Rex Ryan is doing a pretty good job for a guy who was doomed in the preseason.
The Jets are doing a pretty good job for a team that let its best player go to Tampa.
Geno Smith is doing a pretty good for a guy who had leadership issues in college.
As shocking as the Kansas City Chiefs' 7-0 start has been to the NFL literati, no team has reddened as many faces as the team in green. Ryan's Jets beat the New England Patriots at home Sunday and did it in the vintage Ryan style: with stifling defense. The 2013 Jets are the first team to keep Tom Brady to less than a 50 percent completion rate in two games in one season.
Ryan's job was supposedly in jeopardy before the season, when he inexplicably played Mark Sanchez late in an exhibition game and the quarterback hurt his shoulder. The Jets, meanwhile, were dismissed even before that, after last season's circus and the team's willingness to trade Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers. And Smith? He probably got the worst treatment of all.
His former head coach, Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, said leadership was a problem for the Mountaineers last season. "We have to develop leaders," Holgorsen told reporters earlier this season. "It was a big issue on last year's team, in a bad way."
Smith's current team is 4-3 and his former team is 3-4.
Smith's leadership, like Ryan's, is just fine. Nobody thinks the Jets are Super Bowl contenders, yet it finally looks as though the future is worth as much discussion as the past. Smith seems comfortable in his starter's role under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and he certainly was worth the second-round pick the team used on him. Meanwhile, the other side of the ball is familiar: the Jets are fourth in total defense and third in yards allowed per play.
[Photos: Best action from Week 7]
This is how Ryan wins, and yes "wins" is the right word. He's had only one losing season as head coach with the Jets, and that's saying something considering the franchise's history of not only losing, but subpar coaching (hello, Rich Kotite). The Jets finished 6-10 last season and had an outside shot at the playoffs in December despite a porous offensive line (that still hasn't been fixed). That was the only time in Ryan's Jets career that he finished worse than second in the AFC East. He still has more AFC championship appearances than losing seasons.
No, it's not always pretty. But the Jets play tough for Ryan, and the defense has been anywhere from scrappy to stalwart since he arrived. That's the case this season as well, despite the loss of Revis. The vibe coming from New Jersey is one of positive energy – not unlike the vibe coming from New Orleans defenders when they talk about Rex's brother, Rob Ryan.
Some confuse that positive energy for a lack of gravitas. We're used to seeing the stern disciplinarian in charge, especially in the city of Tom Coughlin (and Rudy Giuliani, for that matter). Watching a coach do pirouettes at the podium as he's grilled by the media after a preseason game doesn't inspire confidence. But it's hard to argue the man doesn't know defensive strategy, just as it's hard to say any coach would succeed without an offensive line and a competent quarterback.
Ryan isn't in line for coach of the year honors. The Jets still have to pull off a few more upsets to be a true playoff contender. But can we all agree the head coach departing from the team headquarters for one day in August to watch his son play football at Clemson is neither a sign of his imminent firing nor a tell that he's bailed out on his team?
Two months after Ryan and the Jets were dismissed for the season, there's only one New York team with a shot at the playoffs. And it isn't the Giants.
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