryan has declined in recent days to discuss his future (excluding, of course, the team meeting that made headlines), but he has managed to state his case without actually saying he's stating his case.
"I understand that (wins and losses) are how we all get evaluated," he said. "I get it, no question about it, but I think there are steps to it that we're attaining. ...This week will be a testament to that. Let's see where we're at."
The Jets downplayed the revenge and spoiler angles, insisting they have other incentives -- trying to finish .500, winning on the road (they're 1-6) and winning two straight for the first time.
"We understand we let this (season) slip away, but that's life," guard Willie Colon said. "We have to clean it up and finish on a strong note."