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Sunday, December 8, 2013
Eager Jets haven't quit on Rex Ryan

By Rich Cimini
ESPN.com


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rex Ryan's first victory occurred an hour before kickoff, when his owner, Woody Johnson, said in a radio interview he was "pretty happy" with the direction of the franchise -- and that was with a three-game losing streak.

One can only imagine the boss' giddiness Sunday after the New York Jets got done with the "Bad News Bears," as safety Charles Woodson described his Oakland Raiders. Johnson might have been ready to draw up papers for a long-term contract extension for his coach.

Kidding, of course. But clearly, Johnson has modest goals for 2013. He recognizes this is a rebuilding year and -- unless he was blowing smoke during his ESPN New York 98.7 interview -- he wants to make it work with Ryan, who deserves another shot in 2014 if he can squeeze another victory out of this season and remain competitive in the final three games.

The Jets haven't quit on Ryan, who is 40-37 in four-plus seasons. That was the biggest takeaway on a cold, gray day at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets' feeble offense scored not one, not two but three touchdowns in a 37-27 win -- the team's highest point total since the 2012 opener.

"It felt like we hadn't won in a century," tackle Austin Howard said.

It was 35 days, to be precise. In the NFL, a drought that long can destroy a team, especially when the team gets outscored 79-20 over a three-game losing streak. Finger-pointing begins, fissures form in the locker room and the rats take over the ship.

That could've been the Jets, but they showed they still have a pulse -- or at least a stronger pulse than the Raiders (4-9), a woefully undermanned team that dropped its 13th straight game in the Eastern time zone.

"I'll be the first to stand on the soap box and scream, 'Keep him!'" guard Willie Colon said, alluding to the speculation about Ryan's future.

In Ryan's eyes, the Jets are 1-0. He said last week he wants to be judged on how the team finishes the season, meaning how it performs at full strength. Coaches usually don't get to make the ground rules, but it looks as though Ryan will get that chance.

Finally, his offense was nearly whole, with Jeremy Kerley returning from a serious elbow injury and providing an early spark with a 25-yard touchdown catch. Santonio Holmes, coming off a two-snap cameo in last week's Miami debacle, was healthy and played his best game in more than two months.

For a change, the Jets looked like a real offense, reaching the end zone for the first time in three games.

Rex Ryan
It was good to be Rex Ryan on Sunday.
For a change, Geno Smith looked like an NFL quarterback, playing instinctively and -- surprise! -- using his legs.

For a change, the Jets were able to win on a day in which their defense didn't play well.

The Jets improved to 6-7, equaling last season's win total. If they finish 7-9, with a roster comprised largely of rookies and one-year stopgaps, Ryan should get a one-year extension. If they finish .500, it would be a major accomplishment.

"You have to judge us for the whole season, and I understand that -- that's the way it should be, absolutely -- but to get an accurate opinion on who we are, especially offensively, let's get some of our guys back," Ryan said Sunday.

Translation: Ignore the three-game losing streak, Woody.

Apparently, he did.

Beating the Raiders is no great feat, but it was hardly a gimme for the Jets, considering the recent waves. Ryan navigated a tough week, making the right choice by sticking with Smith. He responded with a solid game, throwing his first touchdown pass since Oct. 20 and running for a score.

Ryan's offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, cooked up a clever game plan, employing a no-huddle for a good part of the game and accentuating Smith's strengths by moving the pocket and calling designed runs.

Then there was the motivation part. That's Ryan's strength.

"He bleeds green and he believes in this team even sometimes when we don't believe in each other," Colon said of Ryan. "So many times he stood up in front of us and cried and did everything to show us that, if we stay together, it can get done.

"He gives us his heart. He gives us his fire."

Ryan didn't turn into a paranoid dictator last week, the way some coaches get when the heat is turned up. He gave the players their space, some said. Out of that mindset came a players-only meeting in which D'Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris addressed the team.

Ryan praised his team's preparation, claiming the Jets worked extra hours during the week. As a result, they avoided their first four-game losing streak in the Ryan era.

"Whew! We needed that in the worst way, to say the least," a relieved Ryan said.

He offered the team a day off -- Victory Monday -- but the players rejected the idea, claiming this is no time to relax. Say this for the Jets: They're ready and willing.

Able? We'll find out over the next three weeks.