The Jets had just dropped their third straight game and there was talk of a wide-receiver revolt in the locker room. They appeared to be on the brink of turmoil, but instead of tearing into his team, Ryan accentuated the positives -- namely, the long-awaited appearance of their running game.
The praise was incongruous.
"You guys looked at us like we were crazy," Jets guard Brandon Moore said Monday.
Crazy like a Rex, it turned out.
The Jets meet up again with the Patriots on Sunday night, entering the latest Border-War Showdown with a three-game winning streak and an opportunity to take control of the AFC East. A lot can happen over the second half of the season, but the way things stand now for the Jets (5-3), the turning point was that 30-21 defeat in Foxborough.
Yeah, that's right, the season turned on a loss.
"We showed signs of what type of team we have," Ryan said, 24 hours after the demolition of the Buffalo Bills.
It would be revisionist history to say the Jets walked out of Gillette Stadium that night, confident they had seen the light and would soon get back to the business of winning. Oh, no. A few days later, controversy erupted, when Moore publicly attacked teammate Santonio Holmes for making critical comments about the offensive line.
The Jets were in a bad way, bickering and losing, and it looked like the season was going to get away from them before Halloween. Ryan did some of his best coaching during that stretch, playing the role of peacemaker and following through on his vow to Ground & Pound.
He began the season with this crazy notion of airing it out, but after falling to 2-4, he punctuated the run-up to the New England game by telling the team it was going back to its run-first mentality. They ran for 97 yards against the Patriots, hardly stellar, but it set the foundation.
They've continued to improve, once again embracing the idea of being a tough, bad-ass football team. They've barged their way back into the VIP room, looking to take down the suddenly vulnerable Patriots, losers of two straight. The Patriots haven't lost three in a row since 2002, when Tom Brady had only one Super Bowl ring and when no one had yet heard of SpyGate.
It's been a four-week role reversal: Crisis in Foxborough, euphoria in Florham Park.
"We're going to see how much we've improved on Sunday," Ryan said.
They've improved a lot. Four ways they're better than the team that lost Oct. 9 in the Razor:
• The Jets' defense, which allowed a ghastly 98 points during the three-game losing streak, has yielded only 38 points over the past three games. They've improved against the run, they're confusing quarterbacks and "we've got our confidence back," safety Jim Leonhard said.
• Center Nick Mangold is back to full strength. In the previous meeting, he was basically playing on one leg, having just returned from a high-ankle sprain. When Mangold is Mangold, the offensive line is capable of controlling the point of attack.
• Shonn Greene, silencing critics after a sluggish start, is attacking defenses with his north-south running style. He's benefitting from the shift to power football, with more two-back and two-tight end packages than earlier in the season.
• The wide receivers are adapting to their roles. Derrick Mason is out (he was traded after the New England game), and rookie Jeremy Kerley is settling in nicely as the slot receiver.
Plaxico Burress, who finally has his legs, is coming off his best game. After the offseason upheaval, and the Mason controversy, there's finally some stability at the position.
We could go on and on, giving football-related reasons for the turnaround. Another factor: The locker-room unrest has been resolved, thanks to Ryan, who diffused a potentially volatile situation. When Moore vs. Holmes erupted, he called them into the principal's office and made them serve as game captains for a week, using a public forum as a show of unity.
"That's what Rex does," Leonhard said. "He's like, 'You think this is going to hurt us? No, we're going to turn it into a strength. We're going to turn it around on you and show you the type of team we are.'"
The Jets didn't look like much on the night of Oct. 9, when they were 2-3, listening to a coach who was whistling in a cemetery. It'll be interesting to see how Ryan's nemesis, Bill Belichick, handles his adversity in New England. He probably won't be whistling.