FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The coach who once issued a Super Bowl guarantee six months before the season started, who began a postseason by distributing an itinerary that included a ticker-tape parade up Broadway and who publicly challenged the New England Patriots on several occasions ...
Wait, where did that coach go?
It wasn't the guy in the Rex Ryan costume Monday. That guy went all coachspeak when asked about the New York Jets' playoff chances, claiming his mantra this week is this:
Remember the Titans, meaning next Monday night's date in Tennessee.
The coach who looked like Ryan didn't declare, "We're back!"
The guy with Ryan's voice also didn't make any "I-told-you-so" proclamations.
Holy humble pie, the man has changed -- for now, anyway. Ryan admitted he has learned a lesson about humility, the product of failed expectations.
"I'm not going to guarantee a playoff spot, if that's what you mean," said the coach with the 6-7 record, who used to be a coach with a 3-6 record.
"Look, the fact that we're one game under .500, we're probably not in the playoff conversation. We just need to keep our head down and keep winning games. We know the only way we can affect it is to win our games, and we'll see what somebody tells us."
Good for Ryan; it's the right approach. He knows the Jets aren't good enough to squawk about a December run. With an offense averaging less than two touchdowns per game, it would be foolish if the Jets started yapping again.
But they're back in contention, that can't be denied. They're only one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals for the final AFC wild-card berth. In reality, they're two games behind the Steelers, who own the tiebreaker because they beat the Jets in Week 2.
The point is, the Jets still have a chance, and that didn't seem possible after an embarrassing, 30-point loss to the Patriots on Thanksgiving night. If the Steelers and Bengals lose this week to the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively, the Jets will take the field Monday night knowing they could jump into a three-way tie for that last spot.
"Suddenly, you're back in it," a reporter told Ryan, who wasn't buying.
"Well, yeah, suddenly, I'm not worried about anything else but finding a way to beat Tennessee," he said, refusing to the take the bait. "Our position is simple: We have to beat Tennessee."
After Tennessee (4-9), the Jets face the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, both 5-8 teams. They just got finished beating the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars, the two worst offensive teams in the league, statistically. They roughed up two backup quarterbacks, Ryan Lindley and Chad Henne, and now there's chatter about the defense being back to its 2009 form.
Please, let's not go that far. They're capitalizing on a weak schedule. But they played the toughest schedule in the league over the first 12 games, so maybe it's evening out.
Despite a spate of injuries, the Jets have improved in recent weeks. Their penalties are down, their rushing yards are up and Mark Sanchez … well, some weeks he's up, some weeks he's down. He had six turnovers in the past three games.
"Obviously, ball security still is an issue," Ryan said. "If we don't turn the ball over, we're a tough team to beat."
Before the season, Ryan said this was the best team he's had in four years. Obviously, that hasn't worked out. Since then, he has toned it down, and the players have noticed a more even-keeled approach than usual from the coach.
"You make life a lot more difficult when you choose to ride the roller-coaster," guard Matt Slauson said. "I don't want to get into the roller-coaster."
This season has been an adventure ride for the Jets, who have endured two- and three-game losing streaks. They were supposed to be done a few weeks ago. The mood around the team turned ominous when owner Woody Johnson barked, "I didn't sign up for 3-6."
Since then, they're 3-1. They have hope. Just don't expect a "Road-to-the-Super-Bowl" handout from the coach.