Commentary

Who's laughing now?

Rex Ryan has the Jets -- a punch line just a few months ago -- in playoff hunt

Originally Published: November 16, 2013
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Rex Ryan has done the unthinkable. The New York Jets are relevant again. They are a playoff contender.

Even with a rookie quarterback, they are for real. If the Jets behind Geno Smith make the playoffs -- which is a distinct possibility -- not only should Ryan earn a contract extension but he should challenge Kansas City's Andy Reid for NFL Coach of the Year honors.

Reid has done a remarkable job turning around a Chiefs team that went 2-14 a season ago, but Ryan has done more with less. Look at the folks the Jets have beaten: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, and Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, among others.

Imagine that, from the Jets.

It was impossible to envision just a few months ago, when the butt fumble and Tim Tebow and the Mark Sanchez debacle dominated the headlines. The Jets were Team Drama, one crazy storyline improbably outdoing the last, and Ryan's ridiculous decision to play Sanchez behind third-string offensive linemen in a meaningless preseason game topping them all.

Ryan's news conferences were entertaining theater, but he teetered between coming off as unstable and delusional. It was great for the media but not so much for Ryan.

And now look. Even with a rookie under center, the Jets are 5-4, with a very winnable game coming up Sunday at Buffalo, which is 3-7. Despite not winning consecutive games all season, New York has a one-game lead for the AFC's second wild card and a remaining schedule that includes only one team -- the Carolina Panthers -- that currently has a winning record.

Coming off their bye, the Jets have an opportunity to increase their chances of making the playoffs, something that seemed implausible in August, when the Jets began the season ranked dead last in ESPN.com's power rankings.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, under the current playoff format, 63 percent of the teams that started the season 6-4 made the playoffs, as opposed to only 29 percent of the teams that started 5-5.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerBehind rookie QB Geno Smith and against all odds, Rex Ryan has the Jets positioned to grab a wild-card berth in the AFC.
In May, Jets owner Woody Johnson was preaching patience. He acknowledged that his franchise had made "dramatic changes" -- such as changing general managers and offensive coordinators -- and said it was "going to take a little bit of time for these changes to take hold."

They've certainly taken hold. Now, the arrow is pointed up. Now, New York is heading back in the right direction. Now, Ryan has forced Johnson and first-year general manager John Idzik to think long and hard about firing him. The players love Ryan. He can obviously coach. He has a young, talented defensive front seven that includes three linemen drafted by the Jets in the past three years. He made a brilliant hire in naming Marty Mornhinweg his offensive coordinator.

Given the way things are going and the promise Smith is showing, Johnson would be a fool not to extend Ryan's contract after the season. It expires after 2014. At the very least, Ryan deserves a one-year extension.

The Ed Reed signing tells me Ryan will get it.

After Houston released Reed last week, Ryan badly wanted to sign him. He wasn't shy about saying so. Ryan has a history with Reed. He coached him in Baltimore. He knows what Reed is all about.

And Ryan surely knows that Reed isn't nearly the player he was when Ryan was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore and Reed was in his prime. Reed lost a step years ago. Words such as "freedom" and "creativity" were code for "freelancing," which became Reed's style.

The Ravens held on to Reed as long as they did because he is a surefire future Hall of Famer who was respected in the locker room. Houston thought Reed had more to offer on the field but quickly found out he did not.

Ryan wanted Reed for his leadership, for his swagger, for the clout he would have in the locker room. He wanted a Super Bowl champion to have an impact on the young talent he has assembled on defense. He wanted Reed's wisdom and his leadership. Whatever he provides on the field will be a bonus.

Idzik was more than happy to oblige.

On Friday, Ryan was asked whether he had considered the "big picture" beyond the Bills game, the big picture presumably being his job security and the Jets' playoff prospects.

"We haven't really thought about it," Ryan said. "We know there's one game left, and that's the one we're focused on, this one. Down the road, I understand where you're coming from, the big picture of things, but it's this game. Is it important? Absolutely it's important. That's why we put every bit of our energy and all of our focus on it."

Broaden the lens and the big picture shows that Ryan has done a remarkable job with a young team few thought would be any good. The big picture also shows that Ryan deserves to continue his Jets journey, this season and beyond.

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