Jets aren’t boasting, just believing, in playoff run
SAN DIEGO - If the rest of the NFL saw Rex Ryan as some sort of gridiron sideshow when the Jets were losing six out of seven in the fall, then it now seems as if everyone was missing something.
That bluster? The arrogance? The defiance displayed by the first-year head coach?
That wasn’t some irrelevant diversion from what was happening between the white lines.
That, as the Jets’ shocking 17-14 victory Sunday in San Diego proved, is the main act.
Football teams usually, in one way or another, reflect the personality of their head coaches, and nowhere is that more true than in Florham Park, N.J.
Ryan says he believes in his team. So his team believes in itself. Ryan expects the defense to shut down each opponent, which is the way most of the Jets’ games have gone. Ryan puts on a tough, rugged, unwashed front. His team would be proud to be described like that.
Ryan is the coach who entertained many observers with his words, but inspired little confidence outside the organization. The team has stuck fingers in its ears, put its head down, and plowed through all the disbelief of those on the outside.
So here they are, in the AFC Championship game. You might not have believed it could happen, but they always did, and that’s a big reason the Jets are here and 28 others are home.
“We had a loud-mouthed coach, couple loud-mouthed players, speaking their mind and people don’t like that,’’ outside linebacker Calvin Pace said. “We live in a society where everybody wants everything politically correct. And that’s fine. But I think it’s a situation where people talk, and you have to back up the talk.
“Rex came out and put our Super Bowl schedule up. I’m sure people hate that. But we gotta back that up, and we thrive on those opportunities. We’re just rolling right now, man. Seriously. We really believe in the plan that Rex has laid out for us, and we’re riding the wave and seizing the moment.’’
The Super Bowl schedule, which was posted in the days leading up to the playoff opener in Cincinnati, was just one of the latest examples of audacity from this organization.
Sunday’s win showed you everything you needed to know.
The Jets opened with four straight three-and-outs. They ran the ball seven times for just 14 yards during those series.
So how did they open Possession No. 5? By running the ball on six of the first nine plays, and churning out three first downs. They didn’t score on that drive, but the effect of the pounding was starting to accumulate.
The per-carry average was up to 3.6 yards at the half, and 4.3 by game’s end. The play-calling was decidedly run heavy - on 39 of their 62 plays (plus a kneeldown), the Jets handed off - and the 23 passes Mark Sanchez threw actually marked the first time he’s had more than 20 attempts in a win since Week 3.
They stuck to a belief that the logjam would break and never wavered, just like Ryan’s belief and the team’s resulting confidence didn’t wane earlier in the year when the Jets struggled.
Of course, having one of the league’s stingiest defenses didn’t hurt, either, allowing the coaches to have the patience for the offense to chip away.
“If you believe, and you’ve seen it before, then you don’t question it,’’ said linebacker Bart Scott, who came over from Baltimore with Ryan. “See, a lot of guys may not have believed it at first. But I believe it because I’ve seen it. I’ve been through it. And that franchise I was with before won a Super Bowl that way.
“That’s not the trend anymore. The trend is airing the ball out, putting a lot of points on the board, and then making the opposing team throw the ball so you can get interceptions and make big plays later. We’re old school, throwback style.’’
And maybe that’s why it’s hard for the public to accept the Jets as elite.
What’s impressive to most is seeing the precision with which the offenses of the top-seeded Colts and Saints operate. What’s harder to swallow is that the trick New York pulled Sunday, pounding a top-shelf opponent into submission, might be more effective this time of year.
If the Jets win the Super Bowl, they will be the eighth champion this decade to be led by a top-10 defense. Conversely, only two of the nine previous champions in that time frame have had top-10 offenses, as the Colts, Vikings, and Saints do (Minnesota is top-10 in defense, too).
Maybe it seems like “defense wins championships’’ has become a cliché. But the numbers say it’s true. And just as so many don’t understand that, the point of Ryan’s outward swagger has been missed as well.
He projects confidence that his Jets will stand down to no one, and is unafraid to publicly declare it. Similarly, his players are daunted by no opponent, which was crystal clear in Southern California.
“All year from camp, it was built in us,’’ said defensive end Shaun Ellis, a 10th-year Jet. “We’re a bunch of confident guys anyway, and to have a coach as confident as we are, it all blended right in. From Day 1, when he came in, he said, ‘We have a great team and we’re gonna do it.’ And everybody believed it.
“We knew our mission and our plan. We didn’t know how we were going to get there. But we knew our goal and it worked out that we’re here right now.’’
So many felt Ryan’s talk was boasting, and that the coach would eat his words.
On both counts, so many were wrong.
Albert R. Breer can be reached at email@example.com.