- Ian O'Connor, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan, man, you are one lucky dog. The last time the New York Giants finished 8-8, their owner, John Mara, was so angry at Tom Coughlin and everyone else on his payroll that he said the record "felt more like 2-14 to me."
Your owner, Woody Johnson? He bathed in the glory of an 8-8 that felt to him like a 14-2, and all but fainted at your feet.
On Monday, Mara said his 7-9 team was done in by a "broken" offense. On Tuesday, with no Woody in sight, your rookie GM, John Idzik, wasn't giving the fan base anything close to that as he auditioned for the role of The Least Interesting Man in the World in a new Dos Equis ad.
But Idzik was some sight in that locker room video, Rex, holding up Sunday's game ball as if it were the Vince Lombardi Trophy and appearing on the verge of a religious experience. In the video, the same New York Jets who had dumped a bucket of ice water over your head on the Miami Dolphins' field mobbed you once Woody made the breathless announcement that you'd be back in 2014, some of the players apparently forgetting that you'll cut them as soon as their bodies break down, or the minute stronger, faster replacements show up.
Yes, the players wanted you back. The fans wanted you back. The beat writers and the columnists and the talk show hosts wanted you back, calling into serious question New York's longstanding place among the least forgiving markets around.
So Woody decided he wanted you back, too. Idzik, the newbie who never intended for this marriage to last longer than any of Lana Turner's eight? He wasn't about to throw his developing career in front of any runaway train.
Tuesday morning, you sat next to Idzik at the practice facility. You wore a white shirt under your green pullover, and Idzik wore a green shirt under his white pullover. Talk about team chemistry. And you looked like a million bucks, Rex. In fact, you looked like more than three million bucks -- your likely wage for the 2015 season the NFL Network reported will be added to what was to be an expiring contract.
You missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season, and no, the Jets didn't fire you. They didn't even ask for a refund on one of your old money-back guarantees. They actually gave you another truckload of cash because you won half of your games after many credentialed observers doubted that you could win a quarter of them.
You were asked Tuesday morning if you would've seen a Woody/Idzik decision to dismiss you as a reasonable and fair verdict. "Well," you said, "I would've seen it as a mistake," drawing a hearty laugh from the crowd.
Someone up there likes you, Rex, someone with a lot more influence than Woody Johnson. The news media (ESPN included) did you a big solid, setting such a ridiculously low bar for your Jets (3-13 was a popular forecast) that any show of competence was bound to be celebrated by the same news media that never expected it.
Your predecessor, Eric Mangini, was fired after delivering two consecutive non-playoff seasons (not three) and after posting a 9-7 record (not 8-8). Your peers, Mike Shanahan and Leslie Frazier and Greg Schiano and Jim Schwartz, were all victims of Black Monday, and another, Rob Chudzinski, didn't survive his Sunday, bloody Sunday.
You got Touchdown Tuesday instead, Rex. Sure, it would've been nice if the Jets showed some real faith and thrown you a two- or three-year extension, the kind that wouldn't put you in the same win-or-else bind this time next year.
Only let's not get crazy here. You do have those back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship Game in your hip pocket, but as much as you blustered about never kissing Bill Belichick's rings or his rump, you still haven't beaten him for the division title. You've had five chances to win the AFC East, and you're 0-for-5.
Don't sweat it. The Jets haven't won the whole thing since -- all together now -- man walked on the moon, so you are allowed to do a victory lap after beating the 4-10 Cleveland Browns at home to raise your record to 7-8. And you are allowed to take down Joe Philbin's middling Dolphins and act as if you've just ruined Don Shula's perfect season in 1972.
If you ever did defeat Belichick's Patriots for the AFC title and a place in the Super Bowl, ol' Woody might spontaneously combust on the spot. But back to the here and now, Rex. Any chance you'll be sending a commission check to Lavonte David, the Tampa Bay linebacker who might've made your continued employment possible with that late hit on Geno Smith in the season opener? Would Woody have been so thoughtful at 7-9? How about at 6-10, you know, if the refs didn't make that you-gotta-be-kidding-me call on the long Nick Folk miss against New England?
It really is better to be lucky than good, Rex. You'll never have to find out if Woody and Idzik would've preferred the college hot shots, the Bill O'Briens and David Shaws, over a current NFL coordinator the likes of Ken Whisenhunt.
You're a great defensive mind, Rex, and your aide Marty Mornhinweg got Geno going in the nick of time. Oh, and you're living proof that nice guys don't always finish last. You make life a bit easier for those who cover you, and hey, writers and broadcasters are human, too. If more coaches understood that a little daily decency goes a long way in earning the benefit of the doubt when needed, more coaches would get the Rex reprieve.
In the end, Woody absolved you of your many team-shaping sins. You were right there with Mike Tannenbaum in building the very roster that got the GM fired. You were right there in drafting Mark Sanchez at No. 5 before he regressed on your watch, and before you got him knocked out for the season in a game that didn't count. You were right there with the hirings of Tony Sparano and Tim Tebow, right there in neglecting the offense in a fast-breaking league that keeps embracing rules designed to marginalize the defense.
You were right there in trash-talking the Giants before the Christmas Eve showdown in 2011 that changed everything. Coughlin outcoached you that week, embarrassed you, really, on the way to ultimately beating the Patriots in a second Super Bowl (Coughlin doesn't kiss Belichick's rings, either; he steals them), and your Jets haven't been the same since.
But just like Woody didn't want to pay Darrelle Revis, he didn't want to pay you and your replacement in 2014. Easier just to give you the three mil, Rex, and hope you run into something with all that cap room and all those draft picks Idzik has to play with.
"I've never felt I wasn't John's coach," you said at the news conference. Apparently John wasn't always so certain he was your GM, Rex. He was twice given the opportunity to deny that he'd reached out to head coaching candidates late in the season, and twice he took a pass. Not that it matters anymore. Idzik said he'll still look for other quarterbacks, not for other coaches. Your GM said you make this whole GM thing a lot of fun and spoke of the franchise being "on the ascent," whatever that means, while two-time Tom Coughlin (that's two-time champ, Rex) got nothing but higher-up demands for change.
So congrats, Rex, for being the luckiest guy in the National Football League. Forget about that longer extension you hoped for, and remember that almost nobody ripped you for taking a victory lap at the expense of the Cleveland Browns.
Remember that you were given yet another mulligan in a market known for forcing people to play it as it lies.
Yet another mulligan? Rex Ryan, man, you are one lucky dog.