Rapid Reaction: New York Jets
December, 29, 2013
By Rich Cimini | ESPN.com
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 20-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium:
What it means: The Jets (8-8) avoided their first back-to-back losing seasons since the 1995 season, won two straight for the first time in 2013 and -- perhaps sweetest of all -- ruined the Dolphins' playoff dream. Miami missed the playoffs for the third straight year, but a .500 season in a rebuilding year is a significant accomplishment.
Rex watch: Rex Ryan reinforced his already-strong case to return as coach. Signs point to Ryan's return, but there are contract and coaching staff issues to work through. Ryan is 42-38 in five seasons, which is not a great record, but the team is pointed in the right direction. Clearly, it hasn't tuned out Ryan. The Jets outplayed a team that had everything on the line.
Stock watch: Geno Smith closed his rookie year with one of his better performances, a continuation of his late-season rally. That it came against the Dolphins was significant. In the previous meeting four weeks ago, Smith was a wreck and was benched at halftime -- the lowpoint in a season with many lows. This time, he looked like a different player, especially with the ball in his hands. He rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown, a dimension the Jets had started to exploit only recently. More importantly, Smith didn't commit a turnover for the second straight game, finishing 17-of-27 for 190 yards. Smith didn't do enough to be the clear starter for 2014 (it's hard to forget about 21 interceptions), but his encouraging finish lessens the need at the position.
Milliner flashes again: Rookie cornerback Dee Milliner allowed a 5-yard touchdown, but he made enough positive plays (including his third interception in two weeks) to leave a positive impression after a nightmarish start to his season. Ed Reed, in perhaps the final game of a Hall of Fame career, made his third interception and saved a touchdown with a shoestring tackle on a long pass.
Alternative methods: Rookie Sheldon Richardson became the first defensive lineman since William "The Refrigerator" Perry (Chicago Bears, 1985) to score two rushing touchdowns in a season. He plowed in on a 1-yard run in the second quarter, giving the Jets a 14-7 lead. Most teams use their running backs near the goal line, but not the Jets. They use the quarterback and a defensive tackle; Smith and Richardson have combined for eight touchdowns. Hey, whatever works.
What's ahead: Once they resolve the head-coaching situation, the Jets can focus on the coaching staff. At least seven assistants have expiring contracts. Linebackers coach Brian VanGorder already is a goner; he's headed to Notre Dame as the defensive coordinator. Then come free agency and draft prep.