Commentary

Rex issues challenge to Jets' O-line

After an emotional win over Dallas, Gang Green can't afford a letdown like last season

Updated: September 15, 2011, 3:10 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Trying to guard against a letdown after an emotional win over the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan challenged his players -- the offensive line, in particular -- during Wednesday's team meeting.

Ryan reminded them of their last game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a 24-22 loss in 2009, claiming they were physically dominated -- a case of the bullies getting bullied. According to players, he called out the line, which also played poorly in the season opener.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Tim Farrell/US PresswireMark Sanchez has labeled the Jets' Week 2 game against the Jaguars a "must-win."

It's rare for Ryan to pick on the offensive line, for years the strength of the team, but it was his way of sending an urgent message for the upcoming game against the Jaguars. Apparently, it was received.

"This," quarterback Mark Sanchez said, "is a must-win."

This is what coaches do when they're trying to maintain their team's edge. But instead of embellishing a game from two years ago -- it wasn't nearly as lopsided as Ryan made it sound -- he could've simply brought up last season's AFC Championship Game.

The letdown of all letdowns.

The Jets were emotionally wiped out after their monumental upset of the New England Patriots, and they played a brutal first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Guard Matt Slauson admitted he thought about that game in the immediate aftermath of the the red-white-and-blue victory over the Cowboys on the 10th anniversary of 9-11.

"I thought to myself, 'Man, we better not let this get to us like the Patriots game did last year,'" Slauson said. "The majority of our guys were here for that, so they know the feeling of a letdown. I don't think our guys are going to make the same mistake twice."

Slauson said there was nary a mention of Sunday night in the locker room, insisting the focus had shifted to the Jaguars, who won their opener over the Tennessee Titans, 16-14.

Ryan acknowledged that beating the Cowboys, in what he called the most pressure-filled game of his coaching career, was "very emotional." He doesn't anticipate a hangover, but it's obviously a concern because he made an issue of it during his team meeting.

Spoiler alert: Ryan said he's planning to show the team lowlights from the '09 game.

"We pride ourselves on being a physical football team … and they handed it to us," he said of the Jaguars, a power-running team that also defends the run very well. "They imposed their will on us. … So we'll let the video do most of the talking."

Ryan made it sound like the 45-3 loss to the Patriots, but it actually wasn't that bad. They lost because the defense couldn't make a big stop and because Sanchez threw two interceptions and was so frazzled that, instead of answering questions from reporters after the game, he read from a prepared statement -- a rookie mistake, he now admits.

In reality, the Jets weren't outrushed by much, 139-110, but it left a bitter taste for Ryan. That explains why, in the team meeting, he got after the offensive line. It hit home because all five starters are holdovers from the '09 team, although Slauson and right tackle Wayne Hunter were backups at the time.

"He definitely called out the offensive line," Slauson said. "He said, 'This cannot happen again.'"

Coachspeak aside, the game is important because it's an AFC game, and the Jets know the importance of a good conference record. They were 9-3 last season, tied for second-best in the AFC -- and that provided a cushion for playoff tiebreakers.

It's also a home game and the Jets, perennially mediocre at home, are trying to change that.

"We can't lose at home. We can't," Sanchez said. "We want to get a home playoff game. You can't get a home playoff game if you keep dropping games at home. It just doesn't work. This is huge for us."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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