PITTSBURGH – The wheels were coming off the New York Jets. Consecutive ugly losses, a two-game streak without a touchdown, an embarrassing controversy involving the strength coach tripping an opponent. If it wasn't one thing, it was everything else.
This was a long way from the "let's go eat a [expletive] snack" Jets and the bravado of the summer. The entire league was seemingly set to pile up on the big-talking, suddenly small-playing team. See, we told you so.
It was Saturday night now and here came Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh, followed by Chicago at Chicago, heavy-lifting with a potential epic collapse looming. So the biggest talker of them all stood in front of his team and Rex Ryan started shaking down the thunder.
Here came a pep talk out of Pop Warner, the players would say. Here came the kind of heartfelt, summon-the-strength speech that grizzled professionals are supposed to tune out. This wasn't just another game, Ryan would imply. This wasn't just a chance to win. The world was ganging up on Gang Green and now the Jets were going to fight back.
This was going to be pride on the line. This was going to be character exposed. This was going to be about proving we're right and they're wrong.
Here was a coach laid bare, so riled up he kept choking up.
And what did a 10-year-veteran such as LT take from that?
"I want to run through a brick wall for the guy."
No, the season hasn't been saved with one victory – not even a road win against a playoff club. The Jets have been saying it's Super Bowl or bust all year and that hasn't changed. It's still Super Bowl or bust. And no, the Jets didn't suddenly look like world-beaters.
There was something critical salvaged though.
This wasn't a thing of beauty. The defense gave up 378 yards. "Who cares?" said Ryan.
The offense gained just 276 yards and got one TD – its first in 11 quarters. "Good enough to win the game," said LT.
They needed a kick return, a safety, a missed pass interference call and a close-your-eyes-and-pray final defensive stand against Ben Roethlisberger(notes). Well, when is winning in Pittsburgh easy? They also avoided a turnover, got improved execution from Sanchez and excellent play calling from offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
When it was over, the bench ran out onto the field in jubilation like a bunch of excitable kids. Just another win? Not even close.
Yes, Rex Ryan had pushed all the right buttons on Saturday night. He found all the right words to get a reeling team to regain its self-worth, to find its footing here in the snow of late December.
"We're right there," Ryan said Sunday with that big smile. "We don't need anybody's help. We'll take care of it ourselves. We've just got to get into the tournament."
New York (10-4 and almost assuredly a wild-card team) will have to win three road games to reach the Super Bowl. On Sunday, the players were reveling in the challenge. At Kansas City? At Indianapolis? Sure, let's do it. More from there? Fine.
"We may have to come back here," said Edwards, who had eight grabs for 100 yards, including a 38-yarder. "We're going to have to go back to Foxborough."
"I think we've played our best football on the road all year long," LT noted.
For the Jets to be the Jets they have to be the (expletive) Jets. There's no other way around it. "We're all in," Ryan said.
Yes, yes they are. It brings a lot of attention and even more waiting critics because the NFL isn't supposed to be about daring the league to beat you. There's no changing course now, however. Ryan had to remind them of that. A humiliation at the hands of the Patriots had hurt. A pathetic effort against the Dolphins had made it worse. The strength coach, the New York tabloids, the Sanchez-can't-play-in-the-cold talk had piled everything on. The most fun team in the league was starting to feel miserable.
Ryan knows one thing though: This team can't be sheepish. A lack of confidence would cripple them. If they didn't regain the belief that they could defeat strong teams in difficult environments, then the playoffs were hopeless because that's all there is.
So he dared them to get it back.
"That's what we are," Edwards said. "And it starts with Rex Ryan. He has that attitude. He has that confidence. He has that swag. That's who he is."
An NFL coach willing to tear up in front of a room full of players is confidence. This is the toughest sport in the country, grown-man stuff. It's a lot easier to act like you're invincible and declare greatness. It's another to display so-called weakness in an effort to regain toughness.
"That's not easy to get up there and show that type of emotion in front of a bunch of men," LT said.
Let's just get to the tournament, Rex Ryan kept saying Sunday. Let's just get a chance to pull out victories like these, with all the little plays in all the big moments.
Let's just get back to being the (expletive) Jets – big emotions, big goals and the same unapologetic big talk.
- Rex Ryan