Monday, November 21, 2011
Updated: November 22, 10:28 AM ET
Another Jet collapse? No way, says Rex
By Rich Cimini
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Through the 1980s and 1990s, the New York Jets were known for epic, late-season collapses. It happened as recently as 2008, under Eric Mangini, whose quarterback was some guy named Favre.
Rex Ryan believes he has reversed that trend, and he's counting on another strong finish to make the playoffs.
"The good thing about this football team is, everything we do it sets up to get our team to be at their best at the end of the season, and here we are," Ryan said Monday. "There are six games left. There are no excuses. We're sitting here. We've earned that 5-5 record, but we're focused on what's in front of us. We better get it done. We better get it done in a hurry."
The Jets, either streaking good or streaking bad, are in a bad way as they approach the homestretch. They've dropped two straight, hoping to avoid their second three-game losing streak of the season. They face the slumping Buffalo Bills (5-5), still experiencing the effects of a Tim Tebow-induced hangover -- 95 yards and a cloud of magic dust last Thursday night in Denver.
"It just sucks, dude," nose tackle Sione Pouha said. "It doesn't sit well, it doesn't feel well to lose a game like that."
The Jets returned to practice after a three-day respite, still wondering about the one that got away -- a 17-13 loss to the Broncos. Eric Smith, who let Tebow break free on his game-winning touchdown run with 58 seconds remaining, said he couldn't stop replaying it in his mind over the weekend. Jim Leonhard, who also missed a tackle on that final drive, felt similar emotions.
"Those are the ones that hurt you, the ones you don't forget," Leonhard said.
In Monday's team meeting, Ryan tried to expunge the bad vibes, trying to convince the players they're not out of contention. They're only one game behind the Cincinnati Bengals (6-4), but the Jets have the worst conference record (4-5) of the contenders -- and that could hurt in tiebreaker scenarios.
"He said, 'We're still in it and keep on believing,'" guard Matt Slauson said.
One of the reasons Ryan is so confident is because of the team's recent history. In his first two seasons as the coach, the Jets went 8-4 in the final six games of each season, plus 4-2 in the playoffs.
This season resembles 2009, when the Jets were 4-6 but won five of their last six to secure a wild-card berth with a 9-7 record.
A year ago, they were in much better shape at the 10-game mark (8-2) but stumbled to an 11-5 mark, splitting their final six to grab a wild card.
In both seasons, the Jets caught fire in the playoffs, allowing Ryan to gloat about his team's closing ability.
"In my opinion," he said, "we have the type of team that can get hot and put it together."
Said Pouha: "We're going to get this done. The best thing to do is win and win and win. When the smoke clears, we'll see where we are."
Things are improving from an injury standpoint. Running backs Shonn Greene (ribs) and LaDainian Tomlinson are expected to play Sunday, according to Ryan, who also thinks rookie wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (knee) could return.
The problem is, the Jets' offense is slumping, having scored only 29 points over the last two games. Here's another way to look at the last two games:
Touchdowns scored: Three.
Touchdowns scored by the opposing defense: Two -- a pair of returns on Mark Sanchez interceptions.
"Offensively, sometimes we look like a million dollars and sometimes we look like $75,000," said Ryan, using the amount of his fine from the league for directing a profanity at a fan. "Sometimes we look like nothing."
It sounds like Ryan is whistling in the cemetery, but he believes his program is conducive to strong finishes. He said their practice schedule, their conditioning program and the long bye-week break -- the subject of criticism -- were designed to help the team during the stretch run.
"This is why we do what we do, from the scheduling, the way we practice ... is to be better at this time of year," Ryan said. "So we'll see if we're on point with that or not."