By Ernie Palladino
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Understand that by all rights, Rex Ryan has eight more games to go in his Jets coaching career. The only question is whether he chooses execution or suicide.
It must, must, must be obvious by now that Michael Vick gives the Jets the best chance to win, a fact easily lost Sunday as the veteran committed three of the Jets' six turnovers against the Bills. Winning, even with a switch to Vick, is not going to happen enough in the remaining games to save Ryan's job, of course. And it's certainly not going to happen if Vick persists in turning the ball over at a rate equal to the eminent Geno Smith, as seen in the latter stages of the 43-23 loss. Vick, we know, still has reckless moments, and those are only magnified in a 1-7 situation.
Regardless, if Ryan ever lets Smith see the light of day again short of an injury to Vick, he will finish the job the phony quarterback competition in training camp started -- that of cutting his own throat.
True leaders face the firing squad to meet their honorable ends. It's the dummies who take the cyanide capsule. And right now, Ryan has his choice of the bullet or the pill. He can be the coach who made the best of what he had in his experienced, backup quarterback, or one who stubbornly stuck with his worst alternative as his team rode into the Third Circle of Hell.
As things stood in Sunday's postgame, Ryan wasn't sure what he wanted. That alone should trouble the PSL holders greatly.
"I have no idea," he said when asked if Vick would be the starter a week from now. "We'll look at that later."
What there is to look at is anybody's guess. Perhaps it was the zip on the throws he made to cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Preston Brown on the first two interceptions, originally meant for Percy Harvin and Jeff Cumberland.
Ironically, Buffalo coach Doug Marrone was approaching the same choice in Week 4 after the Bills strained under E.J. Manuel. Unlike Ryan, Marrone was smart enough to make a permanent switch and throw 10-year journeyman Kyle Orton in there. Under Orton's unspectacular but adequate offensive leadership, the Bills just went to 5-3 for the first time in six years.
They have won three of four, and are now in position to challenge for a postseason berth.
Manuel, like Smith, is in his second season and may well prove to be the quarterback of the future in Buffalo. But not this year. Not by a longshot. Marrone showed he was far more interested in winning now. Thus, Orton.
A similar move won't do Ryan much good. It's too late. With seven straight losses, and now the second pulling of Smith after three interceptions on three consecutive first-quarter possessions, Smith's season should be at an end. It's time for him to sit, especially with Kansas City sitting in wait next week.
If nothing else, Vick proved he could move the team. If not for him and a spurt of excellent defense after the Bills jumped out 14-0 because of Smith's third interception, the Jets wouldn't have been in the game at all. But Vick actually marched the team downfield, just as Smith moved it between the 20s in his best performance last week in New England.
Vick made plays with his legs. He even hit a few passes. And while the main focus of the week, Harvin, did little in the way of receiving, he proved quite functional in running the ball both out of the backfield and on an end-around. One can see where Harvin may indeed turn into a useful pickup.
Things got ragged at the end, though. An interception and two lost fumbles took the Jets out of it, right along with the late-game defensive breakdowns.
But between Vick and Harvin, there was hope -- for a while, anyway. With Smith, all hope had vanished before Vick stepped in with 4:32 left in the quarter.
The offense responded to Vick.
Now, will Ryan respond? Or will he somehow decide to follow the same road he has traveled the first half of the season?
The Jets stand one loss away from another non-winning season, and that will probably happen in front of the red-clad crazies at Arrowhead Stadium. They're down to appearances now.
If Ryan doesn't put his young quarterback on the bench once and for all after a courtesy look at the game film, he'll go out looking like a buffoon.
That's no way for any coach to go into a job search.
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