A few thoughts and observations on the New York Jets for Week 8:
1. Rex & Co.: One of the most overlooked aspects of the Jets' surprising 4-3 record is how Rex Ryan has managed to galvanize a rebuilt coaching staff. Remember, Ryan parted ways with all three coordinators after last season -- OC Tony Sparano (fired), DC Mike Pettine (contract expired) and STC Mike Westhoff (retired). Ryan also lost assistant head coach/linebackers Bob Sutton, among others. At the time, it looked like passengers jumping from a sinking ship. Ryan filled some spots by promoting from within, but he had to go outside the organization to hire eight coaches, some of whom accepted one-year contracts. That's a lot of upheaval under a head coach with little security.
"I thought the staff situation, more than anything else, was going to get him [fired]," a longtime personnel executive said of Ryan, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I mean, who wanted to go to the Jets? Only coaches without any other job offers. To me, that part has been amazing, how he has coordinated the new staff. If you asked me a few months ago, I would've said, 'No way, no how.'"
The personnel executive praised Ryan, saying he'd be a Coach of the Year candidate if it weren't for the Kansas City Chiefs' Andy Reid. "I knew you'd see the best of Rex," the executive said. "I knew he'd coach his ass off, whether he was interviewing for the Jets' job or his next job. He's more focused. It's the old saying: No man sees life clearer than a dying man."
2. Sour grapes from beneath the hoodie: The Jets didn't appreciate Bill Belichick's reaction to the "push" controversy, as he falsely accused them of the same illegal tactic on field goals. No one likes to be called a cheater (Belichick should know that), but I also think the Jets were chafed by how he handled the entire situation. At no point in his Sunday, Monday or Tuesday news conferences did Belichick say anything complimentary toward the Jets, who outplayed the New England Patriots; it was all about what his team didn't do. Hey, look, it's a grown-man game, and the winners aren't entitled to a pat on the back from the opposition. But Belichick tried to drag the Jets into the mud with him, and that was uncalled for. Great coach, terrible loser.
3. A push for safety: Westhoff, who coached special teams for three decades, said he blocked "a lot of kicks" using the two-player, pushing technique, which was banned this season. Despite his success with it, Westhoff was a proponent of the rule change because he saw the other side of it, the physical wear and tear it exacted on the blockers. He said the now-retired Brandon Moore, who played guard on the field goal unit, always remarked that his chronic hip pain could be attributed, in part, to having to block defenders that were pushed from behind. Said Westhoff: "Imagine the force that generates."
4. Pirate ship be sinking: The more the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose, the better it is for the Jets, who received the Bucs' third-round pick (2014) as part of the Darrelle Revis trade. There's a big difference between the 65th pick (worst record) and, say, the 85th pick (a wild-card team). The Bucs are 0-7, looking like they've quit on Greg Schiano. Money can't buy happiness, right Darrelle?
5. Running for a record: Geno Smith already has run for 146 yards, putting him on pace to break the team record (post-1970) for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback. Richard Todd ran for 330 in 1980. But let's be honest: There have been some glacially slow quarterbacks for the Jets -- Ken O'Brien, Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, etc. Mark Sanchez had some mobility, but he never eclipsed 106 yards.
6. Revisiting draft day: The Jets were second-guessed in some circles for passing on former Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert with the 13th overall pick. After picking CB Dee Milliner with the ninth pick, they certainly could've used a playmaker on offense. Eifert is off to a good start (22 receptions for 270 yards and one touchdown), but it's hard to second-guess the Jets' choice -- DT Sheldon Richardson, a possible candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
7. Revisiting draft day, part II: On Sunday, the Jets will cross paths with one of their worst draft decisions ever -- PK Mike Nugent. He has carved a nice career for himself with the Cincinnati Bengals, but that's not the point. In 2005, the Jets picked him in the second round, 47th overall -- a kicker! GM Terry Bradway thought the Jets were only a kicker away from being a championship-caliber team. Talk about a bad miss. Want to know some of the players they passed? Try WR Vincent Jackson, RB Frank Gore and DE Justin Tuck, all of whom were chosen within 30 picks after Nugent.
8. The kids are all right: Whenever Ryan faces the Bengals, he usually has a rookie at quarterback -- and he usually wins. In 2008, the Baltimore Ravens beat them twice with Joe Flacco. (Ryan was the defensive coordinator.) In 2009, the Ryan-coached Jets beat them twice with Sanchez, including the AFC wild-card game. (By the way, the Jets also beat them in 2010.) This time, it's the Rex & Geno show.
9. The old coach returns. Joe Walton was fired by the Jets in 1989 amid chants of "Joe Must Go!" On Saturday, he returned to New York on his farewell tour. Walton, 77, who is retiring after 20 years as the head coach at Robert Morris, was on Staten Island to face Wagner College, which acknowledged his retirement before the game. It ended badly in New York for Walton, but it has been a remarkable football life. Of all the coaches I've covered, he's the only one who showed up to the news conference the day he got fired.
10. Mother knows best: NT Damon Harrison has the best nickname on the team -- "Big Snacks," courtesy of defensive line coach Karl Dunbar. It's an obvious reference to Harrison's prodigious appetite. The nickname is so catchy that his mother, who used to call him "Heavy D," has jumped on the "Big Snacks" bandwagon.
"At first, I thought [the nickname] was something that would just hang around here," Harrison said. "I guess not."