The New York Jets-New England Patriots series won't be the same without Ryan, who fueled the rivalry with his bravado and defensive acumen. Ryan has won only four of the 12 meetings, but he captured the biggest one (the 2010 playoff game) and he'd give just about anything to take the last one. He has approached Sunday's game with a playoff-like fire, according to players.
The Patriots (11-3) are trying to lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Jets (3-11) would love to be the spoiler.
"Anything we can do to disrupt what they've got going ... that would be great," wide receiver Jeremy Kerley said.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium. The top storylines:
2. Goodbye, Idzik? The love for Ryan could be countered by the disdain for embattled general manager John Idzik. A group of disgruntled fans is planning to distribute about 10,000 "Fire Idzik" penalty flags in the stadium. Banners aren't permitted in the stadium, but there's no rule banning flags or small towels. If the protest takes hold, it will create an embarrassing scene for owner Woody Johnson. Will it influence his decision? Probably not. Chances are, he already has made up his mind. The Jets haven't given any endorsements to Idzik, publicly or privately, which might not bode well for him.
4. Goodbye, David? Several players could be playing for the Jets' home crowd for the last time, and that group includes linebacker David Harris, who will be a free agent. "I try not to think about it," he said. "I'll approach it like any other day. Who knows what's going to happen after the season?" Harris, winding up a four-year, $36 million contract, is the longest-tenured player on the defense. He will finish as the team's leading tackler for the seventh time in eight years, only two tackles shy of 1,000 in his career. He's a rare breed, an every-down linebacker. Remarkably, he has missed only six defensive snaps this season. He's a quiet leader, never bringing attention to himself. He deserves a nice send-off -- you know, just in case.
5. The game: The Jets are a double-digit home underdog for the first time ever -- well, at least since 1983, according to Vegas. Can they pull off a major upset? Sure, all they have to do is duplicate their performance from the first meeting (no turnovers, 200 rushing yards, 40-minute possession) while eliminating a couple of defensive breakdowns. Good luck with that.
Three players placed in the top 10 at their respective positions, but keep in mind that fan voting counts for only one-third toward the final selections. Player and coach voting carry the most weight. The selections will be announced Tuesday night.
How the Jets fared in the fan voting:
Muhammad Wilkerson, fourth place -- 208,111 votes
Sheldon Richardson, fifth place -- 189,059 votes
Note: Six defensive tackles will be named. Interestingly, Wilkerson is listed as a tackle, not an end, as he was last year. This should help his chances. The leading vote getter is Marcell Dareus of the Buffalo Bills.
Nick Mangold, fifth place -- 152,092 votes
Note: Only four centers will make it. The leading vote getter is Travis Frederick of the Dallas Cowboys.
"I think he's the future of the NFL," Vick said of last year's Heisman Trophy winner, according to NJ.com.
"I've been around so long, I appreciate guys coming out of college. I look forward to watching him. I have high expectations for him."
Vick, 34, broke into the league as an athletic wonder with the Atlanta Falcons before being sent to federal prison for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring that cost him nearly two years of his life and three seasons in the NFL.
With that history, Vick can somewhat relate to the off-field concerns surrounding Winston.
"I think he, over time, has made some poor decisions," Vick said of Winston. "Have I been there to know exactly what happened? No.
"But I do know one thing: He may make some poor decisions, but he gets on that football field and he plays his ass off. Yeah, he can mature. He'll mature. I see him maturing as time goes on. Like, this year hasn't been as bad of a year as the first year was for Jameis. I think the kid will continue to improve."
Geno Smith as their No. 1 quarterback. I'm not saying they should cut him -- that wouldn't make sense -- but it would be a mistake to make him the undisputed starter. The best-case scenario for Smith is an open competition. The best-case scenario for the team is drafting Marcus Mariota. We all know that's highly unlikely, so the next-best scenario is bringing in a proven veteran, making Smith the No. 2 and drafting a quarterback in the second or third round. That would give the Jets three different types of quarterbacks -- older vet, young vet and rookie. That's the way to do it.
David Harris, Kyle Wilson, Dawan Landry, Kenrick Ellis, Michael Vick, Bilal Powell and Willie Colon. The only player here who will generate significant interest on the open market is Harris, and even he's not a top-of-the-market player. I think he still has value to the Jets, but a lot depends on the next coaching staff -- assuming there is a new staff. Harris has scheme-versatility, which is a plus, but it will probably come down to money, as it usually does. The Jets won't open the vault the way they did with his previous contract. The rest of the free agents are replaceable.
Tom Brady from being Brady. Ryan has used a mixed bag, everything from heavy-pressure schemes to coverage-oriented schemes, keeping Brady just a little off balance. Under Ryan, the Jets have won four of 12 from the Patriots, including the playoff game -- certainly not good. But in the 12 games before Ryan's arrival, they won only two of 12.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold still are good players and they're not that old. Ferguson turned 31 last week and Mangold turns 31 next month. They're due to make $7.7 million and $7.4 million next year, respectively, counting salary and bonuses, which is hardly out of line for players of their stature at important positions. Yes, they have big cap charges (Ferguson $11.7 million, Mangold $10.4 million), but the Jets will have plenty of cap space. The cost to cut them, especially in Ferguson's case, would be prohibitive. But, again, the most important thing to remember: They're still good players. You can win with them.
Rex Ryan has every reason to want this week over with, to want these questions over with. But you should know by now that Ryan doesn't operate that way.
"I'm just going to be myself," the New York Jets' head coach said Friday. "I'm not dead yet."
Everyone else is talking about how this Sunday's game against New England could be Ryan's last game against the Patriots, and his last home game as Jets coach. The Jets players have thought about it.
"Best way to go out -- if that's the case," linebacker Calvin Pace said.
The players don't want to shove Ryan out the door. As wide receiver Percy Harvin said, rather than quitting on a lost season and a seemingly lame-duck coach, the Jets who are hurt are working to get back to play in the last game or two.
"Guys will run through a wall for Rex," Harvin said.
It's easy to understand why. Plenty of coaches facing Ryan's fate get defensive in their final days. But Ryan seems to have kept his sense of humor, showing it again Friday when he was asked again about his relationship with Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"I probably think he's a lot better coach than he thinks I am," Ryan said with a smile. "I think it's safe to say that."
Ryan admitted that he and Belichick aren't the best of friends, but said the perception that they're bitter rivals or enemies has been badly overplayed.
"We like everyone to think we don't like each other," Ryan said. "But that's not the facts. He's not someone you hang out with -- at least I don't -- but we're cordial. It's the opposite of what people think.
"I have a good relationship with him. When we see each other, it's not like we avoid each other."
Their rivalry has been one-sided since Ryan came to the Jets, even though most of the games haven't been. While it's true that Ryan won the lone playoff game between the two (a 28-21 Jets win in 2010), Ryan's Jets are 3-8 in the regular season against Belichick's Pats, with losses in seven of the past eight meetings.
The one Jets win in that span was in overtime (30-27 last season), and one Patriots win went to overtime, too. The past three Jets-Patriots games have been decided by a field goal or less, including New England's 27-25 win in October.
"It's always a couple of plays," Pace said. "I think we match up well with them. I've always thought we've matched up well. They bring out the best in us, and I'd like to think we bring out the best in them, too."
The Patriots will go on to show their best in the playoffs, as they have every season that Ryan has coached the Jets -- his first was 2009 -- and in 12 of Belichick's 15 seasons as coach. The Jets will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year, a drought that will almost certainly cost Ryan his job before the playoffs even begin.
But Ryan isn't crying on the way out. As he said, he's not dead yet.
Well, that's certainly the case this week.
"I think it's kind of humorous," Rex Ryan said Friday, a day after Thomas told reporters in Detroit that a lack of attention from the coaching staff was one of his problems with the Jets.
Thomas spent a month with the Jets, but played in just one game before he was cut Tuesday and claimed by the Lions on waivers. His most memorable moment as a Jet came a day earlier, when he announced on Twitter that his playbook and his passport had been stolen.
The 25-year-old cornerback is with his fourth NFL team, and his third just this season. But he said the Jets were different.
"The young man has a right to his opinion," Ryan said. "But I've never heard it ever in my life. That's a new one for me."
The pain in his left big toe just won't go away.
The Jets have officially listed Wilkerson as questionable for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, but while Wilkerson said he would likely be a game-time decision, the tone of his voice Friday suggested that he could well miss his fourth straight game with what the Jets have been calling turf toe.
Doctors have assured Wilkerson that he won't need surgery on the toe, and that he can't make it worse by playing on it. Wilkerson said the latest special shoe has helped "a little bit," but the pain remains.
Coach Rex Ryan admitted earlier this week that there's a chance Wilkerson could miss both of the Jets' final two games, but Wilkerson said Friday that he still wants to see if he can play.
"I'm the type of person who doesn't like being in the training room," he said.
The Jets also listed wide receiver Saalim Hakim and safety Jaiquawn Jarrett as questionable for Sunday, although Ryan expressed some optimism that both could play (especially Hakim). Safety Rontez Miles, who was expected to make his debut, needed emergency surgery on his leg after suffering an injury in practice on Thursday and will miss the game.
Wide receiver Percy Harvin, who made a quicker-than-expected recovery from an ankle injury and played last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, has improved even more this week and is listed as probable for the Patriots game.
Ryan said Friday he was shocked when he found out that Miles needed surgery Thursday night. He said Miles simply got kicked on the shin in practice, but that trainers got concerned when the pain didn't go away.
"Apparently, the pressure just kept getting worse," Ryan said. "At that point, he needed emergency surgery."
Miles had just been promoted from the practice squad this week.
"We were real excited to see him play," said Ryan, who wasn't sure whether Miles could recover in time for the final game of the season.
The official injury report:
New York Jets
Out: Miles (shin).
Questionable: Wilkerson (turf toe), Hakim (quadriceps), Jarrett (shoulder).
Probable: Harvin (ankle), FS Calvin Pryor (shoulder), C Nick Mangold (finger), RB Chris Johnson (knee), K Nick Folk (right hip), S Antonio Allen (hand), G Willie Colon (knee).
New England Patriots
Questionable: LS Danny Aiken (finger), CB Kyle Arrington (hamstring), RB LeGarrette Blount (shoulder), OL Dan Connolly (knee), WR Julian Edelman (thigh/concussion), OL Cameron Fleming (ankle), LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), DE Chandler Jones (hip), WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder), DE Rob Ninkovich (heel), RB Shane Vereen (ankle), LB Chris White (ankle).
Every week leading into the Patriots' next game, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss preview the matchup. This week, it's Sunday's road game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium (CBS, 1 p.m. ET):
Mike: From a Patriots perspective, this is one of those games where you figure the Jets have nothing to lose and will try to pull out all the stops -- fake punts, onside kicks and more. In that sense, these types of games can be dangerous.
Tedy: The Jets are 3-11 and it's been a tough season for them. There's a lot of talk about potential changes next year with coach Rex Ryan. But in a situation like this, it's simple: A win over the rival Patriots would make their season and would be something for Ryan to hang his hat on, if this is indeed the end. The idea that they could hurt the Patriots' playoff seeding is something that figures to motivate them.
Mike: Some have wondered whether the Patriots might be looking at a trap game, but I don't see it. Not when the Jets controlled most of the action Oct. 16, holding a time of possession edge of 40:54 to 19:06.
Imagine if Bill Belichick trotted out of the MetLife Stadium tunnel Sunday dressed in a green hoodie as he led the best team in the AFC -- the home team, in this case -- in pursuit of his fourth Super Bowl ring.
Imagine the reception awaiting the head coach of the New York Jets, a three-time champ for a franchise that, until he took over, hadn't won it all since Richard Nixon became the 37th president. Imagine how Belichick would be celebrated in the big city after serving as an invaluable defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells' two title teams with the Giants and then taking the Jets places Parcells could not take them.
Imagine if Belichick stood before the microphone on that early January day in 2000 and told reporters that he was grateful for a second chance as an NFL head coach after failing in Cleveland, and that he planned to finish the job Parcells started by taking the Jets to the AFC Championship Game a year earlier.
Imagine if Belichick hadn't shown up 24 hours after agreeing to succeed Parcells looking and sounding more nervous than a teenager on his first date when saying, "Due to various uncertainties surrounding my position as it relates to the team's new ownership, I've decided to resign as head coach of the New York Jets."
Of course, nobody knows for sure whether Belichick would've won the same three rings with the Jets that he's won with the New England Patriots, or whether he would've run away from the job like Al Groh did after one season. Remember, Belichick had four losing seasons in five tries in Cleveland and had lost 13 of his first 18 games in New England before the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Tom Brady, made his first start and ultimately allowed his coach to grow into one of the all-time greats.
Former practice-squad safety Rontez Miles, who was slated to make his 2014 debut Sunday after being signed this week to the 53-man roster, underwent surgery Thursday night, the New York Jets announced Friday. Miles suffered an injury to his shin area, according to the team. He was spotted in the locker room Thursday with a wrap around his shin, but it didn't appear to be serious. Rex Ryan made no mention of it in his post-practice news conference.
For a relatively minor roster-spot swap, the Thomas/Miles moves have generated a lot of news.
Miles was looking forward to facing the New England Patriots and his former high-school teammate Rob Gronkowski. He and Gronk were classmates at Woodland Hills High in the Pittsburgh area, except no one called him Gronk. back then.
"No, we just called him Big Rob," Miles said Wednesday. "He was the biggest guy in school and he was one of the craziest athletes. He was on the hoop team, too, just a freakish athlete. ... In high school, he used to take a guy 20 yards downfield on a block and then go catch alley oops on the basketball court. He was ahead of his time."
Miles said he used to "shut him down" in practice, but "that was years ago. If I have the opportunity to cover him, that would be good. It would be good for for both of us."
Unfortunately, that won't happen.
Mornhinweg arrived two years ago with a reputation for being a pass-first play caller, vowing to bring an aggressive style to the Jets. It hasn't worked out that way, as they reverted to the style that Ryan espoused in his early years -- Ground & Pound.
Basically, they're an Odd Couple, and it has fueled speculation of a rift. Mornhinweg, in a chattier mood than usual, made a few cryptic remarks that left the impression he isn't on board with the direction of the offense. The Jets' coordinator stopped short of criticizing, but he ventured into a gray area that he had previously avoided. Consider this exchange with reporters:
On whether he's had an attacking offense like he wanted: "Well, earlier in both seasons we have. If you look at that, and then [we] chose to play a certain style from that point on."
Running the ball, he meant.
On why they decided to choose that style: "Just the way we're built."
Is it an edict from Ryan?
"Rex and I talk each week, every day."
On whether he'd prefer to have an attacking offense: "Well, you need to score points to win pretty consistently. With a few exceptions."
Mornhinweg's oft-stated belief is that you have to throw to score points and, naturally, you have to score points to win. The Jets are running the ball -- and running well (second in the NFL) -- but they're not scoring many points. And we know they're not winning much.
He touched on a few reasons why they've shifted away from the pass and toward the running game. He mentioned Eric Decker's early-season hamstring injury, a three-deep backfield with Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell and, of course, Geno Smith's turnover issues.
Mornhinweg all but aknowledged that Smith's slow development has tied his hands.
"Well, certainly there is a developmental process with every young player at every position," he said. "The quarterback is such an important position that you certainly have to do certain things there. I know it sounds crazy -- and Geno has been up and down just a little bit throughout this first year-and-a-half, going on two years -- but he's a young, talented guy. Every quarterback develops at a little bit [of a] different rate. There are some terrific quarterbacks that have been through a little bit more then Geno has. So, we’ll see."
Sounds crazy? Now there's a telling phrase.
This time, the coach of the New York Jets got all gushy about Tom Brady. When asked if he "marvels" at the Patriots' sustained success, Ryan said:
"No, I don't marvel at it. I think Brady is a huge reason for it. But the Patriot Way and all that stuff, obviously it works. My brother [Rob] was there for two Super Bowls. It's obviously a very successful system. I think having that consistency at that position in particular -- the quarterback position -- probably makes it a little easier than maybe other teams have gone through."
Brady is a once-in-a-generation talent. Unfortunately for Ryan, that generation coincided with his tenure as the Jets' coach.
"I was hoping he'd retire like four or five years ago, but that didn't happen," he joked. "Now he's talking about playing his whole life. Oh, boy."
Asked what he could do with a quarterback like Brady, Ryan smiled.
"I'd do like anybody else would do," he said. "My wife could coach him. Nah, I'm just kidding."
Ryan quickly added that he wasn't slighting Bill Belichick. He said Belichick and Brady form the ideal tandem, calling them "two once-in-a-lifetimers."
This is a case of life imitating art. Remember Ryan's role in the 2012 Adam Sandler movie, "That's My Boy"? Ryan, who plays a Boston lawyer, is a Patriots fan with a Brady poster on his office wall.