By Kristian Dyer
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If Monday night's improbable, dramatic comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons was a statement game for the New York Jets, then this weekend is a statement game in the making for their head coach.
Not much was expected of the Jets this year in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. They were referred to as the worst team in football in preseason and called the frontrunners for the No. 1 pick in next spring's NFL Draft. The Jets were supposed to be bad, historically so. That is saying something for a team that went through the Rich Kotite era.
Instead they are 3-2, with a win this past Monday against a Falcons team that was a game away from the Super Bowl last season. They've defied conventional logic and bucked what was supposed to be a season of doom and gloom.
In what was supposed to be Rex Ryan's final year with the Jets -- after all, new general manager John Idzik was expected to can the head coach he inherited and bring in his type of guy after the 2013 season -- the Jets instead are playing like a good team. They are not a great team and they are still longshots to make the playoffs, but with a win on Sunday, a 4-2 record is good enough to build some momentum on in a season that was never supposed to get off the ground.
Ryan is what the Jets needed in 2009 after the button-up Eric Mangini era. He came in as a player's coach and a breath of fresh air. Then hen he earned collateral with consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances in his first two years with the team. The wheels have come off since then, with the Jets missing the playoffs and last year's 6-10 record particularly troublesome. But now Ryan has coached an incredible five games, all with a raw rookie quarterback under center, and they have a winning record.
It might be five games that saves his job.
It is a long way to go, and the Jets are just starting a brutal stretch that includes the Patriots next week. But to post a 3-2 mark in a season that was supposed to be full of horrid shows has the makings of what might be Ryan's best coaching job to date.
On the other sideline this Sunday is Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the antithesis of Ryan in so many ways. He's a hard-nosed, no-nonsense head coach who isn't a quote machine and isn't a player's coach. He's won a Super Bowl and has two AFC Championship titles, something Ryan has failed to deliver as a head coach.
His team is also 0-4 this year and struggling.
A win against the Steelers this week would push the Jets to 4-2, which is more wins than many of the pundits thought this team would get all year long. The Steelers aren't a bad team; they just have holes that haven't been fixed and can be too readily exploited. Ryan has beaten Tomlin only once -- a tight road win in 2010 -- since becoming a head coach. Since then, the Jets dropped the AFC Championship Game that same year and then lost at Pittsburgh last year in Week 2.
Tomlin has always been known as the poster boy for young and new head coaches, especially with his Super Bowl ring. Ryan is the punchline, and has already had a eulogy hanging over his head for well over a season now.
Emerging from Week 6 with a win would validate Ryan's coaching job this season. It would also validate him as a head coach against one of the best in the game.
It also would prove everyone who proclaimed that this Jets team would fail completely and utterly wrong. But it wouldn't be the first time that Ryan has proven his critics wrong.
And likely, it won't be the last.
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