By Kristian Dyer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Pass the turkey and a side dish of Rex please.
This Thanksgiving for Jets fans is a bit gloomier than the past couple, with the team sporting a disappointing 5-5 record and a sense of despondency surrounding the green and white. This wasn't the way this year was supposed to play out and few thought the Jets would be boasting only a .500 record in late November and could well be out of the playoff picture in a few weeks.
But even with a bit of doom and gloom circling around Met Life Stadium for this Sunday's game with the Bills, Jets fans need to be thankful for Rex Ryan this Thanksgiving.
It took the gregarious and affable Ryan to change the mentality and fortunes of a franchise that for the better part of the four decades since their only Super Bowl appearance has been mired in mediocrity. This is a new feeling for Jets fans the past two years under their head coach, a winning feeling they've never had before for long spells. In Ryan, the Jets have found a sense of purpose and a motivating force, a man who through his personality has changed the attitude of this team.
And even though the team is at 5-5 this year and might not make the postseason, the franchise is forever changed with him at the helm.
This isn't the "Same Old Jets," the NFL's version of the "Bad News Bears," a team that seemed like it could never get out of its own way. Consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances have changed that, making the Jets a team players want to come play for and an organization that during preseason was talked about as Super Bowl contenders. This is unchartered territory for the team and though Bill Parcells, Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini brought moments of promise, it is Rex who has Jets fans believing in their team.
This is sustained success under Ryan, something the Jets aren't used to.
That's not to say everything is perfect or that he is the perfect coach. There have been errors and faults that have cost the team games – five this year to be exact - and he is prone to head scratching moments where he might say publicly that a play was "the stupidest in NFL history" and then curse at a heckling fan – all within a matter of moments. But Rex is Rex and he's the reason why Jets fans are suddenly proud of their allegiance.
It isn't to make excuses for this year, but there is something different about the Jets the past two seasons under Ryan.
This year hasn't gone as planned for the team with the defense underwhelming and the offense inept. At times, it has been 11 individuals on the field and not a team but there isn't a Jets fan out there who doesn't think that their 5-5 team could rattle off six wins to close out the regular season and make the playoffs.
And the reason for their belief? Rex Ryan.
When he was hired by this team 34 months ago, Jets fans didn't know what true hope meant. Since the team began play as the New York Titans in 1960, it has been false hope for fans, a type of hoping in vain that somehow, someway their team would win and be successful. There was no direction, no change and no sense of purpose – a blueprint didn't seem to exist. Now under Ryan, there is a direction to the team that has them believing they are the best in the league.
When pundits look back at Ryan's career someday, 2011 will most likely be just a blip, that occasional bad season that serves as a building block for years to come. It's been a tough year for Jets fans to swallow, so much promise and expectation seems doomed for failure and the success of two years before had built the fervor for winning to a fever pitch. But what might be a speed bump on the road to what someday should lead this Jets team to another Super Bowl appearance is still not enough to overshadow what Ryan has done in transforming this franchise.
And for that, Jets fans should give thanks this holiday season for Rex Ryan.
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