The word was out, and according to reports, HC Rex Ryan told his team during a Saturday meeting that he was going to be fired at the conclusion of the 2013 season. You won’t find players or coaches who will confirm the speech took place, all falling back on the “what happens in team meetings stays in team meetings” mantra. When asked, HC Rex Ryan sang the same song, saying "I'm not gonna discuss what's said or not said in team meetings." Whether the team was motivated by Rex’s speech, or their desire to defend MetLife Stadium one more time, the New York Jets played one of their best games of the season and rallied from a 10-0 deficit to defeat the Cleveland Browns 24-13.
Geno Smith played one of his best games of the year, going 20 of 36 for 214 yards and 2TDs. He also supplemented the run-game with 10 carries for 48 yards, and a game breaking 17-yard TD run. He’s been criticized for holding the ball too long, taking unnecessary sacks, and turning the ball over. On Sunday, he located his targets and delivered the ball quickly, he got away from trouble and picked up positive yards when he could, and played a turnover-free football game.
OC Marty Mornhinweg and the offense has been accused at times of winning in-spite of Geno’s play, almost hiding their rookie QB. Having Geno throw the ball 36 times, add in his 10 rushes, almost none of which were designed QB runs, and it looked like Geno was finally unleashed. "Geno struggled early, but settled down. He made some great plays," Rex said as he praised his starter. The Browns aren’t one of the top teams in the league, and neither is their pass-rush, but the offensive line kept Geno off his back all game long which allowed him to spread the ball around nicely, hitting six different receivers. Jeremy Kerley led the way with 5 grabs and 70 yards, while David Nelson was the recipient of both of Geno Smith TD passes. Though they’ve been serviceable at best, the Jets will need to improve its stable of pass-catchers in order to get the best out of Geno (or whomever starts under center in 2014).
Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell have provided a potent one-two punch out of the backfield, helping relieve the pressure on the youngster. Ivory (20 rushes for 109yds) attacks the middle of the football field. Once he clears the initial blocks inside, he’s quick to penetrate the second level and make his way down the sideline, gobbling up yards the entire way. Ivory credits his success to “setting blocks up” which allow him to “pop a few”. Powell (7 rushes for 54yds) brings a little more speed, but both excel between the tackles, and have provided a consistent ground game for Gang Green all season. Looking forward to next season, and the addition of a healthy Mike Goodson (with his head screwed on straight), the Jets look solid at the running back position.
Two additions to the defense, both criticized heavily, had reasons to smile after their performances on Sunday. Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed collected his second INT in green and white, returning it 25yds. Reed made it clear that it would be hard for him to return to the Jets if Rex Ryan wasn’t the head coach. A similar sentiment was echoed by many after the game. Rookie defensive back Dee Milliner, who has the unfortunate task of “replacing Revis” in the eyes of many, also picked off Jason Campbell, who went only 18 of 40 for a mere 178 yards. Milliner covered Cleveland’s best WR Josh Gordon and held him to 6 catches and a pedestrian 97 yards compared to his record-breaking performances of a few weeks ago (Gordon became the first player in NFL history with consecutive games of 200+ yards receiving during Weeks 12 & 13). Rex credits the arrival of Reed for some of the recent improvement in Milliner’s play.
Mo Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, and the league’s newest two-way superstar Sheldon Richardson have anchored the Perfect Swarm, providing pocket-pressure that has made future Hall of Fame QBs like Tom Brady and Drew Brees duck for cover. Quinton Coples has improved while learning a new position, and Demario Davis and David Harris have controlled the middle of the field unlike the poor-tackling team of a year ago. Rex took the time to point out one LB in particular, acknowledging that “Calvin Pace has had a monster season for us.” The 11-year vet has tallied 52 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and a career-high 10 sacks. Rex works well in that defensive room, and he’s gotten this group to play well for him.
Whether Rex knows he’s gone or he doesn’t, whether GM John Idzik has plans to fire Rex or he doesn’t, I think it would be a step backwards if Rex Ryan were no longer the head coach of the New York Jets. How far backwards that step would be depends on who is brought in, and how quickly that person can put their footprint on this football team. When Rex joined the Jets from his defensive coordinator post with the Baltimore Ravens and took over for Eric Mangini, he brought over leaders like Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard to help get his message across to his new team. Now Rex has a 53-man roster of “Rex Guys” that play hard for him, and want to continue playing for him.
Idzik has every right to want “his own guy” as head coach after inheriting Rex from the prior regime, but after a season like this (a successful season in my opinion), how can one justify letting him go? The Jets were described as “a glorified expansion team” by one of the most respect talent-evaluators around, and considered one of the worst teams in football by many. The Worldwide Leader had them dead-last in their power rankings. Where this team was destined to finish, and where this team will actually finish, are miles apart, and that’s thanks, in part, to the job Rex has done. He’s one of the best defensive coaches in football, and letting him go would be a disservice to what’s been built on that side of the ball. A two-year extension, tacked onto the end of the remaining year on this contract, would be an acceptable resolution. That would give Rex a couple of years to watch his young QB grow under OC Mornhinweg, as he continues to develop the defense into a powerhouse.
The Jets will play their last game of the season on the road against a Miami Dolphins team that is looking ahead towards the playoffs. If the Jets can win their second road game of the year, it would not only give them a .500 record to close 2013, but keep a division rival from postseason play. It’s been a long and challenging season filled with the highs of playoff anticipation and the lows of season-ending injuries; will it end with the loss of a likeable coach? First thing’s first, a date in Miami… and a chance at spoiling a playoff party!
-Joseph Haas Editor, HCoftheNYJ.com