As the New York Jets gathered last week for the start of their first offseason workout, Rex Ryan delivered a typically bold statement about his expectations for the season. Namely, no matter the three consecutive non-playoff seasons or the slew of questions about the roster, as far as he's concerned, nothing has changed.
"To me, it's time to deliver," Ryan said on a conference call with reporters. "We need to deliver."
The Jets may have to do it quickly.
The NFL released the 2014 schedule Wednesday and there is no string of early season games more intriguing than the one facing Ryan's club.
Coming off an 8-8 season, owner Woody Johnson bet Ryan could turn things around in the coach's sixth year with the franchise. He'll do it with uncertainty ranging from quarterback to cornerback and now the need to show improvement almost immediately.
After a winnable opener hosting Oakland, New York faces what looks to be a daunting stretch of games against some of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
Week 2 brings a trip to Green Bay, which will be coming off an extended week after playing in the Thursday season opener. The Jets then play host to Chicago and Detroit, both of which have strong-armed quarterbacks and talented receivers.
What follows is a game in San Diego, home for Denver and finally a short week trip to New England for a Thursday game, one of the most grueling/competitive runs in the league.
"Obviously, that's a huge challenge," Ryan said Wednesday of the Denver/New England swing. "… You're facing the two best teams in the AFC last year. We'll have a lot of football to play up until that, and hopefully we're hitting our stride when we play those two teams.
"We'll be up for it."
If they are, then the Jets are back to being a contender in the AFC. If not, then things could spiral quickly before what appears to be a lighter late-season schedule arrives. Building fan angst and the media circus that can feed it would be inevitable, as would discussion of Ryan's future.
So there's a ton on the line early. And still plenty of questions.
The Jets' defense struggled to stop the pass last year as they ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed. They have since released their best corner man, Antonio Cromartie, and whiffed on bringing back star Darrelle Revis, who went with the rival Patriots instead.
They'll need to find some unheralded players or commit draft resources to young talent to rebuild the unit.
They'll face Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), Chicago (Jay Cutler), Detroit (Matthew Stafford), San Diego (Philip Rivers), Denver (Peyton Manning) and New England (Tom Brady) by mid-October. Only the Patriots ranked outside the top six in the league in passing yards last year, and New England was 10th.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Geno Smith needs to develop after an inconsistent rookie season. He's in a battle with veteran Michael Vick, who is capable of incredible performances but struggles to stay on the field because of injury.
Publicly, Ryan isn't complaining about anything, of course. That isn't his nature. He'd rather double down on confidence. After getting a chance to return and run his program in New York, he should be happy with the possibilities.
Besides, while last season didn't result in a return to the playoffs like his first three in New York, Ryan says he saw a team finding its stride late. The Jets won three of their final four – albeit against Oakland, Cleveland and Miami.
And this year starts with three of four at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets went 6-2 a year ago.
"Obviously, you can't start from where you left off, but we knew we were a team that was ascending," Ryan said. "I think that is important to us … We're building this team. We have 12 picks in this upcoming draft. I think we are a great nucleus of a team.
"We've laid that foundation last year and I think we're just going to build to it this year."
For Rex Ryan, this is a make or break year in New York. It's difficult to imagine he could survive a fourth consecutive season missing the playoffs. He's still talking a big game, still talking like its 2009 and '10 when he boasted of championship goals and had a roster to back it up.
What he has now is an early season chance, six games in 32 days, against some of the league's best to prove that it's a new day in New York.
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