Commentary

Rex has a mute button -- go figure

Normally ready to rumble, Rex Ryan has been downright pensive

Updated: November 21, 2012, 3:49 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

Well, this falls in the Be-Careful-What-You-Wish-For Department. Plenty of folks wanted the pratfalling, backstabbing Jets to behave more professionally and act out less. We got it this week in the short wait for the Patriots. Now, let's see if it wins the Jets any more games, or just a couple of drumsticks upside the head on national TV on Thanksgiving night.

Consider the Jets have only one win in their past four games. Mix in the Gang Green's frequent inability to score points. Facing first-place New England just three days after the 7-3 Patriots dropped 59 points on the Colts like an anvil would not seem to be the best time for this AFC East showdown. One the Jets desperately need to win.

But these Jets are led by Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez. And some of their best (not just worst of) times have come against the Pats.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan, Bill Belichick
Tim Farrell/THE STAR-LEDGER/US PRESSWIRERex Ryan and Bill Belichick exchanged kind words about their quarterbacks this week.

Now granted, it's strange to see the Jets tiptoeing into one of these showdowns rather than sharing just a bit too much information, even if they are a mere 4-6. It's stranger yet to see Patriots coach Bill Belichick taking more of a pounding than Ryan for a change. And all because Belichick left tight end Rob Gronkowski in a 35-point win long enough to lose his best receiver to a broken forearm.

Because Gronkowski was blocking.

For a meaningless extra point.

Hard as that is to reconcile, seeing the Jets hit the "mute" button is just as weird.

The sight of smack-talking Jets linebacker Bart Scott trying to lead an impromptu media boycott Sunday -- only to be boycotted himself by a couple of defensive teammates who told him to pipe down after the Jets ended a week of turmoil by beating St. Louis -- was a vivid, even sad, contrast. Just a few years ago Scott was the blithe spirit who gave one of the all-time funny postgame interviews after the 2010 Jets rebounded from a 45-3 regular-season pounding by the Pats to upset New England in the playoffs. Remember Scott coming in for a one-knee landing with his arms spread out like plane wings? When told the Jets got to play another week, remember him bellowing, "Can't Wait!"

And what are we to make of Rex right now? He used to be the lion that roared. Now it's as though he takes out his teeth and puts them in a glass of water on his nightstand before his press conferences. Tactical question: Is it possible to gum the Pats to death by sending a million valentines and zillion air kisses at Tom Brady, or announcing a personal embargo on "tweaking" Belichick, as Ryan has this week?

On Tuesday, Rex actually admitted that he's had to undergo a learning curve as a head coach. Imagine that.

"I think going into it, I always felt that every assistant coach thinks they're ready to be a head coach, 'Oh yeah, no problem,' and all that," Ryan said. "But I made [mistakes], and people will say you're making a ton of mistakes right now. Well, that's probably true. But I made more when I was just coming into this thing in 2009 … I've been around football all my life. But you've never been in this chair … I think right now, I'm more comfortable in this role as a head coach and I've learned. And I still learn."

It was only 2010 that Ryan surprised the Jets on the eve of the playoffs by handing out a detailed work schedule that extended all the way to a Super Bowl victory parade. That December, the Jets' season also was on the line, same as it is now, and Ryan rallied the Jets before a game against Pittsburgh with a paint-peeling, rafter-shaking Saturday night speech at the team hotel that left owner Woody Johnson later telling the New York Times, "Winston Churchill couldn't have done it better … That was the best piece of oratory I've ever heard … It encapsulated everything we want to be and everything we are."

As the Times went on to detail, Ryan ended his nine-minute speech with a big-finish story of Hernan Cortes. And no, he's not a soccer-style field goal kicker, he's a Spanish conquistador who went to Mexico in 1519 -- i.e., well before the NFL's new helmet-to-helmet contact rule -- and ordered his men to burn the boats they had arrived in, leaving them no means of escape though they were badly outnumbered by the foes they were about to fight. The imagery was bloody. It was cruel. Kind of like playing in New York.

Some Jets were so amped, they couldn't sleep that night.

Ryan reached the emotional crescendo of his speech by shouting: "They burned their boats! I'm only asking you to give me seven weeks!"

Ryan is asking the Jets for just six good weeks right now.

The 2012 Jets have that many games left to either get it right or slip off into another offseason of second guessing. Doubt has crept in for the swaggering team that used to profess next to none. Self-assuredness has been replaced this week by half-stepping comments.

Privately, Ryan is surely singing a different tune. It's hard to believe that behind closed doors the Jets concede they have identity crises at all.

The Jets were 3-2 the first five times Ryan and Sanchez played the Patriots. Brady rallied to win the past three. Brady is on a tear against the entire league right now, too.

So acknowledge the worst is possible for the Jets on Thanksgiving night, but if you root for them, hope for the best. Maybe they won't get the stuffing kicked out of them. Ryan might be publicly playing possum this week and privately giving a reasonable facsimile of his "burn the boats" stem-winder behind closed doors. His new catchphrase is the Jets are going to "punch our way out."

The Jets are at the juncture of their season where it's win or bust, beat the Pats or go home, put up or shut up. Again.

Quiet is not their natural state. This is just the quiet before the storm.

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