By Jason Keidel
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I can see you now, solemnly peeling your presents open, with hollow holiday smiles for the family, warming your frigid soul over the fire, half-tempted to jump in it, pretending you're sparked by Christmas spirit…
All because you hitched your hopes to Rex Ryan – who, perhaps, finally and irrevocably let you down.
When Rex Ryan landed in New York, he was something not even hardened New Yorkers had ever seen – large in contours and cadence, and confident beyond belief. He was not just unafraid, but unabashed in his charge to remold the moribund Jets into Super Bowl champions. This was a man who could bask in Broadway's glow and not burn in its glare. Even I, though not a Jets fan, bought the braggadocio, particularly as Ryan stood in stark relief against Eric Mangini, who had all the moxie of a mortician.
And while Ryan didn't cash in on his seismic semantic bets in 2009 and 2010, he came close enough to reassure you that his blueprint would always be in bold ink. He inherited his craft from father Buddy, whose mantra, "There's a winner in town," became a signature line and then a punch line after a few runs with no rings. But bombast remained the hallmark of the family business. Rex knows only one way to play poker in the Big Apple: No Limit. But Papa Ryan discovered that being a head coach in the NFL is a zero sum game, and that no verbal smokescreen can hide the final score.
Rex is learning that now. The NFL's portly preacher, swollen with gaseous guarantees, declarations of dominance and a new world order, is speaking with no choir singing behind him today, his formerly fawning flock tuning him out, changing channels to the Knicks, Rangers, or warming their hands on some Hot Stove talk with Jack Curry and Jon Heyman
It's a galling confluence of events for the HC of the NYJ: his nuclear pre-game arrogance and fallout that covered the Northeast Corridor, and subsequent gag against the Giants. By losing to the wrong team at the worst time in the right town, Rex Ryan has gone from a breath of fresh air to a gust of hot air in a New York minute. This is what happens when you give one guarantee too many, particularly against your cotenant. A jury of his peers (even if he says he has none) has delivered the sentence: Death by MetLife.
After losing to the Giants on Christmas Eve, Rex quickly morphed from cocky to contrite. "They were the better team today, and they're the better team this year," a humbled Ryan said. "I was clearly wrong,"
Actually, Rex, when are you clearly right? Ryan would get a free pass for his faux pas if there weren't so many of them. Every misguided missive is recorded, stamped, and archived. And while there's a compendium of computations that still put Gang Green in the playoffs, it would take John Nash to explain them and Steve Nash to execute them. Let's just say this isn't what Rex or Jets Nation had in mind when they broke the huddle on the 2011 season.
Everyone agrees that a coach's job his to put his players in position to succeed. To that end, Rex's most ardent apologists say his hubris is a tool to fuel his players, a pep rally on replay, Knute Rockne on rigorous, eternal loop.
But the wins must back the words, and 8-7 is the model of mediocrity. For nearly three years, Ryan rolled some semantic dice and never crapped out. Some of that came from the gods and some from guts, with the Colts benching Peyton Manning and blasting the back door open for the Jets to reach the postseason in 2009. The Jets soared through that portal and reached the AFC title game, where Mr. Manning dropped the guillotine on Gang Green. In 2010, Ryan's troops trampled Tom Brady's Patriots and shocked the world, before falling flat in Pittsburgh. This year, the back and front door appear to be on the same hinge, while the Jets border on unhinged.
And no matter your problems with peripheral players and coaches, this all falls on the HC of the NYJ, The Quotable Rex Ryan. Even if you don't think it does.
Nowhere else have I heard a coordinator catch more shrapnel than Brian Schottenheimer, football's Brutus to Ryan's Caesar, betraying the defensive-minded head coach with putrid play calling. But it doesn't work that way. You can't ask Schottenheimer to go Ollie North, stand tall before The Man, and take the hit for this most sorry season.
I listened to a lot of WFAN yesterday, and heard a lot of deflection. Too bad a ref wasn't around to toss the flag for holding – onto Rex, the Jets, and the notion that this team is a title contender – and then blaming Brian Schottenheimer for all of it.
"My daughter could call a better game!"
"Sanchez can't throw 59 times!"
"Brian's gotta go!"
"Sanchez is a USFL quarterback!"
"Throw it more to Keller!"
"Throw it less to Keller!"
"What happened to handing the ball to Shonn Greene?"
If Rex gets loved in good times, he gets loathed in bad times. And it's not like the 2011 Jets played like the 1985 Bears, with a granite defense begging a bulimic offense just to score double digits.
"They held the Giants to 11 first downs!"
"The Giants had the ball for just 23-plus minutes.
"Eli was just 9-for-27!"
(Forget that one of them went to V. Cruz for 99 yards)
As with most stats in most sports, they are lathered in blather, half-truths, with the most important statistic of all, so say Don Shula – the winningest coach in NFL history – is the score.
The Jets' defense is ranked No. 8 in yards allowed per game (319), which is rather misleading. A total of twenty-one – 21! – teams have allowed fewer points. The list includes juggernauts like Miami, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Arizona, Washington, and Seattle. Math is hardly my strength, but it sounds like around 66% of NFL defenses are better than that of the defensive mastermind: The Quotable Rex Ryan.
And the Jets lost a game they couldn't lose, at home, to a team Rex inferred was inferior. You'll point to Rex's two trips to the AFC title game in his first two years, the de facto defense against Rex's detractors. And Rex has reminded us ad infinitum that they sniffed (but whiffed on) the Super Bowl. But you, the fan, have been there: tantalizingly close but tangibly short. And now, to follow those two campaigns by missing this postseason, when all – particularly Rex Ryan – say this team was built for the Super Bowl…?
I eulogized the Jets when they lost to Tim Tebow and were 5-5. Over the next few weeks, however, I changed my mind more than Mitt Romney. I learned an important lesson: stick to your guns (or gums), and imbue your words with some meaning. It's a lesson Rex Ryan is learning. Or at least we hope he is.
In a twist of twisted, ironic happenstance, the two men with the least to brag about met at midfield. Ryan bumped into Brandon Jacobs. Even the most jaded Giants fans see the softness in Jacobs's game. But he got all kinds of bold up in Rex's belly.
Jacobs, who rarely has the right to boast, met the one man in MetLife stadium whose mouth is bigger and ego more bruised. There was some lip flapping (what else do they do well?) and Jacobs allegedly threatened to punch the plump coach in the grill.
Jacobs – who fancies himself a boxing fan – talks like Bernard Hopkins and runs like Mr. Whipple. (Show me one Giants fan who hasn't lamented a Jacobs run where he wouldn't plow through a player half his size. Show me a fan who doesn't sigh at the first sight of fatigue – when, after just two plays, a puffing, panting Jacobs trots to the sideline for a breather.) But it was Brandon's big chance to stick it to Rex. You can decide if he succeeded.
Being a Jets fan – and I mean Jets fan more than Rex fan because Ryan just happens to be the latest emblem of an epidemic – means making a masochistic pact with yourself, your sporting soul, and the cosmos. You're willing to take the pain provided some gain is gonna spike the NJ Turnpike.
You'd like Rex to fill this four-decade chasm. And to do it with his ardent, aberrant, and sometimes abhorrent sense of style would make him an icon. Until then, to those who had so much hope for this now hopeless season, he's just a waste with a whale's waist and a big mouth. You don't want more words added to The Quotable Rex Ryan. A picture, perhaps, would work - one with Roger Goodell handing the hardware to Woody Johnson. If that happened, we'd actually like to hear what Rex Ryan has to say.
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