Outspoken Ryan is hands off for key play
INDIANAPOLIS – With one look-at-me-press conference after the next, with each bold prediction and out-on-a-limb promise, Rex Ryan has cemented his reputation as the biggest ego and loudest mouth in the league. At least among the coaches.
From the outside, the New York Jets’ leader is an oversized personality trying to suck up every last bit of attention.
On the inside there is this, though – 29 seconds remaining, Jets down two points, ball on the Indianapolis Colts’ 32-yard line; the season and Ryan’s reputation hanging in the balance.
The smart play is to call a simple, safe run to set up a long, but makeable, field goal. It’s what Ryan wants. It’s what offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wants. It’s what all of New York, including most of the Jets themselves, expect.
Only here is Braylon Edwards(notes), begging for a deep pass play. The 6-foot-3 receiver was being covered alone by 5-foot-10 cornerback Jacob Lacey(notes), and Edwards was certain he could ice the game.
“Me and Lacey, it was a guy I thought I could beat,” Edwards said following the Jets’ 17-16 victory over the Colts in Saturday’s AFC wild-card matchup. “I said, ‘They’re playing press coverage, why not take another shot? We have enough time. If anything I’ll knock the ball down. It won’t be picked.’ ”
This was the play of the year for the Jets. Their kicker, Nick Folk(notes), isn’t a sure bet on anything, so the closer the better. This wasn’t the calm, cool Adam Vinatieri(notes) of the Colts blasting a 50-yarder just moments before. This was going to be a high-wire act.
For Ryan, this was everything. He’d stuck his neck out back in the heat of July, before training camp, when he predicted a Super Bowl. Now he was in the cold of January, the tense moments of the playoffs. A million things had happened this season. Controversies. Crazy stories. Ugly losses. Dramatic wins. Wild headlines. Nothing went according to plan. Everything still could.
All the pressure of the world – or at least the New York tabloids – was on Rex Ryan coming into this game. You don’t talk big and walk small in New York. You don’t promise a Super Bowl and lose in the wild-card round. You don’t call out Peyton Manning(notes) on Monday and let him burn you on Saturday. Critics everywhere were ready to pounce, ready to declare his style too loose, too undisciplined.
Rex Ryan had made this about him, and yet now, with the potential for it all to collapse on top of him, he was willing to make it not about himself.
Ryan may sound like the biggest ego in the game, but that’s only when the cameras are on. The establishment blue print for NFL coaches is to act one way in public only to domineer over every facet of a franchise in private. These are the control freaks, the retentive, paranoid personalities that date back to Lombardi, Rockne and beyond.
On how many NFL sidelines would a receiver not even dare to plead for an out-of-the-box pass play at the game’s most critical moment?
“I think it says exactly what we are always preaching: ‘This is OUR team, ‘ ” said LaDainian Tomlinson(notes). “The players have voices, too. It’s not like that everywhere. Some coaches think what they say goes. The coaches here are open to the players’ opinions.”
Passing the ball downfield was fraught with risk. Running it up the middle wasn’t. If Rex Ryan is about Rex Ryan only, then putting the game on Nick Folk was the easy way out. The kicker misses from, say, 50 yards and he’s the goat. The tabs can run their “Folk-ed Up” covers.
Call a pass play and disaster happens, well, then it’s back on big reckless Rex.
His quarterback, Mark Sanchez(notes), is a second-year guy who’d been both wild and wildly inconsistent all game. He heaved passes over open receiver’s heads. He attempted ill-advised shuttle passes. He’d tossed a killer pick in the end zone at the end of the first half. Just one possession before, he’d overthrown a daring third-down deep ball.
The Jets didn’t start having offensive success in this game until they switched to a run-heavy attack in the second half. They’d seemingly decided they wouldn’t let Sanchez beat them. So now you give him the ball even when it isn’t necessary?
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” Ryan would say, only at that moment, was anyone certain Sanchez was a big-time player? Well, yes. Ryan was. He always is. If you’re his guy, you’re the best guy. That’s all there is to it.
And here’s why his locker room never grumbles when he makes promises they have to keep or he calls out opponents they have to stop.
Ego isn’t a coach saying things at press conferences. Ego is a coach who’s convinced he invented the game of football and will belittle anyone who challenges him. Ego is a coach who calculates the blame game just in case things go wrong. There’s a league full of those guys – a bunch of them watching the playoffs from home.
“That’s just his personality,” cornerback Antonio Cromartie(notes) said. “He brings a different style of coaching. He trusts us. So we trust him. I don’t worry about what he says. I’ll run through a brick wall for him.”
Edwards needed to just run through an undersized cornerback, and Ryan was convinced he could do it. So he made the decision.
“Just give the kid a chance,” Ryan said.
Schottenheimer concurred. This is how Jets coaches operate. They called Edwards’ play. When Sanchez announced it in the huddle, he was met with arched eyebrows.
Edwards would get free, of course. Sanchez would deliver a perfect pass. Folk would drill an easy 32-yarder, no sweat. (“I didn’t even bother watching,” Edwards said.)
The clock would hit 0:00, the scoreboard would read Jets 17, Colts 16. Ryan would gallop across the field, pumping his fist, all eyes, all cameras on him.
And New York would be on to New England next Sunday, another week of big talk and big faith to come.