New York Jets: 2013 Week 16 CLE at NYJ

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.

Angry Rex delivers fiery speech to team

December, 22, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Jets coach Rex Ryan delivered a fiery speech Saturday night in a team meeting, mentioning his uncertain future with the team, sources confirmed.

It was described as a motivational speech in which he addressed the speculation about his job as part of a larger theme. He told the players that no one in the room had a secure future, and that they need to play for each other in the final two weeks.

But there was more to it than that. Ryan also was angry because he heard rumors the organization already is looking for his replacement, and he shared that with the team, sources said.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Ron Antonelli/Getty ImagesRex Ryan wouldn't comment about speculation over his job status following the Jets' victory Sunday.
Ryan declined to comment on the meeting or a pregame report by Fox Sports, which said the coach told the team he could be fired.

"Whether the report is accurate or not, I'm going to tell you this: Those things will stay in-house," Ryan said after the 24-13 win over the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium.

The players, instructed not to comment on the meeting or the report, echoed Ryan's remarks.

Ryan was happy, but defiant after the game. He said the Jets, despite a 7-8 record, are "on the rise." He was in an "I told you so" mood when asked about oft-criticized rookie cornerback Dee Milliner, who made his first interception and played his best game. He also dared the media to criticize him for giving the players a Victory Monday.

"You can rip me for that one if you want, that's fine and dandy," he said.

Ryan sidestepped questions about his future. The only thing he said was that he hasn't received any word from ownership on his job status for 2014.

"I know I have a contract for next year," he said. "What I do know, guys, is that I'm coaching this team. I've said this all season long: My job is to focus on the present and what's right now."

Several players expressed their support for Ryan, continuing a recent trend.

"I guarantee you, everybody loves playing for Rex," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "It's a blast coming to work every day. He motivates everybody and believes in everybody."

Wide receiver David Nelson, a former Buffalo Bill, said he enjoys playing for Ryan. He didn't like him as an opponent.

"From the outside looking in, to be blunt and honest with you, [I thought he was] arrogant and cocky. He's coming out and making those bold statements and brash comments. As an opposing player, you look at those and you think he's supposed to be politically correct. Now, getting to know him, he's honest. He's sincere. He truly believes in his players."

Guard Willie Colon, who has said on multiple occasions that the organization would take a step back if Ryan is fired, reiterated his belief in the coach. He admitted the speculation has been a distraction.

"Personally, it's hard to say it's not distracting at times because I love the guy so much," Colon said. "But, at the same time, it's a business."

Nelson dedicates game to foster child

December, 22, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As New York Jets receiver David Nelson toured New York City with Davion Only on Saturday, the 15-year-old foster boy had a simple request for Nelson.

"I asked him if there was anything to let him know he was in my heart," Nelson said. "I was playing for him today and he told me to point to the sky after my first catch."

[+] EnlargeDavid Nelson
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsDavid Nelson had two touchdown catches against the Browns.
With 1:18 left in the first half, Nelson finally tallied his first catch, finding an open spot in the back of the end zone to haul in a six-yard touchdown catch in the Jets' 24-13 victory against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Just as he promised, Nelson walked out of the back of the end zone and pointed up to the sky. A touching weekend became even more memorable for Nelson and Only.

In addition to hosting Only and a fellow orphan this weekend as part of his i'mME charity, Nelson scored two touchdowns to help the Jets to their win at MetLife Stadium. Only made headlines in October when he asked members of a St. Petersburg, Fla. church to adopt him.

"Inspiration," Nelson said. "Just talking to them and hearing their life story, what they've been through and all the obstacles and circumstances they've overcome to kind of be where they are now. This is a (15)-year-old kid who just wants a family. His mom passed away back in June and just to hear his perspective on life and the things he hoped to do in his heart truly inspired me."

Nelson's i'mME organization attempts to help orphan children, and according to its website, it is looking to build an orphanage in Haiti. Saturday, he took the pair of orphans around New York City, showing them famous New York spots as they were tailed by the TODAY show. He told The Associated Press that the day on the town was supposed to be: "a crash course in Christmastime in the city."

Sunday, Nelson had the pair join him at the game, and he said he planned to celebrate with them after the Jets' win. Facing the team that released him in the preseason, Nelson caught a six-yard touchdown pass in the first half that sliced the deficit to 10-7, and he added a five-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter that put the Jets ahead for good, 17-10. He finished with four catches for 33 yards.

The touchdowns marked his first scores of the year, and his first in a regular season game since Nov. 27, 2011, when he was with Buffalo.

Those touchdowns, though, paled in comparison to what spending the weekend with Only meant to the receiver.

"I was truly humbled yesterday to have the chance to spend the day with [Only] and learn from him and just to be in his presence," Nelson said. "Today, it was a little different feeling. I was playing for him and I was loose and free and I'm extremely grateful I was able to play the way I was for him."

Dee Milliner has best game against Browns

December, 22, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Dee Milliner didn't want to see a goose egg on the back of his card.

Entering Sunday, Milliner claimed he previously never had a season without an interception, but here he was with two games left in his rookie year and still no interception. It mattered to him.

[+] EnlargeDee Milliner
AP Photo/Bill KostrounDee Milliner had five passes defended and an interception against Josh Gordon and the Browns.
In the third quarter against Cleveland, he finally grabbed that interception.

In the best performance of his career, Milliner recorded his first interception when he picked off Jason Campbell in the third quarter of the Jets' 24-13 win against the Browns on Sunday. Milliner also did quite well against Cleveland's Josh Gordon, as he had five passes defended.

"You could say in a way [it's a breakout game] because it's probably the best game I've had all season," Milliner said. "Great game. Great team win. It just felt good to get a win."

It's been a rough season for Milliner as he's struggled for most of the year, and has been benched three times. The first-round rookie hasn't lived up to expectations, as it seems he's been benched more times than he's produced game-changing plays. The team has maintained its faith in the rookie despite the rough outings, but there were times when he looked over his head and couldn't stay on the field.

Sunday, Milliner showed signs of turning the corner. Milliner's first interception came at a crucial time as he picked off Campbell with the Browns inside Jets' territory and the game tied at 10. Milliner said his coaches knew the Browns would go to the inside route, and positioned the players accordingly. The rookie followed Campbell's eyes and jumped a pass intended for Greg Little.

"I always try to be in the right spot," Milliner said. "I finally broke on the ball and I got my hands on it, and I just tried to keep it."

As big as the interception was for Milliner and the Jets, his performance against Gordon was the more uplifting part of his day. Milliner was told early in the week he would draw Gordon, and he immersed himself in video to prepare. He said the key was being physical and alert at all times, and credited the scout work for helping him prepare.

While Gordon hauled in six catches for 97 yards, he was targeted 16 times and held out of the end zone. In one key sequence, Milliner prevented Gordon from hauling in a touchdown catch on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. With the Jets down 3-0, Campbell tried to find Gordon twice, but Milliner was able to keep Gordon from securing the ball, and the Browns turned the ball over on downs.

Jets coach Rex Ryan was quite happy with Milliner's performance.

"I said at the end of the year that we'll see if this guy wasn't the best corner in the draft. I don't know. [Gordon]'s a pretty darn good receiver, Milliner had [five] PBU's and an interception, but we'll see," Ryan said. "I've seen a few players come down the road in my day. This guy here is going to be an outstanding player."

Rapid Reaction: New York Jets

December, 22, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 24-13 win over the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium:

What it means: The Jets (7-8) still have a chance to finish .500, which would be a nice accomplishment for a team predicted to be a laughingstock. They got off to a slow start against the Browns (4-11), committing sloppy mistakes, but they developed nice balance on offense. The Jets finished 6-2 at home. Hey, it's something. The Browns dropped their sixth in a row.

Stock watch: This might have been Rex Ryan's final home game. After three straight seasons out of the playoffs, Ryan could be fired at the end of the season. He referenced his uncertain status Saturday night in a team meeting, according to a Fox Sports report. He probably did it for motivational purposes. If owner Woody Johnson and GM John Idzik are leaning toward making a change, the decision could get tougher with a strong finish.

Geno delivers -- finally: Quarterback Geno Smith (20-for-36, 214 yards) played his best game since Week 5, throwing two touchdowns to David Nelson, running for one and -- get this -- managing to avoid a turnover for only the third time. For a change, Smith validated the praise his coaches have lavished upon him, providing a glimmer of hope for the future. Recognizing single coverage, he called an audible on his 6-yard scoring pass to Nelson, a heady play by the rookie. Smith was money on third down and did a nice job of finding his checkdown options. He got a boost from Chris Ivory, who rushed for 109 yards.

Better late than never: Rookie cornerback Dee Milliner played his best game, by far, recording his first interception and holding the dangerous Josh Gordon to six catches for 97 yards on 16 targets. It helped that Gordon dropped three passes, including two in the end zone. But give Milliner credit. The first-round pick showed closing speed and made plays on the ball, continuing to show improvement in the latter stage of the season. Interestingly, Milliner -- not Antonio Cromartie -- was assigned to Gordon on every play. That never would've happened if Cromartie were playing well.

Pine time for Reed: It's not often that a future Hall of Famer is benched, but that's what happened to safety Ed Reed, who was replaced in the base defense by Antonio Allen. Reed, who played 84 percent of the defensive snaps in his first five games, was limited to the sub package on passing downs. (He did make an interception near the end of the game.) This is how he should've been used from the outset, not as an every-down player. Ryan is a Reed apologist, but give him credit for making this move, albeit too late.

What's ahead: The Jets close the season in the spoiler role, facing the Miami Dolphins on the road.

W2W4: Browns vs. Jets

December, 20, 2013
Rex Ryan will coach his 40th -- and possibly last -- regular-season game Sunday at the Meadowlands.

There have been many indelible memories, good and bad: Three victories over the New England Patriots. The playoff clincher over the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. The dramatic comeback against the Houston Texans in '10. The Sal Alosi game. The emotional 9/11 opener against the Dallas Cowboys in '11. Victor Cruz's 99-yard touchdown. The Butt Fumble. If you want to include a preseason moment, it has to be the Snoopy Bowl debacle with Mark Sanchez's shoulder injury.

Chances are, Sunday's home finale against the Cleveland Browns won't make the list. It's a meaningless game for two teams that are a combined 1-9 since Week 10. Incentive? The Jets want to win their final two games, avoiding a second consecutive losing season. Could a strong finish save Ryan's job? It's possible, although decisions of this magnitude usually aren't based on a game or two.

"We definitely want to win this for him," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said of Ryan.

Kickoff is 1 p.m. What to watch for:

1. Two more rides on the Geno-coaster: There's nothing Geno Smith can do in the final two games to dramatically alter the landscape of the quarterback position -- it would be too little, too late -- but a couple of feel-good performances wouldn't hurt, that's for sure. Smith has made minor strides the last couple of games, but he hasn't delivered a "wow" game since Week 5 in Atlanta. The Browns are no pushover (ranked No. 8 in total defense), but they're known for late-game chokes. They've blown three straight fourth-quarter leads, losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots and Chicago Bears. In fact, they've allowed six touchdowns and three field goals in their last nine possessions in the fourth quarter.

2. A swoon for the "Sons": Muhammad Wilkerson and Richardson -- two-thirds of the "Sons of Anarchy" defensive line -- are mired in a sack slump. They've both gone three straight games without a sack. In fact, Richardson has as many rushing touchdowns (one) as sacks over the last nine games. He's had a terrific season, but he could use one last push to boost his chances of winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples have been carrying the pass rush. Coples, coming on strong after a slow start, has quietly notched three sacks in the last three games.

3. Covering Josh Gordon: This should be interesting. The Browns' wide receiver, leading the NFL with 1,467 receiving yards, is a matchup nightmare for the Jets. Gordon is dangerous with the ball in his hands -- 597 yards-after-catch, fourth in the league -- and we all know the Jets' secondary has experienced tackling issues. Presumably, the Jets will put Antonio Cromartie on Gordon, a chance for Cromartie to save some face after a disappointing season. They also figure to give him over-the-top help from Ed Reed. Maybe Reed and Cromartie can avoid colliding into each other. Gordon has the ability to singlehandedly wreck the game for the Jets.

4. New faces on D: With the playoffs out of reach, the Jets will try to take a look at some young players for evaluation purposes. Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman mentioned that he'd like to see more of safeties Jaiquawn Jarrett and Josh Bush. Unless they're planning to use a three-safety package, it could mean some bench time for Reed, who probably would find a way to blame the media. On offense, you could see more of wide receiver Saalim Hakim, whose speed is intriguing. The coaching staff can talk about playing the kids, but in reality, the Jets have been riding with them all season.